How to avoid a baiting ticket this turkey season in Alabama
Over the past several years, Alabama turkey hunters have become increasingly concerned about the steps they should take to ensure they are hunting legally due to more and more deer feeders being left out year round on hunting properties. When you are done reading this article, you should have a better understanding of what you need to do to ensure that you’re never accused of “hunting with the aid of bait" this spring by your local man in the green jeans.
I. Familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding hunting over bait in Alabama.
The law regarding hunting turkeys over bait in Alabama, in pertinent part, is as follows:
“No person at any time shall take, catch, kill or attempt to take, catch or kill any bird or animal protected by law or regulation of the State of Alabama by means, aid or use, directly or indirectly, of any bait such as shelled, shucked or unshucked corn or of wheat or other grain, salt or any other feed whatsoever that has been so deposited, placed, distributed or scattered as to constitute for such birds or animals a lure, attraction or enticement to, on or over the area where such hunter or hunters are attempting to kill or take them…” AL Code 9-11-244 (2023).
Because baiting is considered to be a “strict liability” offense, whether the hunter knew or should have known the area was baited is irrelevant. The little case law that does exist in Alabama dealing with this issue is clear that the State does not have to prove that the accused himself placed the bait in the area or that he was aware (or should have been aware) it was there.
Also, bear in mind the 2019 law that legalized baiting for deer with a special permit does NOT apply to turkey hunting. If you hunt during the fall in any of the counties that offer a fall turkey season (Clarke, Clay, Covington, Monroe, Randolph and Talladega), you should be extra cautious hunting around baited areas that are otherwise legal for deer hunters.
How can it be determined whether “bait” is being unlawfully used as a lure/attractant for hunting purposes?
The question of whether baiting has occurred can only be determined by either a judge (or jury), strictly on a case-by-case basis. Obviously the State has to at least prove (1) the existence of bait and (2) that the defendant was hunting within some degree of proximity to it. The third element, which is essentially the million dollar question, is whether the existence of the bait itself “constituted” an illegal lure/attractant. At this point, it is the game warden’s job to give testimony and articulate to the court his reasoning behind issuing the ticket and explaining why illegal baiting has occurred. This is when evidence regarding location of the bait, environmental conditions, natural food sources, specific terrain features, etc. can be particularly useful in the court making its determination. Otherwise, no other laws or court rules exist to point us in any particular direction in pursuit of this determination.
On a separate note, prior to legalizing baiting for deer in 2019, there was a “rebuttable presumption” in the law in relation to deer hunting that any bait located beyond 100 yards and out of sight of the hunter was not considered baiting under the statute. This presumption at least helped shed light on what you could and could not do and was fairly clear. Such a presumption has never been made applicable to turkey hunting in Alabama.
How far away does the pile of bait need to be so that I don’t get a baiting ticket?
Unfortunately, there is no fixed distance to determine whether illegal baiting has occurred. Legally speaking, it makes no difference if it is five miles or five yards away. If the judge is convinced that the bait constitutes a lure, attractant or enticement on or over the area where you are hunting, that is enough to be found guilty.
In reality, it would be a stretch and quite unlikely for an Alabama judge to determine that bait located several miles away could constitute a lure. Conversely, most any Alabama judge would probably find that bait located only five yards away IS in fact a lure. Although distance from the bait pile is a major factor to be considered by the judge or jury, it is not the only one in determining whether baiting has occurred.
My neighbor has a feeder located on the edge of his property line next to where I turkey hunt. Will I receive a ticket if I am hunting near it?
Because the law makes no mention that bait be located on property under the control or ownership of the person hunting, it is possible to receive a ticket for bait that is located on an adjacent property.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, I recommend getting in touch with your local GW and asking him for his advice on how to proceed. It is possible that your local game warden can inform you as to his approach in dealing with that type of issue.
II. Be cautious if others hunt the same property as you.
There’s nothing worse than arriving to camp on opening weekend and discovering that the spot you planned to hunt hardly resembles anything short of the yellow brick road. Such a move can prevent you from legally hunting your property for a couple weeks, especially if your GW has dropped by the camp to inform everyone of his recent discovery. Be considerate of anyone else who happens to hunt on the property by refraining from putting out bait during turkey season. This especially can be applicable toward opening weekend since bait must be completely removed from an area ten (10) days prior to hunting.
True Story: Two weeks before opening day one year, the local GW happened upon a whole bunch of corn someone threw out in anticipation of turkey season. Word got out that the GW knew about the corn pile so the hunter called him up to see what needed to be done so he could still hunt opening weekend. GW said “Well, every last kernel has to be removed before March 5th or else you’re getting a ticket if I check you.”
What happened next involved shovels, a portable generator, and a shop vac and the remarkable ability to see past looking like a complete jackass for an afternoon in exchange for the greater good that every turkey hunter knows as opening weekend.
What should I do if I am accused of turkey hunting over bait?
Should you ever receive a “baiting” ticket that you believe was unjustified, the chance of you convincing the Game Warden that you are right and he is wrong is probably a waste of time. If you want to contest the ticket in court, my best advice to you is to NOT say anything to the Game Warden. Be friendly and respectful and you can even choose another topic of conversation, but refrain from making any statement that could help support the State’s case against you for your alleged misdeeds while in the turkey woods. Volunteering well intended information such as, “My bait permit from deer season is still good,” “My hunting buddy swore that feeder was empty,” or “I play cards with J.D. Shellnut, Chief of Police” usually won't help. The third one might. But the first two for sure won’t.
What’s the worst that could happen if I am found guilty of baiting turkeys?
Upon first conviction, hunting turkeys over bait comes with a statutory minimum $250.00 fine (plus additional county court costs), as well as the potential revocation off hunting privileges for 1 year. The decision as to whether the loss of hunting privileges shall apply is solely up to the district (or circuit) judge.
Upon second conviction, hunting turkeys over bait results in a statutory fine between $500.00 and $2,000.00, mandatory loss of hunting privileges for one year from the date of conviction, and, at the discretion of the trial court judge, imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not less than 10 nor more than 30 days. (AL Code 9-11-246)(2022).
III. This time of year, don’t let your fear of green jeans and green pick-up trucks discourage you from asking for help!
Sometimes it’s easy to forget or you might not even realize it, but game wardens are an excellent resource that hunters should seek out more often. Most of the time they are happy to speak with you, plus they might be able to share with you their particular approach when it comes to certain “gray area” subjects, like having feeders out during turkey season…if so, you’ll have a much better idea of knowing beforehand exactly what you can and cannot do.
To contact your local game warden, go to the outdoor alabama website and scroll down to the particular game and fish district belonging to the county you hunt and call the provided telephone number. From my experience having contacted multiple district offices throughout the years, if you call the office directly and leave a message with the front desk, a game warden will call you back pretty quick.