Court of Appeals preserves farmers’ right to hunt on own land

Baiting deer — attracting deer with grains, fruits, vegetables or other food — is illegal in Minnesota. Unless you’re a farmer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals clarified today.

The court overturned the conviction of Donald Hansen of Hibbing, who was charged by the Department of Natural Resources with deer baiting. Hansen had tossed unsold vegetables near his deer stand in a field he owns.

The DNR had used aerial photography on two occasions to monitor Hansen’s vegetable farm. On one flight, there were no pumpkins in his field. Photographs on a flight just before last November’s deer season showed “a substantial pile of pumpkins.” Hansen maintained that it’s accepted agricultural practice to use unsold vegetables as “green manure,” and he denied he was baiting deer. The DNR ticketed him and took his rifle.

The district court found him guilty. Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals declared Minnesota’s law too vague to uphold Hansen’s conviction, because a phrase in the law — a requirement that food be “placed by a person” and not result from normal farming — could prevent most farmers from hunting on their own land:

Conceivably, this restriction could apply to any movement of crops due to human volition, including harvesting corn with large machinery or moving pumpkins from the field where they were grown to another place on a farm for storage, further processing, or another farm-related purpose. Here, under the language of the statute, appellant was prohibited from hunting within the vicinity of any crops he had transported on his own land. The word “placed” is also ambiguous within the factual context presented here.

Further, as applied to farmers, by exempting from the statutory prohibition “[f]ood that has not been placed by a person and resulting from normal or accepted farming . . . activities,” the statute apparently gives with one hand and takes with the other. By including the “normal or accepted farming activities” language in the list of activities that do not meet the definition of deer bait, the legislature expressed an intention to make astatutory exception for farmers who transport their crops as part of carrying out their livelihoods. However, farmers meet the definition of deer baiting during harvest and at other times when they hunt within the “vicinity” of crops that constitute deer food that has been “placed” by them. Thus, the phrases “food . . . placed by a person” and “food . . . resulting from normal or accepted farming . . . activities” are inconsistent with each other, and the juxtaposition of these two phrases creates an ambiguity in the statute.

Court of Appeals Judge Roger Klaphake wrote that the law as enforced would “so restrict the right of a farmer who hunts on his own property that the farmer’s right to hunt would not exist.” He called that “absurd.”

Here’s the full opinion.

  • Tyler

    DNR “aerial photography?” How often is this going on? Are they using drones, or guys in airplanes?

  • Keith

    They usually fly single-engine planes over the forests during the season looking for violators. I had the DNR circling me for about 10 minutes this year, even though I had no bait placed around my stand. I just waved at them. My question is, does this preclude you planting rows of corn for the deer to feed on near your stand, as part of a “food plot” – which is considered an acceptable form of baiting?

  • John

    I applaud him for standing up to the DNR… More people need to do this. If you buy a license and are on private land you should be able to hunt over any type of food… How much tax payer money do they spend on aerial fuel and there wages for this type of harrassing enforcement??? It’s all about fines and revenue for this why to big state dept… If the state want’s to save some money that is the first dept that nees to be cut in half and restructered…