In a surprise move Wednesday, the state’s Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks gave its approval to baiting deer in Mississippi, at least during gun season.

Late in the afternoon’s regularly monthly meeting in Jackson, under old business and just prior to entering private executive session, the panel voted unanimously to remove language from its supplemental deer feeding regulation that prohibits having feeders within line of sight while hunting.

The feeder will still have to be over 100 yards away, which puts it out of range of archers, but it no longer has to be hidden by terrain, trees or other vegetation.

Biologist and MDWFP deer program biologist Lann Wilf told Broom that the change “means the feeder no longer has to be hidden; it can be in plain view as long as it’s 100 yards (or more) away.”

One reporter at the monthly meeting, Brian Broom of The Clarion-Ledger, said the move caught most everybody in the room by surprise, including himself. He said he almost missed it.

“It was not on the agenda given to the public, at least not on the one I received,” the writer said. “They finished up the business on the agenda and I was getting my stuff together to leave before they went into executive session and I heard some talk (from the front of the room) and heard the words ‘supplemental deer feeding’ and then they all said ‘Aye’ and it was over. There was no discussion; the whole thing lasted like 10 seconds and they went into executive session.”

State public meeting laws allow agency oversight commissions, panels or boards to enter private executive session to discuss legal and personnel matters. All other business conducted must be open to the public.

Reached later, Commission Chairman Charles Rigdon of Columbus defended how the vote was handled, telling Broom “it was a normal vote” and that the commissioners had discussed the topic prior to the meeting.

Rigdon said the decision to vote on the issue was made after the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks conducted a survey a few months ago in which 62 percent favored removing the line of sight language from the regulation.

Rigdon said it was “an accident” that subject was not on the agendas given to the public. He said it was added to the original agenda and it was unintentional that it was not included on all printed agendas.

Rigdon also defended the vote pointing to the state’s regulatory process, which requires the Commission to first pass a Notice of Intent. That is followed by a mandatory 30-day comment period for the public and then at the next Commission meeting, the panel can either change the regulation or issue a Final Notice that the regulation is changing.

Public reaction is mixed, similar to the feelings about baiting, which has been a passionate topic for both the “pro” and “anti” sides of the issue.

“So the nuts went ahead and did it,” said Tom Anderson of Jackson, who opposes baiting. “First off, it’s just not sporting. I hate the perception non-hunters have of us shooting deer over feed. Heck, I hate my perception of it. 

“Second, just this year, two more states reported Chronic Wasting Disease (Texas and Missouri) and while I can’t say baiting caused those breakouts, I have studied it enough to know that any time you congregate game together you increase the odds of disease, any disease. Instead of changing the regulation to allow feeding, or baiting, within line of sight of the feeder, we would have been eliminating feeders altogether.”

James Thomas of Hattiesburg was elated.

“It’s about time,” said Thomas, who doubts the disease issue. “People have been baiting for years and getting away with it, and nothing bad has happened.

“As for whether or not it is ethical, if you oppose baiting don’t bait. It’s that simple.” 

Anderson said it’s not that simplistic.

“Say you have 1,000 acres in a club and you want to hunt fair chase (non-baiting) and you don’t have feeders running during the season, but all the clubs for 5,000 or 10,000 acres around you are running feeders and baiting, what choice do you have,” he said. “You either feed or lose your game.”

Mississippians have 30 days to make their comments known by mail or e-mail to the MDWFP prior to the Commission’s next action. Comments can be submitted by mail to Comments, Attn: Larry Castle, 1605 Eastover Drive, Jackson, MS 39211. E-mail comments should be addressed to SharonP@mdwfp.state.ms.us.