Deer feeding ban begins

Published 12:46 pm Thursday, September 1, 2016

It became illegal to feed deer statewide in Virginia on Thursday. According to a press release from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), the annual prohibition runs through the first Saturday in January.

All feed must have been removed from any deer feeding site prior to Thursday. Any area where deer feed has been distributed is considered a “baited” area and cannot be hunted for more than 10 days following the complete removal of the food.

It is illegal to:

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• feed deer or elk in any county, city or town during any deer or elk hunting season; and

• feed deer year-round in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties as well as the city of Winchester, as part of the department’s chronic wasting disease (CWD) management actions.

These restrictions do not apply to agricultural plantings (including wildlife food plots) or food distributed to livestock.

Problems with feeding

Feeding deer can unnaturally increase deer populations and damage natural habitats; increase the likelihood for disease transmission; increase human-deer conflicts such as deer/vehicle collisions, and diminish the wild nature of deer. 

Deer hunting over bait is illegal in Virginia. Prior to the deer feeding prohibition, distinguishing between who was feeding deer and who was hunting over bait often caused law enforcement problems for the department’s conservation police officers.

Deer are wild animals

In their natural state, deer are wild animals with a fear of humans because we have preyed upon them for thousands of years.

However, when deer are fed by people, they lose this fear, becoming less wild and even tame, in some cases.

Fed deer are often emboldened to seek human foods, leading them into conflict with people. Despite their gentle appearance, they can become lethally dangerous during mating season, capable of goring and slashing with their sharp hooves and antlers. There are numerous cases across the country of individuals injured, and in some cases even killed, by deer they treated as pets.

Deer feeding helps

spread disease

Deer feeding now represents one of Virginia’s biggest wildlife disease risk factors. Deer feeding sets the stage for maintaining and facilitating the spread of disease.

Diseases are a big issue in deer management today across the United States. Feeding deer invariably leads to the prolonged crowding of animals in a small area, resulting in more direct animal to animal contact and contamination of feeding sites. Deer feeding has been implicated as a major risk factor and contributor in three of the most important deer diseases in North America today.

Please don’t feed deer

It is clear the negative consequences of feeding deer outweigh the benefits. Feeding deer is against the law statewide between Sept. 1 and the first Saturday in January each year, with even longer restrictions in some areas.

If anyone sees or suspects someone of illegally feeding deer during this time period, or observes any wildlife violations, report it to DGIF’s Wildlife Crime Line at 1-800-237-5712.