ATLANTA -- In one of the longest debates in a 12-hour state House session, 122 legislators voted to allow close-up hunting of deer that are eating snacks laid out for them.
The majority of legislators endorsed striking a law that says if hunters want to take aim at a deer that is browsing a supplemental feed source such as loose corn or salt lick, the hunter must shoot from at least 200 yards and out of sight of the hoofed animal.
The new open season on dining deer would only apply to the states so-called southern zone, meaning roughly all the counties below the fall line.
House Bill 277 proponents argued that deer are becoming something of a pest in the South.
They eat the ripest blueberries on the bush. They know how to do it, said blueberry farmer and state Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls.
Others argued that there are too many dangerous -- and sometimes fatal -- deer-vehicle collisions.
Rep. Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland, bill sponsor, said supplemental feeding is a sound herd management technique and makes it easier to inspect the herd and make culling decisions.
Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, admitted that hes not a hunter but said, Our hunters ought to be able to enjoy something thats so important to them.
Besides, if anyone thinks its unsportsmanlike, Williams pointed out that some people make friends with their cows, even give them names, then kill them at close range.
The most serious of the bills 48 opponents was Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin.
He pointed to federal statistics that show Georgia is the No. 1 destination for out-of-state hunters -- thus that the industry is doing fine without hunting over bait.
He also lamented that hunters will stop by Wal-Mart and buy a sack of corn instead of managing their land for the long term with white oaks and a variety of trees that will support a full web of wildlife.
Knight also argued that data from South Carolina and other states that already allow the practice show that the coyote population will increase with the easy prey of dining deer, and that deer-vehicle collisions wont decline.
Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, added that he would not want his neighbors using bait.
He said that would lure deer away from the more difficult -- but more natural -- forests, fields and brooks where he prefers to practice the art of deer hunting.
Yet, as the House passed that bill, the Senate turned down another hunting proposition.
Only 20 senators wanted to approve ranching alternative livestock and selling entry to hunters. Thirty were against.
An unusual bipartisan alliance killed the bill, which would have legalized ranching and hunting several kinds of deer, antelope and sheep, plus elk and bison.
They argued that such herds might increase the likelihood of importing diseases, and they pointed out that some members of the deer and antelope families in the bill are endangered.
If the same coalition unites against hunting over bait, hunters may have to keep counting those 200 yards.
To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail email@example.com.