There are other equally deadly methods, and the evidence of baiting is often hard to get, but the government is also becoming more resourceful. In Maryland, Delaware and Louisiana, wardens in helicopters hover over suspect blinds and direct other wardens on the ground or in boats. When Defense Attorney Robert Carson complained in court that wardens had descended on the Carpenters by "land, sea and air," Judge R. Dorsey Watkins snapped back: "What about submarines?" The government is setting up a central computer system in Washington into which will be fed a complete dossier on all accused baiting violators in the U.S. Thus all repeat offenders will be subject to stiffer fines.
One painful weakness in the baiting regulation is that far too many innocent gunners are caught and fined. In tidal waters kernels of corn and other grains can drift or roll along the bottom, and sometimes they end up in front of someone else's blind. Worse, it is a simple matter for an angry or greedy hunter to bait his neighbor's blind and then tip the wardens. Many innocent gunners, however, are caught at commercial camps.
A Maryland lawyer recently complained that he did not believe the law "required people to conduct a mining operation when they go out to hunt." In fact, that is exactly what the law does require. Says Charles Lawrence, assistant chief of management and enforcement for the Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife: "You don't have to be an agricultural expert to detect bait in a goose or a dove field. But then it is pretty difficult for a hunter to see corn in 10 or 12 feet of water 50 yards offshore from a duck blind." Wardens often can spot bait from the air. They have color slides taken from 1,000 feet that clearly show bushels of corn dumped from skiffs or spread over large areas by low-flying crop dusters. Wardens can also detect the presence of bait by watching the way the birds are working an area. Hunters can learn how, too, but they had better do so before they load their guns and enter a blind.
For every hard-core baiter, there are at least 10 penny-ante hunters who spread a little bait, which stands out like a cue ball on a billiard table. Says Lawrence: "We'll find nice golden-yellow ears of corn in a field at the end of January. Now that is not a late crop. How about piles of wheat in a cornfield or, say, 20 bushels of corn in and around a farm pond?" The majority of apprehended hunters plead guilty, in person or by mail, to the local magistrate or the U.S. commissioner and pay fines ranging from $25 to $50 for a first offense. Only the most serious violators are taken to federal court.
Many gunners truly believe that baiting, or, more politely, feeding, is absolutely essential to the welfare of the birds. Roy E. Walsh, a realtor and insurance broker from Easton, Md. who is chairman of Maryland's Board of Natural Resources, thinks feeding should be legalized and licensed on a permit basis. "The feed would be scattered at least 500 yards from the blind," says Walsh, "not only during the season, but until spring. That way we would be sending the birds we don't shoot away with enough stamina to winter over. The permit would knock out the blackleg—the guy who baits a path right to his blind and usually overshoots the limit."
The government argues that there are those who want to legalize baiting so they can get a limit of birds every time they hunt. "Feeding the birds is fine," says Charles Lawrence, "as long as you don't shoot over that feed."
But is feeding really fine? On many federal and state refuges, as well as on a number of large shooting clubs, the ducks and geese are growing so accustomed to the easy living that they have to be driven away with electric cannons, shotguns fired in the air and even planes, so they will continue south to their ancestral wintering grounds. When all else fails, young birds are trapped and transported farther south at considerable expense, in the hope that they will bypass the refuge cafeterias the following fall. "What we really have," says Dr. Gabrielson, "is a kind of vicious circle. Waterfowl habitat in the Canadian nesting grounds and in the feeding and resting areas of the U.S. is being permanently removed at an alarming rate. Everyone knows the reasons—dredging of river bottoms and bays, pollution and filling and development of prime marshlands. Ducks and geese are thus being more concentrated every year. As the circle tightens, I think we can expect to see more illegal baiting in the years to come."
The nation's bird baiters are now out again in full force—the commercial shooting camps, the private clubs, the individual hunters and the federal and state refuges—all trying to outbait each other. About this time several years ago, The Delaware State News carried an editorial headlined, WHIP THE BIRD BAITERS. It read, in part: "It's difficult to pity any so-called sportsman found guilty of baiting birds, which can be compared to dealing off the bottom of the deck...It's cheating. The fine for baiting...is probably too lenient. Maybe a few lashes at the whipping post would serve as a better deterrent. After all, they used to shoot double-dealers."
Come to think about it, The Delaware State News has a pretty good idea there. There is one complication: Who should be tied at the post and who should administer the whipping?