Shooting Waterfowl Over Influence of Bait

Geese rising, Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (Photo by Wildlife Area Manager Dave Feliz).

Geese rising, Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (Photo by Wildlife Area Manager Dave Feliz).

Question: We own a duck club with two ponds on the property. Members shoot waterfowl over one pond while the other has a floating corn feeder for wood ducks on it. We want to keep shooting the club pond during the season but also want to keep the feeding station out on the other pond for the wood ducks during this time. The regulations say baiting for migratory birds is prohibited and that it is illegal to “hunt over” bait. What is the minimum distance required to be maintained between the feeding station and our shooting pond before feeding is considered baiting? Thanks in advance. (Stacy M.)

Answer: Waterfowl and migratory bird regulations are set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While there are no minimum distance requirements specified in the regulations, it’s clear that you may not keep the floating corn feeder on another pond if it in any way influences waterfowl to come into shooting range for hunting. Even if the feeder is just intended to be for wood ducks, anything that can be determined to be bait that influences waterfowl of any species to come in within range for the purposes of hunting them could be considered bait and is illegal.

This principle applies even if the feeding station or baiting is on a neighbor’s property. While hunters may not have control over what a neighbor is doing, they do have control over hunting on their own property or hunt club. Hunters may not shoot any birds that come into range if those birds are being influenced to come in for bait, even if on another’s property. In addition, all feed or bait must be removed 10 days prior to hunting over it, and the responsibility to know it is all gone is upon the person hunting over its influence.

Humanely Dispatching Lobsters?
Question: When boiling a lobster, or otherwise prepping it for cooking, is there a humane way to kill the critter without inflicting unnecessary pain on the live lobster? I’ve tried inserting a knife on the triangle above the eyes where I expect the brain is, but am not sure this really dispatches it as there’s still lots of movement afterward. Thanks for any help! (John S.)

Answer: Many people refrigerate lobsters for a while to slow them down before putting them in boiling water, according to Senior Invertebrate Specialist Kristine Barsky. It sounds like you are trying to pith the lobster, or destroy its brain, as is sometimes done with frogs in a classroom situation. Barsky says she hasn’t heard of using that method on lobsters, and she thinks the quickest way to dispatch a lobster is probably still the traditional boiling water method.

Empty Shell Casings as Trail Markers?
Question: One of my favorite hunts is for upland game in Federal Wilderness (National Forest) Areas. Often I’ll leave my spent shotgun shells on the ground or trail to mark the exact spot where I saw game earlier. The casings serve as a reminder for me when I later hike back out. I eventually pick up my spent casings but know that many hunters and other hikers disapprove of seeing the colored shotshell casings on the ground.

Aside from the stewardship and aesthetics issues, is this practice legal? It seems like a majority of hunters leave their spent casings of plastic and brass right where they land and don’t bother to pick them up. Is this citable as a littering offense? If so, is it ever enforced? (Doug R.)

Answer: Yes, this is a violation of both federal and state law. It falls under the sanitation law for U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Areas (Title 36 CFR, Chapter 2, Section 261), which defines the failure to dispose of any personal refuse, debris, trash or litter in an appropriate receptacle as a citable offense. Spent shell casings are considered garbage. In addition, every state has general litter laws. In California, depending on how close to water the spent casings are dropped, you could also be cited for leaving litter where it may pass into the waters of the state (FGC Section 5652.)

The fact you “intend” to retrieve the casings is not a valid excuse, according to retired Capt. Phil Nelms. Technically, if you are dropping the empty cases and leaving the area, you are violating the law. Instead, I suggest you mark your trail by clearing small spots of ground or by using natural objects that are readily available in the immediate area, like rocks or twigs. You might also want to consider a GPS to help with your navigation.

Spinning Duck Feet?
Question: I recently found a duck decoy that has spinning feet that splash the water. From what I understand, no motorized spinning wings or spinning blade decoys may be used for the first half of duck season. Would a decoy with spinning feet be an exception? It’s called the “Wonderduck Super Paddle Wheel Motion Duck Decoy.” (Mark V.)

Answer: There’s a wide variety of movement decoys on the market today. According to Northern Enforcement District Chief Mike Carion, wind powered decoys and decoys that vibrate, flap, wiggle or produce a motion other than spinning are all legal to use at any time, but decoys that feature any type of motorized spinning blade are prohibited before Dec. 1.

Your motorized decoy is spinning a blade-like device that just happens to be in the shape of a duck foot … so you’ll have to wait until December to use it.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Please contact her at

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