By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
A South Alabama lawmaker will try again next Legislative Session to get a bill passed that would allow licensed hunters to take feral swine and whitetail deer over bait.
Rep. Jack Williams, R-Wilmer, has pre-filed a bill that would amend Alabama’s hunting laws to allow hunters to shoot deer and hogs over shucked and shelled corn, wheat, salt and other baits. He introduced the same bill last year, but it failed toward the end of the Legislative Session.
“My big thing is the feral hogs,” Williams said. “We’re just overrun with them on my place.”
Current Alabama law prohibits hunters from shooting deer over bait or feed located within a hundred yards of the line of sight of the hunter. Feed is allowed beyond a hundred yards and not within the line of sight of the hunter.
If the bill were to pass, hunters would need to purchase an additional bait license for $15 that would be added to their existing hunting license.
Williams has said feral swine are a nuisance in Alabama, and allowing hunters to shoot them more readily will reduce overpopulation. Whitetail deer are included in the bill because it’s hard for game wardens to tell which animal the hunter is hunting.
“You can’t do the hogs without the deer eating it,” Williams said.
Last year, Democratic lawmakers held up the bill in the House for several hours over concerns that allowing hunters to take deer over bait would hurt the whitetail population and erode the spirit of the sport.
“My issue is that we are kind of watering down the sport,” said Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, House Democratic Minority Leader, during the debate last year. “I don’t think there’s an issue with deer in the state of Alabama. It’s taking the fun out of the sport.”
The bill later passed the House overwhelmingly but was held up in the Senate and didn’t make it out before the Legislature adjourned sine die in May. Williams said he is hopeful the bill will be more successful this session.
Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, has said he would sponsor a similar bill in the state Senate. Both have previously tried to pass bills like this one.
The South Alabama lawmaker said not allowing hunting over bait puts hunters and hunting lodges in Alabama at a disadvantage. In 2015, Mississippi’s wildlife commission passed regulations allowing deer baiting. In Georgia, it is legal in some southern portions of the state.
“You can already shoot a doe a day,” Williams said. “It’s ridiculous. Everyone around us can feed, and we can’t. It keeps a lot of these big hunting places from bringing in the hunters that they could be bringing in because of it. It’s just a lot of obstacles.”
Some lawmakers in the Senate and the House were concerned the bill would harm Alabama’s whitetail population. Williams said the deer population is already plentiful, and hunting wouldn’t pose a threat.
“From our studies, most of the state is growing deer,” Williams said. “They’re not just going to kill everything that comes up to a grain of corn. If you take the time to feed them, you’re trying to grow better deer, not shoot everything that comes up.”
According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, there are an estimated 1.5 million whitetail deer throughout Alabama, and hunters harvest about 300,000 a year.
Williams has said his bill and its $15-dollar baiting privilege license would bring in between $750,000 and $1 million a year in revenue for the state. A fiscal note during the last session said the bill would reduce the baiting fines collected by the conservation department by more than $140,000.
“I just see this as a win-win for the people and the state. You get this revenue with no tax,” Williams said. “We could be hiring more game wardens, and it would take their mind off hunting over bait.”