By Jill Nolin
CNHI State Reporter
ATLANTA – Hunters in north Georgia will no longer be bound to a distance requirement when shooting deer enticed with corn, apples or other bait.
The state Department of Natural Resource's governing board approved the change at its Wednesday meeting. The change will be in effect for deer season this fall.
The controversial practice, known as hunting over bait, has been allowed in south Georgia since lawmakers passed a compromise measure in 2011. But above a line drawn across middle Georgia, hunters had to stay 200 yards away from, and out of sight of, bait when shooting a deer.
Efforts since then to expand the law have fallen flat, including measures this year that stalled after facing opponents who said the practice is unethical and not in the spirit of what's known in the hunting world as "fair chase."
The expansion push received new life, though, when Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order after lawmakers left Atlanta. That order tasked DNR with finding an "appropriate" expansion. Lawmakers would still need to codify the change.
The change takes the line that currently splits the state in halves and moves it all the way up to the Tennessee line. Everything within the Chattahoochee National Forest will become the "northern zone," where the old rules would apply. The change only applies to private lands.
Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, who sponsored such a bill this year, called the 2011 bill an unfair "political fix."
"I felt like it was an error to draw an arbitrary line across the state of Georgia," said Payne, who prefers to hunt turkey. "That fairness in the application of law should not be done out of just political reasons. Otherwise, it cheapens what we do and what the law is supposed to represent."
Payne was one of the 19 state lawmakers who urged the board to expand the law. About 70 percent of those in the public who weighed in on the matter supported the change.
Department spokesman Wes Robinson said the change would level the playing field among hunters.
But opponents say hunting over bait can cause disease to spread faster while also feeding nuisance animals, such as feral hogs. They also say the practice can make deer hunters less successful in the long run.
"I hear all these words: 'fair,' 'inequities,' 'different rules.' They're just cynical plays on our sense of justice," Mike Worley, who heads the Georgia Wildlife Federation, said to the board.
"I have noticed, however, that the words 'fair chase' seem to be left out of our vocabulary," Worley said.
Worley also argued that wildlife biologists oppose the practice of hunting deer over bait. As a joke, he held up a T-shirt with this message: "At the start of every disaster movie, there's a scientist being ignored."