Sad day for Indiana hunters

Today, Governor Pence signed bills 109 and 1231 into law.  109 allows high fenced hunting for captive cervids (deer) in Indiana.  1231 allows large caliber high-powered rifles in deer season next year.  Both have been vehemently opposed by an overwhelming majority of hunters and non hunters in Indiana as well as the DNR for years.  That changed when Pence and his minion DNR Director Clark took office.  

The damage these men and their private agendas have done, and are about to do to Indiana's hunting tradition and the environment will take years to fix.  Both Democrat and Republicans will make them pay at the polls next fall. 

Radio show

For anyone interested, I did a Northwest Indiana radio show on Sunday and talked about some of the stuff mentioned below.  I can't figure out how to link it to this site, but interested listeners can access the podcast on my Facebook page.  Search Donald Mulligan on Facebook. 

Today's newspaper column

Pence is to blame for the DNR losing its way


When the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recently testified in favor of a bill that would strip them of the authority to oversee the management of captive deer, it signaled a change of heart. For the first time, the people in charge of protecting the resource cleared the way for high fenced hunting — something they and hunters statewide had always opposed.

That testimony was only the latest misstep by the DNR and was a sign of a larger cancer in the department. At some point in the past three years, The DNR became nothing more than a tool for the political whims of Governor Pence and a few all-knowing legislators who want to micro manage our natural resources with nothing more than their own personal agenda in mind.

There are several disturbing examples of the meddling by the Governor and the minion-like response by Cameron Clark, DNR Director.

After Clark testified to also stop a bipartisan bill to preserve only 10 percent of Indiana’s public forests from private logging, the Indiana Forest Alliance recently found out what the rest of us had already figured out.

“We are appalled by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ claim to the Senate that the reason not to enact this reasonable measure of conservation is that it would cost the state more than $400,000 a year in lost timber value. With this, the DNR admits that logging is a priority above all else,” said Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director.

Over the past decade, the Division of Forestry has gone from setting aside 40 percent of Indiana’s 150,000 acres of public forest to a current level of only 5 percent.

While some logging is good for the resource, the decision to log nearly all of it is borne of greed, not biology or conservation.

That theme is apparent in other places as well when it comes to Pence and Clark.

The DNR’s support of high-powered rifles for Indiana deer hunting is only the latest exploitation of deer and deer hunting in an effort to sell more tags and in no way reflects what is the best, biological choice to maintain a sustainable deer herd.

But the DNR can’t possibly know what a deer biologist thinks about deer seasons, since under Clark and Pence we have not had a deer biologist or even their assistant since before deer season.

In fact, Indiana was the only state I could find that does not have a deer biologist where whitetail deer reside.

By not hiring a deer biologist, Pence and Clark can manage deer and deer hunting from a purely political perspective, with politicians calling the shots and creating natural resource strategy.

But perhaps the most shocking abuse of power and evidence the DNR and Pence have lost their way lies in their tragic handling of the Indiana Dunes State Park and the deals that have taken place under the table to commercially develop the fragile ecosystem.

Despite the local liquor board denying the Pavilion Partners a liquor license, the opposition of every local conservation group and 10,000 signed petitions to stop the development, the DNR supports a bill that would bypass the locals and give the DNR the right to serve liquor.

That would allow Pavilion Partners to go forward with their lakefront banquet facility, restaurants and conference center.

Who are the Pavilion Partners?

The Northwest Indiana Times reports a Valparaiso businessman heads them, but that the DNR, has a “public/private relationship” with them as well. Dan Bortner has spoken on behalf of the DNR and is the DNR’s director of state parks.

Anyone see a conflict of interest here?

There is more. The Pavilion Partners evidently started talks with the DNR under the Governor Daniels administration, who’s DNR Director was Kyle Hupfer.

Hupfer left the DNR after two years as an attorney and is now representing the Pavilion Partners in their quest to develop the lakefront commercially.

In any private sector corporation these relationships would be investigated and people would be fired, but under Pence, it is business as usual.

What is most disturbing about the current DNR’s vision of their mission is that while Pence and Clark spend all their time trying to develop the state park, they have given no plan to create habitat in the dunes, help the 70 endangered species there or even build a fishing pier.

The things most of us think any Department of Natural Resources ought to be focused on.

There are historically two types of DNR directors in Indiana. Those who take the job because they love the natural resources and those who are minions of a misguided governor and only want to further their career with the position.

We have been cursed with the latter for nearly 12 years, but Pence and Clark get my vote as the worst of the lot.

This week's newspaper column

Warm weather forces ice fishing road trip

Great outdoor adventures often happen out of necessity. All sorts of unforeseen variables create challenges and reshape plans that were thought to be bombproof, sometimes making a better trip than the one planned.

A bomb fell on my annual ice fishing trip this year. I planned well in advance to be sitting on a frozen Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana in February, but instead, found myself sleeping for five days in a shanty in Canada in temperatures that dipped to 32 degrees below zero.

I have long believed Fort Peck Reservoir is America’s best ice fishing lake for trophy northern pike, walleye and lake trout. Because of my bias, there is little I won’t do most years to get at least one crack at her, and February is typically the most foolproof month to find fishable ice there.

The horribly warm winter Indiana encountered this year was a problem everywhere, however.

We knew it was going to be a long shot, but with plans in place my brother and I drove to Peck, anyway. When we got to the north central Montana impoundment it was 45 degrees, raining and not predicted to change anytime soon.

So, we just kept driving east and north. As we drove across Montana, then North Dakota and eventually Minnesota, the temperature just kept getting colder. When we finally crossed the border into Manitoba, Canada, our weather app told us it was 32 below.

We finally located the kind of weather only an ice fisherman could appreciate.

After a Google search and a few calls, we contacted the owner of the Angle Outpost on Lake of the Woods and made quick plans to rent a shanty from them after they told us they had 2 feet of hard ice.

Though it is only accessible on land by passing through Manitoba, the Northwest Angle, where the resort sits, is part of Minnesota.

Despite having our own shanty, gas auger and everything we needed to go it alone, we decided to pay the outpost for the use of one of their sleeper shanties on a reef several miles out into Lake of the Woods’ maze of thousands of islands.

A sleeper cabin is a shanty on the lake that is heated, has bunks, a toilet and in this case, even an oven and stove to cook on. There are holes in the carpeted floor to fish through.

Anglers pay a daily rate and can stay as long as they like, usually fishing 24 hours a day. We didn’t leave our sleeper for five days and had lines in the water the entire time.

Despite the 27 hours of driving it took us to get there, we immediately knew we made a good call and immediately started catching the kind of fish we hoped to find at Fort Peck.

Lake of the Woods has slots for northern and walleye, which always results in lots of fish in the slot, but often fish bigger as well.

The slot for northern there is 30 to 40 inches, which means all fish in that size range cannot be kept. The slot for walleyes is between 19.5 and 28 inches.

For reference, a 28-inch walleye can easily weigh 9 pounds in the winter.

Walleye fishing was spotty for big fish due to a pesky high-pressure ridge that would not relent, but we still caught several fish in the 14- to 18-inch range.

Northern pike are susceptible to high pressure as well, but with a large population of them there, we still had tip up flags flying all day, every day.

If there are small northern pike in Lake of the Woods, we never found them.

Our smallest northern was 30 inches and our largest was 40 inches. We had a few break our 50 pound tip up line above the leader after peeling line out of our hands over and over.

Since we never saw some of the fish that broke off, it is impossible to say what they were. We had a couple theories, however

Lake of the Woods is a world-renowned musky fishery; with fish over 40 pounds very possible and common in open water.

There is a healthy population of monstrous lake sturgeon there as well. Hook a 100-pound sturgeon, and he decides how long you get to play with him.

Our missed fish could have been any of the oversized fish that reside there.

Because we had never stayed in a sleeper shanty and didn’t plan on it, we weren’t totally prepared. The lodge made that a nonissue and was helpful with a couple minor requests.

I still believe Fort Peck is the best ice fishing lake in America, but Lake of the Woods has got to be a close second. What sets it apart is that they have ice even when no one else does.

Today' newspaper column. A real abuse of the legislative process

Legislator reintroduces high-powered proposal

Legislator reintroduces high-powered proposal

What do you do if the majority tells you they don’t like your ideas or plans?

If you are 8 years old, you take your ball and go home. If you are the Indiana Department of Natural Resources or a growing number of elected representatives in Indiana, you simply ignore them, force your will on them and tell them they just don’t know what’s good for them.

The rule that would allow high-powered rifles for deer hunting in Indiana is back, but this time a state representative with the involvement of the IDNR is doing it secretly and outside the public process.

“I tried to introduce this bill three years ago with no success. Then it failed administratively last year, so I decided to take care of this judicially again by introducing another bill,” said Indiana Representative Lloyd Arnold (R-74).

He recently wrote and introduced House Bill 1231, which quietly passed out of committee with a unanimous vote.

The bill requires the DNR Director to establish a deer-hunting season in which certain rifles may be used. The bill places no limit on how big a gun can be, only how small it can be.

It was co authored by Representatives Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville and Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron.

Arnold’s arguments for the inclusion of long-range guns here are almost verbatim from the DNR and Natural Resources Commission’s arguments that were rejected by the public in the open process last year.

The last time around, the DNR wrote the rule after getting two letters asking for rifles. They had previously always ignored those infrequent requests but for some reason got behind it last year.

The proposal was rejected by the NRC after deer hunters, conservationists, city managers and nearly everyone else said they did not want rifles here.

Since the DNR was behind the last introduction, it should come as no surprise that Representative Arnold has been in contact with the DNR since the beginning of this latest end-run around the majority rule.

That disregard for the public process and the opinions of Indiana residents to shape policy and craft laws are what is most disturbing about this.

Though Arnold disagrees with the arguments presented against the last proposal, here are a few, in a nutshell.

Some opponents presented ballistics statistics that illustrated how rifles are more dangerous in our state due to our terrain and density of population, and that comparisons to other states were not valid.

Others argued that it is not necessary to create more opportunities for women and children to hunt deer with an easier weapon since we already have the most liberal and longest seasons in the Midwest, and that currently approved rifle cartridges kick far less than muzzleloaders and slug guns.

Many Hoosiers also argued that our deer herd is already declining and that bigger guns only worsen the hunting experience.

There were a host of other previously settled points raised by the majority as well, but those things clearly don’t matter.

What should move Hoosiers to revolt on this issue is that a couple legislators knew the public spoke on an issue and blatantly ignored it for some sort of personal agenda.

And there is little room for anything besides a personal agenda on this matter.

Representative Arnold denies any personal agenda, saying the DNR told him the opinions on introducing high-powered rifles were pretty well split in the past.

But why look to the DNR on this issue?

The answer is because they already had a track record of wanting all guns all the time. They have been exclusively about killing instead of hunting for a long time.

Their silence on this issue this time around speaks volumes.

Arnold could have gone back and read the stacks of comments against his new law, but likely didn’t because those comments wouldn’t have told him what he wanted to hear.

We can all fight this again, and probably should for the same reasons we did the last time around. A bigger fix is clearly needed, however.

First, call your legislator and tell them what you think of this stunt. Then, find out if your legislators support legislation that bypasses or ignores public sentiment, and vote for the other person.

In the mean time, I have a compromise for Representative Arnold.

Make all long-range, high-powered rifles legal in 2016 in your district only. Since he told me his friends and kids want them, why not just use them and District 74 as the guinea pigs to see if it is safe and good for the sport and state.

The rest of us would like to stick with the concept that the majority rules in a democracy, and not have to repeatedly defend ourselves against people with power and the ability to ignore it.

Today's newspaper column. Controversial to nonhunters, but reality to conservationists

Coyote hunting controls numbers

Coyote hunting controls numbers

I kill coyotes and I don’t eat them.

That may sound like an obvious statement to farmers, hunters and informed conservationists, but comes as a shock to the majority of people in this country who are out of touch with nature.

The overwhelming majority of people in this country do not hunt, fish or trap. Many of them are not opposed to the outdoor sports, but have unrealistic ideas about what we do and how it all goes down.

One of the biggest bits of unsupported logic I run into all over the country is that hunting is justified only because all hunters eat what they kill. With many species that is and should be true, but there are exceptions.

Coyotes are one of them.

When I explain to people who think the only reason to kill something is to eat it that I kill coyotes and don’t eat them, I then have to explain why I do so and why they should be doing the same.

Coyotes were never intended to be the apex predator in any ecosystem. We assigned them the job when we eradicated mountain lions, bears and especially wolves.

Where those larger predators still exist alongside coyotes, coyotes are in check.

But in the case of wolves, which are coyote’s biggest natural enemy, we have pushed them out of the lower 48 states except for a couple isolated places.

The coyote’s transition to king of the woods in the Midwest occurred to a lesser extent through over-hunting and bounties on the larger predators, but to a much larger extent when people displaced the larger predators to clear fields, build subdivisions and erect cities.

The greatest hypocrisy expressed by the people opposed to hunting things we don’t eat is that those same people generally live in the most developed parts of the country, and are the most to blame for the imbalance humans have created.

If humans do not control coyotes for whatever reason we choose, the imbalance in our ecosystem will only get worse.

While many believe the near extirpation of grouse and quail in the Midwest is mostly due to a loss of habitat, for example, they are missing the entire picture if they do not also acknowledge the impact coyotes have on ground nesting birds.

More than a few necropsies on coyotes I have killed have revealed the remains of grouse and quail where they still existed in the same place.

But logic and facts don’t always convince nonhunters, who think killing things we don’t eat is purely sport hunting — perhaps the most reviled sort of hunting in the anti-hunting community.

Their opposition to what we know is management hunting is emotional and based on a fantasy that all of the earth’s creatures can live in harmony if we just leave them to manage themselves.

That might be true in a world without people, but we are here to stay.

Here are some facts that should concern coyote hunters and nonhunters alike if they live in places where larger predators no longer exist.

A Curlew Valley, Idaho, study showed that female coyote pups are capable of breeding before they are 1 year old, and that in the study subject area more than 80 percent of the yearling and older coyotes were pregnant every year.

Now consider that litter sizes are typically around 5-6, but vary with density, environmental conditions and between individual females.

Under moderate densities in places with abundant food, like the Midwest, litters can average between 7-9.

Recent studies have also demonstrated coyotes often hunt in packs, something that was disputed for many years, and that they are becoming more skilled at killing healthy deer. These skills are likely attributable, at least in part, to the mixture of domestic dog in their lines as well as the absence of larger predators for several generations.

Cattle and sheep farmers will also tell you coyotes are responsible for the deaths of several of their livestock every year.

If it makes it people feel better, they are welcome to butcher and eat the coyotes they kill. I can tell them from first hand experience, however, that they are tough, smelly and gamey.

For those of us who just skin and tan their hide, but discard of the meat, I make no apologies. In fact, if anyone who lives in a high-rise where wolves used to den would like to thank me, my email address is posted below.

This week's newspaper column

Mulligan lets it all out with his 2015 Outhouse Awards

It’s time to expose the worst outdoor products and services from 2015 with this year’s installment of Outdoorswithdon’s Outhouse Awards. As always, all of the products mentioned were purchased and used in the field under real outdoor sports conditions, and are in no particular order.

1. On-Time Buck Boiler

I assumed using electricity to heat and boil skulls would be easier than the propane burner method I have been using for decades. I was wrong.

The plastic bucket is too small for most antlers over 140 inches. Even worse, I was nearly electrocuted the first time I plugged it in and touched the water. There was a short somewhere, but that was enough for me to call this product a dud.

2. Foreverlast tripod game hoist

This free-standing tripod needs to be assembled, and once erected, is supposed to lift 500 pounds. It should be perfect for skinning and butchering a big buck or two.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to put together. The parts are supposed to stay together with push snap buttons but they don’t hold long enough to get the legs in place. It is frustrating but fixable by drilling and bolting the legs together permanently.

Once together, the next issue is that the winch is so cheaply made it sticks and bends when being used.

3. Cabela’s reversible fleece facemask

This double-layer full head hat is warm enough for very cold days, but is made of a non-stretching fleece material that is too small for anyone except small children.

I have yet to meet an adult that the one-size-fits-most mask actually fits, with most saying it just gives them a headache.

4. Aquacide Cutrine Plus

After identifying filamentous algae in my lake, I researched treatment options and tried this product. Applied as directed, it not only did not kill my algae, it seemed to increase it.

After talking to a neighbor, I tried a different spray that was cheaper and got spectacular results.

5. Big Dog tree stands

These inexpensive stands are sold at different discount stores, but buyers beware. I bought a couple on clearance for new, seldom-hunted spots, but was shocked at how unnecessarily difficult they were to assemble.

Poor engineering and indecipherable directions were complemented by a single stand that required five different-size, metric bolts. There were only 10 bolts to begin with, and they were so close in size it made no sense to not just make them all the same size.

6. L.L. Bean down jackets

Like bags of Doritos and cartons of ice cream these days, LL Bean’s down jackets seem to have less in them every year. I like a light down layer when hunting in the arctic and appreciate the way these jackets are designed, but they are getting so thin they aren’t worth the price tag.

I have Bean jackets from two and five years ago. Side by side with a brand new one they are noticeably thinner every year, despite all saying they have 850 fill.

7. special event pricing

Buying outdoor gear is becoming a big deal on, especially when they discount already low prices. Getting the lowest price is not always that easy, however.

I watched a particular trail camera starting on Thanksgiving morning, before they advertised savings. On Black Friday the price went up. Then, on Cyber Monday it went up again, despite them saying it was the best time to get deals.

The price went down again after all the advertised deals, but I ended up buying it, where the price never changed.

8. Caldwell Deadshot field pod

This is a great tripod designed to support a gun or crossbow in place without the shooter even touching it. Mine works very well and makes shots from a blind very consistent.

The problem is the tripod only extends to 48 inches and isn’t high enough to shoot cleanly from many enclosed blinds. I made extensions for the legs on mine but shouldn’t have had to.

9. Ford F250 King Ranch trucks

This year, my new, expensive truck just shut down with no warning when I was on the highway, barely allowing me to get to the shoulder. After having it towed, I was told it was reacting to a faulty warning and that nothing was really the matter.

Since no other vehicle I have ever owned has just stopped like that, I’m assuming some idiot engineer at Ford thought they knew better than the rest of the common sense thinking world and programmed the truck this way.

The tow cost me $100, which Ford refused to pay.

10. Indiana deer license

Since the current Indiana Department of Natural Resources has depleted the Indiana deer herd to the point that deer hunting is no longer as much fun as it is frustrating, I think the price of a deer tag here is a bit of a rip-off.

Today's newspaper column

Good outlook for late ducks

In the midst of a seemingly endless deer season, someone quietly opened a duck season.

For the Indiana duck hunters who got their waders wet a month ago and never cared about antlers and venison, it has been a slow start.

Experts say good news is just behind the next winter storm, however, when the first big push of ducks finally moves down from the north. When that happens, hunters in the right spots should be able to replace a slow November with lots of shooting in December.

Indiana is in the Mississippi Flyway and is dependant on ducks from Michigan and Ontario. The news from those two places isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either.

“In Michigan, mallard numbers in 2015 were similar to the previous year’s estimate, but remained below their long-term average,” said Dr. John Coluccy, Director of Conservation Planning in Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes/Atlantic region.

The news was better from southern Ontario.

“Pond numbers recorded during breeding waterfowl surveys were down from last year, but late-spring and early-summer precipitation substantially improved wetalnd conditions for the crucial brood-rearing period,” he added.

As a result, hens and broods in both Michigan and southern Ontario encountered average to good wetland conditions last spring.

It is also important to note that across the rest of the Mississippi Flyway there were two million ducks surveyed by Ducks Unlimited in 2015, which was slightly below 2014, but 29 percent above the long-term average.

Depending on where Hoosiers hunt, they most certainly could see ducks from Minnesota and Wisconsin that were part of that survey.

The goose population outlook in the Mississippi Flyway is mixed, according to Ducks Unlimited. All of the flights in the flyway are predicted to be average.

Those estimates do not account for local geese, which don’t often migrate and are generally increasing in numbers.

Regardless of how many ducks were born last spring, Indiana’s flight depends on cold, snowy and windy weather up north to push birds our way. That is why the best day to hunt is always one that follows a winter storm both here and in Michigan.

Bad weather makes new birds fly through and they are far more likely to decoy in.

Birds that have been hanging around local refuges for a month are educated and are the most frustrating birds in the sky. They either never leave the refuge, return before dawn or fly too high to shoot.

But even if new birds start pushing through tomorrow, they are still not always easy to kill.

Late season migratory ducks often still know where they are going and are difficult to convince otherwise. That means the goal is to be where they want to be, and ideally also be a spot where there hasn’t been constant shooting.

This is why even migrating birds are tougher to decoy in on established blinds. Call it a sixth sense, but out of town birds quickly learn to avoid old blinds even if they haven’t seen them this year.

Instead of draw blinds and old private spots, late season duck hunters should try and take advantage of the December flight by setting up in places no one else does.

Big rivers are usually under hunted due to access and the logistics of hunting current. Shots are often at passing birds as well, which is difficult, but passing birds are better than no birds at all.

Large manmade reservoirs are also often covered with birds until they freeze. These spots require a lot of preparation and some thick skin, however.

Bordering homeowners will invariably call the police when they hear the first shots, but many of the reservoirs still have spots that can be legally hunted.

Talk to the local polices and conservation officer before hunting these spots to determine where to sit, and let them know you will be there. If they are forewarned, they will simply tell the caller you are legal and not interrupt your hunt.

Regardless of the legality of a hunting spot, reservoir hunters should still be courteous and watch where they are shooting.

Indiana’s current north zone duck season runs through Dec. 13, and again Dec. 19-27.

Indiana’s central zone duck season runs through Jan. 10. The south zone season runs through Jan. 17.

Today's newspaper column

Let’s fix Indiana’s deer hunting woes

I am frequently asked my opinion on the current state of Indiana’s deer herd, the hunting experience here, and what I think can be done to fix or make it all better.

My answer is easy to say but hard to do; we just need to manage it better.

Here is how I would do that and why.

The people in charge need to first be convinced there is a problem and that it is in their best financial interest to make deer hunting better in Indiana.

They need to understand more deer and older bucks translate into not only satisfied Hoosiers, but also more money.

Last year’s harvest was down. This year there were confirmed deer deaths before the season started in nearly every county from disease. Combine those two verifiable facts, and it would be hard for the people in charge to deny there are fewer deer to hunt.

The past two administrations have responded to the decline differently than other states, which have reduced available tags to rebuild their herd.

What places like Illinois understand and we don’t, is that when the average hunter doesn’t see a deer, or tag one a couple years in a row, he just drops out. Fewer tags will be sold in the long run for the short-term gain Indiana keeps chasing.

That is a horrible business model if you are selling deer hunting or anything, for that matter.

Increase and enhance the experience and hunters and their tags will follow. That is business 101.

Diseases like EHD have taken a toll in recent years, but disease is not what is killing deer and deer hunting in Indiana. The decline of deer is due to our seasons and tag structure.

Here is how I would restructure Indiana’s deer seasons to not only create a better product for Hoosier hunters, but also increase revenue.

Guns have always been the primary tools that kill most of our deer and therefore need the most scrutiny.

Push back the start of regular firearms season to the Saturday before Thanksgiving and let it run for nine days. Start the muzzleloader season in mid-December and let it run through two weekends as well, for nine consecutive days.

Additionally, it is probably time to look at the intent of muzzleloader season and make it more primitive again. It has truly just become a second rifle season here.

Many states have outlawed scopes, pelletized or smokeless powder and even sealed breeches. We should look at some of those things.

If enough deer aren’t killed in the first two gun seasons, have a special two-day antlerless deer, any firearms season the first weekend in January, but only by executive order after reviewing the harvest for the year, and only on a county-by-county basis.

Hunters in many states can follow the rules as they change overnight due to changes in the resource. We can, too.

Even without the early youth firearms season, which we should keep, Indiana would still have longer, more liberal gun seasons than Ohio, Illinois and many other Midwestern states.

Crossbows need to be moved out of the first bow season and start with the first gun season. They should then be legal the rest of the year, which would make them legal longer than they were before they were mysteriously and instantaneously given access to the entire deer season.

But before season even starts, the outrageous number of doe tags currently allowed needs to be drastically cut back, and price of a nonresident deer tag should be tripled.

The nonresident deer tag issue is a win-win. Some border hunters will drop out, making residents happy, and the nonresidents willing to pay the increased fee because we just made hunting better will make up for the lost out-of-state hunters.

None of this is possible under the current DNR administration, however.

So when people follow up their question on how I would fix deer hunting here with a plea for ways to get it done, I have one answer.

Get the current gubernatorial candidate’s position on the state of deer and deer hunting here. Then tell that man you want a DNR director who is interested in what his hunting constituents want, and not just another person with a short-term plan to make money at the expense of our declining deer herd.

Today's newspaper column

Enter a Descriptive Title for your New Blog Entry

You should know the lake to catch the bass

As humans prepare for fall by simply digging out a light jacket from the closet, fish are a lot more concerned about the change of seasons, and are very aware of the winter weather just around the corner.

Like most wild creatures, bass become more active feeders this time of year, making them easier to catch than just a month ago. As the apex predator in most Indiana waters, they sometimes fearlessly feed in the open and with reckless abandon.

To take advantage of the fall feed, it helps to understand why they move and eat so aggressively this time of year.

According to Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D., bass are reacting to the shortening of daylight periods and the first major frontal passages — particularly the effect that cool nights or rain associated with cold fronts have on water temperature.

Both events cause bass to try and bulk up for the upcoming winter when they are more lethargic and food is scarcer.

Dodson believes fall bass follow schools of smaller baitfish into deeper water, which makes sense.

He also says, however, that bass move from main channels to deeper channels as well as from feeder channels back up into coves.

In other words, they go everywhere. That doesn’t help, and in my opinion, is partially incorrect.

It is important to first consider the individual body of water when determining fall bass behavior.

In large, heavily fished reservoirs, some bass spend most of the year on deep-water structure to avoid boat traffic and commotion. Food is a secondary concern for these fish.

In these places, water is turbid all year, which makes it harder for them to see bait. That makes lure selection critically important.

Wide spinners with a lot of vibration or body baits and jigs with the loudest internal rattles are good choices.

In smaller bodies of water that do not allow boats or are private and not fished heavily, bass behave much differently.

In these places, water is often clear, especially when there has been little or no rain for months. Bass in these clear, under-fished lakes are less skittish and are more inclined to eat nearly any lure properly presented to them.

That is not to say they are immune from being spooked if anglers get too close. Clear-water fish are more aware of movement and often swim away if approached too aggressively, but are still more likely than big-water fish to hit a lure after being allowed to settle into a new haunt only a few feet away.

Fish in these lakes are also far more likely to cruise in the open and eat all day long.

In both large and small lakes, however, I believe fall bass mostly abandon shallow water and shoreline hiding places, and spend most of their time in the deepest water available.

They probably do this because as Dodson said, they are following baitfish. They do not typically move into coves, however, as he also asserted.

There will always be some bass hiding in shoreline cover, even as the seasons change, but rest assured, the biggest bass in any lake this fall will be in deep water.

My brother and I put these theories to the test last weekend on my 15-acre bass lake in southern Indiana.

The air temperature was below 50 degrees at dawn and the water temperature was a full 10 degrees colder than it was a week prior to our outing.

With steam rising off of the very clear lake, we eased around the shore in a canoe, working both surface lures and weedless, weightless lizards. We targeted spots that produced bass all summer.

After an hour and not a single hit, we turned around in the canoe and started working the same lures over deeper water, and across the deepest channel in the lake.

The results were immediate.

Every first cast got a strike, and when we landed fish they were the largest bass we have seen in the lake all year. Additionally, every fish we released swam right back to the deep water.

While bass migration varies from one lake to the next based on the contour of the lake, anglers should focus on the deep water at the end of the migration route if they want to catch more and bigger bass this fall.

Newspaper column

Opening day fact and fiction

The opening of Indiana’s regular deer archery season on Oct. 1 represents the culmination of a lot of hard work and anticipation for many Hoosier hunters. But opening day doesn’t in any way resemble itself from 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

Here are both good and bad truths about the current state of Indiana’s opening day of deer season.

Perhaps the most obvious change to our opening day is that it really isn’t opening day any more.

Hunters in the ever-expanding Deer Reduction Zones have been shooting at deer since Sept. 15. And with a bag limit of 10 deer in the zones, there is a lot of shooting to be done.

Additionally, youth firearms season and depredation hunts have already occurred statewide.

In many places, those hunts didn’t affect the deer herd or its movement. But in places where folks have been hunting before the starting gun officially goes off for the rest of us, opening day will be less fruitful and more closely resemble hunting conditions in mid-October.

Where they have been uninterrupted by people, dogs and gunshots all summer, deer will be predictable. Secluded food sources will be visited on opening day by the same does, fawns and yearling bucks that have been there nearly every evening for the past month.

Opening day does little for the hunter who is holding out for a mature or record-book buck, however.

Despite the accepted belief that the rut technically begins as soon as antlers are hard, hunters should not be fooled into thinking the rut is on. Old bucks only intentionally show themselves during the later, chasing phase of the rut.

That period usually happens after the mid-October lull in action and just before Halloween, depending on the weather and a couple other factors.

Novice hunters may be fooled into thinking bucks are preparing to mate by trail camera shots of yearling bucks sparring now, or the appearance of rubs and scrapes in the past couple weeks.

The reality is that September rubs are from velvet removal and the scrapes are from does and young bucks just going through the motions. Old deer get old by not doing any of these things in September and early October.

In fact, some mature bucks don’t rub or scrape at all.

Despite there being only a slight chance of seeing old bucks on Indiana’s opening day, it is still one of the greatest times to be in the field.

The abrupt, increased human presence in the woods and fields initially makes deer more active. For the first couple days they run and move around until they finally figure out staying still and hiding is a better survival technique.

On public ground and draw areas, opening day is nothing short of chaos. Deer move around in a panic. Sometimes the biggest issue in these places is just getting a deer to stand still long enough to take a good shot.

But despite the increased movement of does and small bucks on opening day, many Indiana hunters pass on open shots since Indiana’s season is so long. They reason there is more than enough time to harvest a deer later.

That is a mistake. Doe hunters should actually use the long season and opening day to their advantage and shoot the first doe they see.

Removing a doe from a hunting area as early as possible allows the deer pattern to return to normal over the long season.

It is a bad idea to kill a breeding age doe after mid-October if the goal is to also kill a buck in the same area. The disruption will push both bucks and does away at a time when they are establishing where they will spend the balance of the breeding season.

If a doe isn’t taken in the first week of archery season here, most good buck hunters will wait until after Christmas to try and fill the meat tag when the impact isn’t as great.

The one truth about opening day in Indiana that no one has ever changed is that it is a great time to ease back into the game and start building anticipation for more exciting hunts to come.

Newspaper column

Opening day fact and fiction

The opening of Indiana’s regular deer archery season on Oct. 1 represents the culmination of a lot of hard work and anticipation for many Hoosier hunters. But opening day doesn’t in any way resemble itself from 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

Here are both good and bad truths about the current state of Indiana’s opening day of deer season.

Perhaps the most obvious change to our opening day is that it really isn’t opening day any more.

Hunters in the ever-expanding Deer Reduction Zones have been shooting at deer since Sept. 15. And with a bag limit of 10 deer in the zones, there is a lot of shooting to be done.

Additionally, youth firearms season and depredation hunts have already occurred statewide.

In many places, those hunts didn’t affect the deer herd or its movement. But in places where folks have been hunting before the starting gun officially goes off for the rest of us, opening day will be less fruitful and more closely resemble hunting conditions in mid-October.

Where they have been uninterrupted by people, dogs and gunshots all summer, deer will be predictable. Secluded food sources will be visited on opening day by the same does, fawns and yearling bucks that have been there nearly every evening for the past month.

Opening day does little for the hunter who is holding out for a mature or record-book buck, however.

Despite the accepted belief that the rut technically begins as soon as antlers are hard, hunters should not be fooled into thinking the rut is on. Old bucks only intentionally show themselves during the later, chasing phase of the rut.

That period usually happens after the mid-October lull in action and just before Halloween, depending on the weather and a couple other factors.

Novice hunters may be fooled into thinking bucks are preparing to mate by trail camera shots of yearling bucks sparring now, or the appearance of rubs and scrapes in the past couple weeks.

The reality is that September rubs are from velvet removal and the scrapes are from does and young bucks just going through the motions. Old deer get old by not doing any of these things in September and early October.

In fact, some mature bucks don’t rub or scrape at all.

Despite there being only a slight chance of seeing old bucks on Indiana’s opening day, it is still one of the greatest times to be in the field.

The abrupt, increased human presence in the woods and fields initially makes deer more active. For the first couple days they run and move around until they finally figure out staying still and hiding is a better survival technique.

On public ground and draw areas, opening day is nothing short of chaos. Deer move around in a panic. Sometimes the biggest issue in these places is just getting a deer to stand still long enough to take a good shot.

But despite the increased movement of does and small bucks on opening day, many Indiana hunters pass on open shots since Indiana’s season is so long. They reason there is more than enough time to harvest a deer later.

That is a mistake. Doe hunters should actually use the long season and opening day to their advantage and shoot the first doe they see.

Removing a doe from a hunting area as early as possible allows the deer pattern to return to normal over the long season.

It is a bad idea to kill a breeding age doe after mid-October if the goal is to also kill a buck in the same area. The disruption will push both bucks and does away at a time when they are establishing where they will spend the balance of the breeding season.

If a doe isn’t taken in the first week of archery season here, most good buck hunters will wait until after Christmas to try and fill the meat tag when the impact isn’t as great.

The one truth about opening day in Indiana that no one has ever changed is that it is a great time to ease back into the game and start building anticipation for more exciting hunts to come.

My newspaper column regarding one aspect of my five week stay alone in the Alaskan Arctic this year

Long solo Alaska hunt full of challenges


While huddled under a blood stained tarp barely big enough to protect my gear and me from the 35-degree sleet and ice fog, I was recently reminded how quickly things go from bad to worse in the Alaskan Arctic.

I was alone there for the 15th year in a row, this time for five weeks on the rolling arctic tundra that defines the Gates of the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve.

I was camped next to the Kuparuk Aufeis.

An aufeis is an ice field in the middle of the tundra that builds from the ground up (unlike lakes and rivers which freeze from the top down). They often persist like an oasis of open water in the winter and ice sheet in the summer.

They attract all sorts of wildlife, including caribou, which I was hunting.

Though it wasn’t important, while sitting under that tarp, I couldn’t stop thinking about blood.

While constantly adjusting the undersized tarp to cover me, I was annoyed by the flakes of old blood falling onto me and could not escape the rotten smell it created as it rehydrated in the rain.

“I haven’t wrapped meat in this tarp for three years, and stowed it away dry, so why does it still stink so much,” I wondered.

After so much time alone, I was talking to myself more than usual and doing it out loud.

I eventually convinced myself the stink was just one more way the wilderness was going to make me uncomfortable, and its way of telling me it was time to go home.

Unfortunately, the bloody tarp and why I was hiding under it weren’t the first or worst of the obstacles I faced this year.

Three days before taking refuge under the tarp, I spoke with my bush pilot friend on the satellite phone and told him I was ready to be picked up when it was possible. He told me to be ready the first morning the sky was clear.

When I woke that day to clear skies, I immediately started tearing down my tent and piling all of my belongings near the gravel bar where he landed and dropped me off.

As minutes became hours, I nervously watched an ice fog bank rolling in off of the Arctic Ocean, which was only about 20 miles away. I knew those banks typically brought rain with them, and as it neared, the first drops of freezing rain started to fall on my gear and me.

I looked at my tent in its bag and again said out loud: “I am not putting you up again, you _______!”

Alone, that tent takes more than four hours to fully erect.

It is the best tundra tent made and has sheltered me through three-day blizzards, 80-mile-per-hour winds and lingering brown and polar bears, but it also requires driving 50, foot-long metal stakes into the equivalent of concrete.

Still hoping my ride was on the way, I opted to sit on it instead of pitching it and pulled out my meat tarp to shelter me.

Four hours later I heard the beautiful and unmistakable humming sound of a bush plane. The fog was nearly on the ground by that time, however, and the pilot proceeded to circle my gear and me for the next half hour, at times only 50 feet off the ground.

I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t landing until on the last pass, the pilot opened his window and dropped out a note. After reading it, I realized the rain and fog made the gravel strip impossible to see.

It was also clear that if he didn’t land soon, he would have to leave without me.

I quickly grabbed all of my gear in the now pouring rain and placed pieces on each of the four corners that roughly outlined the gravel bar. That did the trick and he landed on the next pass.

Once in the plane I told him about the bear that lurked around my tent at four a.m. two nights ago and how I had to repair a molar that fell out of my jaw quite unexpectedly four nights ago. Before I continued with more stories from my adventure, he interrupted me.

“So, nothing out of the ordinary then, huh,” he said. “Our issue right now is this fog. We have to find a way around it before it hits the ground.”

I knew that was my cue to shut up and let him concentrate.

A 45-minute flight in clear skies became a silent two-hour flight, uncomfortably close to the ground, but we made back to base camp safe.

I did not kill a caribou this year despite many opportunities. I took pictures, hiked several miles every day and was happy to experience the remote wilderness on my own.

I have learned to take challenges like the ones mentioned and numerous gear failures in stride over the years, but sometimes struggle with an even bigger obstacle when alone in the wilderness for extended periods.

The biggest challenges most years are in my head.

Fear and loneliness come and go, but can become full blown panic if left unattended. I have learned to cope with them by staying busy and trusting my survival skills, but only a fool would not feel anxious at times.

Fear, in moderation, keeps you alive by making you avoid danger. I pay attention to it, but dissect it at times to make sure it comes from real danger and is not just perceived.

Perceived fear isn’t real and is a product of our imagination. Darkness is a good example of this but causes some people great distress in the wilderness.

I dispose of fear and loneliness as quickly as possible with logic since I am usually only minutes away from the next real issue, like a stinky, bloody tarp and plane that won’t land.

Newspaper column

Gather outdoor wisdom to live by


In my career as a North American hunter, fisherman and survivalist, I have met lots of people who share my passion and experience as an outdoorsman. Like me, many have learned several lessons the hard way, and like me, they are usually ready to offer advice, whether it is wanted or not.

The following are some of my favorite bits of wisdom and observations from my travels. Some of them are sound advice and some are seemingly just funny. Regardless, they all originated from real situations in the outdoor world.

It’s the dead ones that will kill you.

I first heard this one elk hunting 20 years ago, but have seen it applied many times the past 14 years in Alaska and anywhere large game or fish has been shot or boated.

It is a warning to the hunter or fisherman to never assume his quarry is dead just because it is lifeless. Assumed dead wildlife will often seemingly come back to life and use its last bit of energy to trample, claw, bite or charge anyone or anything in its vicinity.

Always be ready to shoot motionless game again from a distance and always touch the creature’s eyeball from a distance, and only if it is fixed in an open position.

If you like bear meat, you’re gonna really like dog.

I have never eaten dog for a comparison, but I have eaten several black and grizzly bears. Some are edible, but most taste bad. I know there are people who disagree with me, but there are also people who swear buy the taste of opossums and ants.

The saying was likely coined by people who hunt bears that have been feasting on dead fish for a month. I have taken those bears in the past and could barely get through skinning them, let alone eat the rotten-smelling meat.

In case any anti-hunters are thinking I killed a bear and didn’t eat it, don’t worry. I just had to put those bears in chili or fajitas to force them down.

Never climb over something you can go around.

This one has value as advice for endurance hunters and as a safety tip for everyone.

Many errant gun discharges happen when hunters are carrying their gun while climbing over a fence or log. They should always set the gun down before climbing or just never climb over stuff.

Additionally, wilderness hunters should always seek the path of least resistance to save energy. Going a few steps on level ground to get around an obstacle is always the best choice for both reasons.

You will have to put a screen door on your behind just to keep the rats out.

This is a little off-color, but is a valuable warning to avoid water-born ailments when wilderness hunting anywhere in North America.

I have been in spike camps around the continent with people who didn’t take necessary precautions to clean their drinking water and were infected with Giardiasis or Cryptospirdiosis.

Ingesting water-born parasites causes both. Contracting either of them is painful, and as the saying implies, smelly and not pretty.

You can use any color you want as long as it is white.

Polite fishing guides often say this to patrons who are dead set on using their favorite nonwhite lure even when the guide knows white is the most consistent producer.

Though there are exceptions, for most species of fish white lures produce the best results, on average. It is the most reliable color for walleyes, stripers, salmon, crappies, bluegills, northern pike and several types of saltwater fishes.

When you get to your destination, throw your gear in the river.

A bush pilot friend of mine tells this to first-time wilderness hunters who are paranoid about keeping their gear and body dry and clean on the hunt.

His point is that in Alaska it can’t be done, so they should just get wet and dirty from the start and just accept it. Otherwise, they spend their entire trip fighting the elements and losing anyway.

I stopped trying to beat rain, blizzards, wind and dirt in the wilderness a long time ago. I have been happier and hunted more since I lowered my definition of comfort, but still stay acceptably comfortable by using only the finest gear available.

Don’t take a sauna with Joe.

This last bit of advice really only helps a few people in a specific part of Alaska, but it proved to be invaluable when it was given to me.

Joe is the only native left in a very remote Alaskan village that is in an area known for spectacular brown bear hunting. Hunting parties like mine often wander near his shack in the mountains, and Joe is always happy to greet them.

He typically asks for supplies or food, which most are happy to give, but eventually asks if anyone would like to get in his sauna with him.

Evidently, Joe is very lonely and has very bad boundaries. Despite a sauna sounding good after several days of hiking with packs on, those who have been warned know to pass on the invitation.

This week's newspaper column

Summer deer worth watching


In between fishing, camping and perhaps even activities unrelated to the outdoors, it is worth watching and tracking the summer lives of deer.

The information collected may not tell hunters where to hunt in October, but it will help them understand their quarry at a deeper level.

Most hunters remove their trail cameras at the end of deer season. That is a mistake.

Though running them all year shortens the life of most cameras, they are unparalleled as both a scouting and educational tool in the summer. Knowing where to set trail cameras in the summer is important.

Summer bucks in velvet avoid physical contact with other deer and objects because their growing antlers are sensitive and easily damaged. They like water not only for this reason, but also because like all deer in the summer, they need to drink more.

Some studies report antler growth is related to the amount of water available during the spring and summer months. If they are related, this should a banner year with all the rainfall Indiana has endured.

But too much rain also makes it hard to find bucks looking for water during the hot summer months. Summer deer get their moisture from the vegetation they eat in a pinch, but prefer to drink from standing pools.

Pools are everywhere during rainy summers, but are often temporary, making it hard to set a trail camera to catch deer drinking from them. Given the choice between temporary pools in the woods or permanent water sources that are adjacent to cover and have deep water, however, hunters should always choose the permanent source.

Permanent pools are reliable for bucks not wanting to travel. They also provide relief from flying and biting insects.

A trail camera pointed at the water’s edge where deer come to drink will reveal them wading out into the water nearly every day in the summer. A camera set on film mode will reveal them just standing in deep water for several minutes in the hot and buggy summer months.

Perennial food plots that have been maintained all summer are still good places to see deer, but as the summer progresses and antlers grow, fewer bucks will visit them.

In fact, by the end of the summer, older bucks will nearly disappear from sight and even trail cameras. It is believed they move very little from the end of the summer until the chasing phase of the rut at the end of October.

Younger bucks continue to move and can be seen all year, hence the reason they are so vulnerable to predators and early season hunters.

Annual food plots planted this past spring should be green but immature right now. They are often better places to find summer deer once they start to green-up since all wildlife prefers young, tender plants versus mature ones.

Despite the fact that older bucks become more scarce as the summer progresses, a camera set on a water or food source that are undisturbed all summer might catch the same deer throughout the antler growth period.

Once humans or dogs bump them off the spot, however, they will probably not return as frequently.

Antlers start growing in early spring, but grow fastest in the month of July. They stop growing by September though they might still be covered with velvet until October for various reasons.

Watching the same buck every week on camera reveals the antler growth process and makes it possible to identify individual bucks in the fall, if they stay.

Unfortunately, the places some bucks choose to spend their summer are not always the same places they choose to live in the fall and winter. There is little anyone can do about it except remember that if one buck moves from one farm to another, so will others.

Often a deer unseen all summer but revealed in the fall is a buck that lived on a neighbor’s farm all summer.

Perhaps the most important thing a hunter or deer lover can see over the summer are does with their new young.

The health of the does in an area is partially revealed by the number of fawns they produce. While this has to do with genetics as well, it is at least partially still a product of a deer’s environment.

In some places in Indiana, healthy, well-fed does at their prime breeding age will birth three fawns. In places where conditions are poor, it is unusual to see a doe with more than one fawn at a time.

The role of coyotes in a deer’s life is exposed in the summer as well.

There is mounting evidence fawns are fighting a losing battle against coyotes in some places across the Midwest. Summer-run trail cameras set in places where does and their young hide will always catch the canines patrolling the area these days.

Tracking the lives of deer in the summer may not be the best scouting tool for a fall hunt, but for the increasing number of people who see them as more than just a target, it is time and money well spent.

Today's newspaper column

Indiana bear raises questions


Indiana outdoorsmen and women haven’t been able to talk about bears in the Hoosier state since 1871. When it was confirmed by the DNR that a male black bear wandered across the Indiana border from Michigan this spring that changed.

That single bear’s historical walk-about frightened some, but made others ask whether a breeding population of bears could exist in Indiana.

The answer hinges on both the environment and social acceptance.

Having lived for up to a month every year in a tent in the company of black, grizzly and polar bears, I was not surprised a young male wandered into Indiana.

I have watched each of the subspecies for weeks at a time slowly make their way over mountains, across massive rivers, around active volcanoes and in the middle of cities. Like their mood and intentions, their plans often change for no good reason.

While no one has confirmed the Indiana bear is a young male, he is acting like many young males I have encountered.

Female black bears generally range from 1 to 15 miles in their lifetime. Males, on the other hand, claim a home range of 8 to 60 miles and often up to 100 square miles.

Every once in a while, an animal will start walking and never stop. These rogues often travel many hundreds of miles.

Younger males are the most likely to roam outside their range for various reasons. Poor habitat and a lack of food usually drives them, but competition with other male bears and conflicts with humans also play a big role in pushing bears into new areas.

It is believed the Indiana bear will soon turn back toward his Muskegon, Michigan home because his breeding season starts around July 1. Bears are unpredictable, however, and this one has already proven to be the first of his kind in 144 years.

If he stays, he would obviously need other bears to be part of a sustainable resident population, but more than other bears, he would have to win over the hearts and minds of Hoosiers who have never lived with bears.

To say he would never pose a danger would be untrue, but for people who live in bear country, the limited danger is acceptable to have the opportunity to live with the spectacular creatures.

I have been charged by brown and black bears and followed up trees by them as well, but I have never been hurt. Understanding the situation has helped me to diffuse the encounters, but I also always understood most bears want nothing to do with humans.

Unfortunately, despite their instinct to avoid humans, young black bears are faster and stronger than a grown man and sometimes they simply won’t back down. They are especially territorial and brazen when it comes to food.

The Indiana bear has avoided people so far but has done property damage. More damage is inevitable where ever he resides as he forages to eat in places where humans reside.

When I am living with bears, I steer clear of sows with cubs but pay even closer attention to food sources.

The black bear that followed me up a tree did so to protect a food source. The brown bear that charged me from 20 yards did so over a salmon hole, and the polar bears that stalked me did so because I was cleaning an arctic research station they had just scattered across the tundra in search of food.

But even if Hoosiers accept a bear’s bipolar behavior when it comes to food, there is more needed for them to establish themselves here.

They need habitat.

Black bears are primarily woodland and swamp creatures but can adapt to woodlots that are adjacent to agricultural fields. They could probably survive in small numbers in northeast Indiana and along river corridors, but would have a better chance in southern Indiana.

Indiana’s largest forests are in the south, as well as our most diverse and inaccessible terrain. The opportunity to live unseen is critical for sows, especially when they are denning and with their newborn.

There are breeding populations of black bears in the adjacent states of Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan, but only in small numbers, and usually only where there are still large contiguous tracts of timber, hills and wetlands.

Indiana’s first bear in 144 years is testing our environment and people, and will soon decide if he wants to stay. Some of us hope he does, but everyone has to be on board if more bears decide to call Indiana their permanent home.

Newspaper column

Adapt strategy to catch the post-spawn bass


June isn’t the most difficult month to catch bass in Indiana, but it isn’t the easiest either.

Most fish are post spawn in June and are not as eager to chase food as they were before the spawn. Some are even so physically spent from the spawn they become lethargic for weeks or even die.

The timing of the spawn varies from one fish to another even in the same lake and is closely tied to lake conditions, but is generally considered done by the end of May in Northern Indiana.

To confirm bass are done with the spawn, visually inspect water less than two-feet deep where most circular beds were constructed. If they are empty, it is a safe bet bass are gone and recuperating.

After a couple weeks of rest, surviving bass are ready to forage again but they are still not at full strength. Post spawn bass want food but prefer it be easy and concentrated.

In June, that means they will likely be targeting fish that spawn after them and their newly hatched fry. Bluegills continue to use spawning beds after bass and are the number one food source for bass where they exist.

Bass will ambush bluegills on their beds now, but also schools of newly hatched bluegills. It is also very likely bass feast on their own fry at this point.

But the shallow water where bluegills are spawning and newly hatched fish hide offers additional food as well. Most amphibians and insects are found near shore this time of year as well, making shallow water irresistible for lazy, post spawn bass.

All that shallow food dictates the way bass anglers should target the bass searching for it.

Bluegills, frogs, snakes and most insects are a shade of green. For this reason, baits should be green.

Surface lures work well for shallow bass and are the only exception to the color choice. Black is always the best surface lure choice since it contrasts best against the sky as predators approach it from beneath.

Otherwise, jigs, crankbaits, spinners and plastics should be green this time of year. The hue of green should vary based on the available sunlight and water clarity.

The old adage: dark day, dark lure holds true even within the family of green lures.

Regardless of the lure choice, it is critical to work it slowly for post spawn bass. Pause crankbaits and stickbaits on the retrieve, or even better, use an un-weighted rubber worm.

Since fish are in very shallow water and near shore, anglers are likely to encounter lots of snags. Under these circumstances a six-inch, Texas-rigged lizard is a perfect choice.

They are heavy enough to cast and sink slowly from just the weight of the hook. They slip through grass and over timber with ease if rigged properly and produce fewer missed hits than most lures since fish typically inhale the entire bait.

They are also easier to remove than baits with treble hooks and therefore result in fewer killed fish.

Perhaps the most important consideration when targeting post spawn bass, however, is their health and handling.

June bass are recent survivors of winter and the entire, exhausting spawning process. Females had to produce eggs, lay them and guard their nests.

Throughout the process, they didn’t feed and were likely targeted by fishermen and predators more than a few times.

While it is perfectly acceptable to keep and eat bass, lots of anglers these days practice catch and release. If a release is the plan, don’t fight the fish too long or handle it out of the water at all f possible.

Handling a post spawn bass with great care and returning it to the water immediately is the best way to insure catching it again next year.

Newspaper column

Quail rebound; still in danger


From my personal and very unscientific survey, I have concluded this could be the first good year for Indiana’s northern bobwhite quail population in nearly two decades.

If my prediction is correct, however, the gains made this year will be short-lived if we don’t pay even closer attention to a recent and more reputable study about the diminutive upland game bird.

Before anyone breathes a sigh of relief for the quail, they need to know 82 percent of America’s northern bobwhite quail have disappeared in the past 40 years according to the National Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count. My local survey doesn’t fix that, but gives me a reason to hope for the future.

I have peddled my road bike across the same rural 30-50 mile routes in central Indiana for the past 20 years. When I am not forced to focus on dogs nipping at my heels or a car that won’t go around me, I watch and listen for wildlife.

This year, a couple things are consistently obvious. First, the groundhog population is rebounding after nearly disappearing, and second, there are more quail in the ditches, along the fencerows and along grassy strips than I have encountered in all of the time I have been riding.

In 2015, I have visually identified quail on more than one occasion, but more importantly, I have heard their distinctive “bob-white” call along every road I have traveled. In past years I almost never saw the birds and certainly never heard them in 80 percent of the places they are calling now.

The Audubon study blames their decline on a nationwide loss of habitat caused by changes in forestry practices and conversion of native habitat. Locally, we can also blame clean farming techniques that leave no cover and nothing for birds to eat, but also our pets.

That’s right, your cat is to blame for the near extirpation of one of America’s most recognized game birds.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communication, biologists reported domestic cats kill as many as 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion small animals annually and are the number one killer of birds and small mammals in the world.

A previous study by the University of Georgia was less dire but still shocking. They projected that house cats here killed around four billion small birds and mammals combined every year. Using cat-mounted cameras, they found that one-third of every cat’s day is spent killing small creatures.

Like dogs, cats have been described by most biologists as “super predators” since they are usually well fed and overnight in a warm, dry place. Wild animals barely stand a chance against them.

Where pet owners and farmers care as much about wildlife as they do pets and profit, there is hope for the quail.

Responsible owners should neuter every cat they own, and never leave food outdoors because it attracts and concentrates strays. Stray cats can be easily live-trapped and taken to shelters where available.

In some places, the effort to stop the decline of native birds due to cat kills takes a more drastic turn.

In New Zealand there is a push to require registration of every cat and everyone there is encouraged to trap and euthanize suspected strays. While widespread euthanizing of strays may sound harsh, it is no worse than the fate suffered by the billions of birds and mammals killed by cats.

And the cat population is in no danger.

At the very least, we need to do a better job encouraging habitat creation and maintenance for quail and other upland birds through incentives and legislation.

Quail make my bike ride a whole lot more interesting, but more importantly, they make the entire state more interesting for everyone.

Today's newspaper column.

There are a couple related things to add to this one. After this went to press, the proposal to allow high-powered rifles for deer hunting next year was withdrawn from consideration and is dead until it potentially reappears in a different form next year. This was a rare victory for Hoosiers and conservation. Additionally, I was informed by the editor of this paper that my columns about the DNR and their high-powered rifle push lead to a first place award by the Associated Press. Cuddos to this paper for having the nerve to print the columns and following up with their own opinions on the subject.

DNR backpeddles as deer population dwindles

It has been an informative month for deer hunters concerned about Indiana’s deer population and the way it has been managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

In its annual deer harvest report, the DNR recently confirmed what hunters already knew: the deer harvest dropped in 2014. It was the third decline in four years, which began when the DNR and Natural Resources Commission increased doe tags, created additional seasons and added crossbows to bow season.

In equally critical news, the DNR surprisingly also took a formal position against the inclusion of center fire rifles for deer next year. This surprised most observers since it was the DNR who chose to take a citizen’s petition for rifles and submit it to the NRC for consideration. Until this year, the DNR had never advanced requests for rifles in deer season despite similar individual requests most years.

The proposed rule allowing high-powered rifles for Indiana deer season in 2015 was withdrawn. The issue is dead for now but could be raised again in the future with amendments.

The DNR did not link the decline in the deer harvest and their flip flop on rifles in any of their prepared statements. In fact, the DNR says the continued deer decline is by design, and the change of direction on rifles is only because no one understands the issue.

I have a different opinion about why deer are declining and why the DNR now opposes the use of rifles for deer hunting. I also believe the two issues are linked, not only because they both affect deer hunting, but also because they both illustrate how little respect the current DNR has for outdoorsmen and women.

None of the real reasoning behind the deer decline or rifles has anything to do with the best interest of deer, deer hunting or even biology.

As part of their statement explaining why they are now opposed to rifles, the DNR said the following:

“Several years ago, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, along with conservation partners, developed an Indiana Deer Management Strategy that focused deer herd reduction in a strategically targeted manner to more adequately balance ecological, recreational and economic needs of the citizens of Indiana.”

One of many problems with this statement is that the DNR continually defends the downward spiral of deer herd with the notion that they planned to mismanage the deer herd for quite some time.

Telling us they planned to fail shouldn’t let them off the hook.

The larger problem with the statement is that no one knows the identity of the “conservation partners” with whom they supposedly collaborated to beat back the deer herd and make hunting worse.

In my conversations with several organized conservation and hunting groups in Indiana, none said they were ever part of a deer management plan to reduce the herd.

The herd reduction plan was, and has always been about exploiting the deer population for revenue in the form of license sales.

In the same statement, the DNR also said there are no safety concerns regarding the use of rifles here and that “the Division of Fish and Wildlife believes this to be a social issue.”

That is their way of saying we are all a bunch of frightened, uninformed fools who don’t know what we are talking about when it comes to rifles and where we live, but that they will begrudgingly appease us, nonetheless.

The frustrating question for most of us is why would the DNR back peddle on rifles but not on deer herd reduction plans when they got similar push back from the majority of hunters?

They did it because people besides outdoorsmen and women complained about the rifle proposal.

The DNR director works for a recently embattled governor who doesn’t care about us any more than the DNR, but does care when city leaders and farmers are screaming at him about rifles being used around their homes.

The DNR tried to slip rifles past the opposing majority of the hunting public like they did the deer reduction plan, but this time we had an ally in the non-hunting public.

If the NRC approves the use of rifles, they too will probably feel the wrath of the non-hunting majority and be forced to abandon private agendas for majority rule.

Both the DNR and NRC are on record claiming they value public input on these and other issues, but their handling of another recent issue exposes a pattern of the opposite.

While the DNR runs for cover on deer management and rifles, they are also taking heat for the same sort of heavy-handed tactics with their plan to partner with a private company to build a conference center in the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Multiple attendees at open meetings are claiming their opinions were not heard and ignored by DNR officials. Sound familiar?

As of this week, The Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana chapter of the Sierra Club and the Citizens Action Coalition have lined up against the deal in the dunes, joining early opponents Save the Dunes and the Izaak Walton League.

The pattern is alarming and reveals this administration answers to no one, whether they are making rules for the Indiana Dunes, deer management or the use of high-powered rifles.

Hunters just need to remember to engage a battle-weary governor and non-hunters the next time we want to be heard.

Today's newspaper column

DNR sells out on Lake Michigan for profit

Conservation-minded Hoosiers are used to the Indiana legislature and Governor’s office selling the environment down the road when private agendas and profit are also on the table. It’s the reason Indiana is ranked as having the 49th most lax environmental laws in the United States.

What is even more disturbing, however, is that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has joined the “profit before conservation” crowd in recent years and lost sight of its mission.

They have truly become the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop.

The latest example of their questionable motives was exposed when Cameron Clark, DNR Executive Director, openly endorsed the construction of a 30,000- square-foot conference and banquet facility at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Conservation groups and others immediately opposed the project due to its impact on the shrinking dunes ecosystem, but no one listened, including the DNR.

DNR directors and other politicians argued the facility will be built on existing parking lots and will have minimal impact on the dunes. What those same bureaucrats either failed to understand or just simply ignored is the fact that building foundations aren’t the only way ecosystems are ruined.

Besides the massive increase in business traffic in the dunes that will be created by the facility, it also sets a dangerous precedent for further abuses and potential selling out of other public natural areas.

“The new building is giving up public land to a private concessionaire,” said Jim Sweeney, Porter County Izaak Walton League spokesperson.

And that sets a very bad precedent in Indiana for opening public land for development, he explained.

The new building is being built by Pavilion Partners, L.L.C.

The precedent concerns the League, since they have fought for more public land along the lakeshore, as well as the protection of public land since they were formed.

The role they have filled as conservation watchdog and ecosystem steward used to be part of the DNR’s mission, but those days are seemingly lost.

Equally frustrating for outdoor sportsmen and women who love our Indiana coast is that there are other things the DNR should be spending its time on instead of lobbying for a conference and banquet center.

Those goals and projects won’t raise money for the state’s general fund and only benefit outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife habitat, so they were not likely even mentioned in the meetings that decided a banquet facility is the most appropriate focus for an agency titled the Department of Natural Resources.

In case they are listening, here are a couple things the DNR should be doing on the lakeshore instead.

After the world Trade Center buildings and Pentagon were attacked on 9-11, Indiana fishermen immediately lost access to boat fishing in the Port of Indiana as a precaution. The port was built into public waters and is easily the best fishing in Indiana’s portion of Lake Michigan.

Despite no incidents between recreational boaters and commercial boats or the port authority ever, and no threats of terrorism, we never got access back. In fact, no one from the DNR has ever even tried.

There is limited foot access to the port for anglers but everyone knows the only way to utilize the fishery is from a boat. Additionally, it is one of the few places small boats can safely fish the big lake due to the break walls that confine it.

If that project frightens the DNR, how about a plan to build two or three more fishing piers comparable to the lighthouse pier in Michigan City? There are massive piers on the ocean everywhere, some in places where the ocean freezes as well, so the engineering exists.

Access for shore anglers on our largest fishery is certainly more important than a banquet facility.

The DNR could also listen to knowledgeable fishermen, who for years have explained to them how to enhance the walleye and/or smallmouth fishery in the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan.

Director Clark’s time would also be spent a lot more appropriately if he at least focused more effort on fighting invasive species such as gobies, zebra mussels, lamprey eels and Asian carp.

The list of things the DNR should be focused on to enhance Lake Michigan’s fishery and ecosystem is long but should not include making it into a Midwest version of Coney Island.

A legitimate steward of the lake should instead be focused on conservation, ecosystems and the sustainable use of the resource, not teaming up with politicians and private concessionaires to exploit the Indiana outdoors yet again.

newspaper column

Brush up on turkey season preparation dos and don’ts

Brush up on turkey season preparation dos and don’ts

In an understandable bit of excited anticipation, a reader last week told me he called in several toms the last week of March. I listened and congratulated him on having birds around to hunt and left it at that.

Had I known the guy better or had he asked me to, I would have advised him to stop calling in turkeys prior to season.

There are a lot of things every turkey hunter needs to do prior to season to ensure a successful hunt, but calling in birds is definitely not one of them. Convincing hens or toms to come to a call or decoy prior to the season only educates them.

It is already against their nature for a tom to search for a hen. If he does it one time and there is nothing there, he won’t likely bother with it again for months.

While no one really knows how much long-term memory turkeys possess, evidence suggests it is at least as long as one hunting season.

That innate unwillingness to be fooled twice in the same season is also why it is nearly impossible to coax a tom to a decoy or call if he has been shot at over a decoy, or been with another bird that was shot at that season.

Whether it is memory or simple instinct, it is frustrating for hunters but important for turkeys, since without it there would be no birds left in the wild.

The list of things to do to prepare for turkey season is much longer than the list of activities to avoid. The work on those chores starts now if hunters want to be ready for Indiana’s regular turkey season when it opens on April 22.

Start preparing for turkey season by first making sure any supplemental deer feeding stations are totally cleared of all food. It is illegal to bait turkeys, and even food intended for deer can be considered turkey bait.

The first week of April is also a good time to place trail cameras back into the field or reset them in places where spring turkeys are likely to frequent.

Place cameras low in obvious places like clover and rye fields that are greening early. Toms are probably already displaying in them on warm, calm, sunny days.

Also place cameras on creek crossings made by cattle or deer, especially when they connect fields. Turkeys are as lazy as any other creature and will follow the path of least resistance until they are harassed there.

Blinds really aren’t necessary but they can be fun to build. They allow kids to move around a bit without busting the setup, and are great for rainy day hunts.

Brush blinds take some time and won’t protect hunters from the weather, but only cost a little sweat equity.

Hub-style blinds are getting cheaper every year and are a snap to put up. They can be erected on the morning of the hunt, but it is usually a better idea to set them up ahead of time.

This is because while it is possible to sneak into an already erect blind if birds are roosted nearby, the commotion that accompanies building even a hub blind in the dark is usually enough to spook wary birds off the roost before the hunt even starts.

The only time hub blinds should be erected the morning of the hunt and removed at the end of the day is when others hunt the area. Hub blinds are just too easy to take down and steal.

Finally, it might sound obvious, but shoot guns to determine how they pattern at 20, 30 and 40 yards. It is often surprising how far off center factory barrels and chokes impact, but can be fixed with a simple adjustable site.

Don’t blow your hunt before it starts but get into the field and get ready as soon as possible. All that will be left on the morning of the hunt will be to get in position and fill a tag.

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Temperature critical for crappies

Few fishing trips guarantee success as predictably as my annual spring trip to Louisiana for crappies. My friends and I know where to fish, how to fish, and what to do if by some small chance they aren’t biting.

I am usually so confident of success I sometimes even plan a fish fry for the weekend of my return, before I even make the trip. This year, I had to cancel the fish fry because for the first time in many years I got skunked.

Like any good fisherman, I would now like to explain why it wasn’t my fault.

The best crappie impoundments in the United States are almost always large, manmade reservoirs. They range from southern Indiana (Patoka and Monroe), to Louisiana, and Caddo Reservoir where I annually fish.

And while most crappie lakes look very different from one another, they are all subject to one condition that can make or break a fishing trip.

When planning a crappie outing, always pay close attention to the air temperature, and more importantly, the resultant water temperature.

In my case this year, the air and water temperature dropped 20 degrees the night before we arrived and completely shut down all crappie fishing. Water that was 56 degrees and producing tubs full of crappies on one day, was 36 degrees and devoid of feeding fish just 24 hours later.

No presentation or strategy can coax crappies to feed when the water temperature change is that drastic, that quick.

Until water temperatures reach 50 degrees, regardless of the lake, both black and white crappies spend most of their time in deep water if it is available.

We knew this and drifted in 30 feet of water with spider rigs until the sun warmed the water. Spider rigs are multiple rod holders that allow one person to vertically fish anywhere from two to six rods, depending on the regulations and how much work that fisherman wants to do.

We used three rods each with two hooks on each line. We baited them with both shiners and rosies (red minnows), and used a barrel sinker to keep the baits down near the bottom.

Once water temperatures reach between 50 and 56 degrees, crappies move shallower, staging on flats that are 6 to 15 feet deep. At this temperature, it is often best to abandon the live bait and throw small inline safety-pin-style spinner baits to cover the entire flat and try and locate fish.

This is usually the best time to catch crappies, since they are pre-spawn and in a feeding frenzy. Fish in the trees if that is where the bait hangs out, but stay on the shallow flats if minnows are present there.

If the fish are in cover such as trees or stumps, look for small clusters of trees in the water that form a sort of fortress where the fish can hide.

Once the water reaches 57 degrees, most anglers agree crappies start spawning. They can still be caught while spawning, and often do so in 18 inches to 3 feet of water.

This can vary depending on the available cover, but different types of crappies prefer to spawn in different depths. Black crappies can usually be counted on to spawn deeper than white crappies.

As the sun beat down on the Louisiana reservoir we were fishing, the water temperature slowly crept back into the fifties by late afternoon. We continually adapted but the fish never bit.

The drastic change in temperatures in a 12-hour time span was likely even more of an influence on the bite than the actual water temperature. Temperature matters, but consistency in conditions is often more of an influence than anything else.

As is often the case in fish stories, we received word the crappies were biting in Louisiana again two days after we left. That didn’t bother us since the best crappie bite here at home is still yet to come.

Newspaper column

Troublesome trespasser hard to handle

Troublesome trespasser hard to handle

Many rewards accompany owning land solely managed as wildlife habitat. But for all the good, there are still a couple aspects of habitat ownership that are annually frustrating or even infuriating.

Trespassers, thieves, poachers and vandals are at the top of every landowner’s infuriating list.

I have written about, and dealt with trespassers in the past, but never the sort I have had to deal with this year.

After 6 inches of new snow last week, I arrived at my farm hoping to spend the day ice fishing and mending fences.

As I exited my truck in my camp area, however, I could see I wasn’t the only person to pay my place a visit in recent days. There were boot tracks everywhere, and it was clear the interloper stood in one spot, looking over my storage unit.

Anticipating frustration, I started following the tracks, assuming they would end on the county road where someone dropped off the criminal. To my surprise, the tracks didn’t lead me to the road.

The tracks led to and from my neighbor’s back door.

In the year since he moved into the home in the woods against my property, I had already asked him twice to stay off of my place.

The first time I went to his door, I showed him photos of his dogs all over my wildlife habitat to which he replied: “Are they hurting anything?”

I was immediately angered by his response and told him it was illegal, handed him a copy of Indiana’s dog law and that I didn’t want him or his dogs running wildlife off my wildlife habitat. I assumed he got the message and would comply.

He clearly didn’t understand because a few months later I caught him in my woods yelling at my son and his friend for cutting down a tree on our property. I was shocked at his presumptive move and that he was policing my property without my permission.

I let him go again but this time told him to stay on his side of the fence or I would report him.

Clearly he didn’t take me seriously because he did it again. I knew I needed law enforcement to finally talk to the guy, but that is where it got complicated.

My recidivist trespassing neighbor is a police officer.

Not knowing how they would react, I called the county sheriff and explained my predicament. A deputy responded and said he would talk to the other officer and report back to me with his findings.

I have yet to hear from the sheriff’s office but suspect this will end badly for me.

Even when you can prove a member of law enforcement is in the wrong and committed a crime, there are often consequences for reporting them.

The percentage of rule-breakers among the ranks of law enforcement isn’t likely any higher than in any other profession, but it isn’t likely any lower either. Bad people exist in every walk of life.

The difference is corrupt employees in law enforcement have the ability through their authority to ruin your life if they are not weeded out.

For this reason, I hesitated to even call the sheriff, and did not act on the deputy’s initial advice. He told me I could contact my neighbor’s boss at his police station and let him or her know I was being harassed by one of their officers.

I reasoned that unless the officer was removed from the force and I was placed in some sort of witness protection, my talking to his superior would set me up for harassment and hyper-scrutiny for the rest of my life by my neighbor.

Given his willingness to continually break the law even after being confronted, and the fact that he did it so conspicuously, I assumed my neighbor either thought the law didn’t apply to him or that he had a right to go and do whatever he wanted.

I plan on waiting to hear from the sheriff’s office and will take whatever advice they have for me in this matter. What should happen is my neighbor apologizes and never steps foot across the fence again.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the apology, but will find out if he got the message after the next snowfall or the things he was looking at in my campground disappear.

Most recent newspaper column

Pressure is the key to ice fishing success late in season

Pressure can mean several different things when applied to the sport of ice fishing. Understanding its various definitions usually means catching more fish, as well as living to fish another day.

Basing strategy on all of the definitions of pressure is critical all year, but especially important at the end of ice fishing season.

The first consideration for fishermen is fishing pressure.

Water with public access has been fished hard for a couple months by the end of February. A large percentage of fish are gone from public lakes, and the fish that are left have definitely seen fishermen’s offerings.

It is important under these circumstances to react to the pressure by separating from the crowd and fishing in places that probably make no sense.

Even under a foot of ice, it is often a better idea to fish in two feet of water, in the weeds than with the crowd in 20 feet of water. This concept applies to nearly every species of fish, including bluegills, northern pike, walleyes and even lake trout.

When fishing pressure is constant, it is also important to fish the first and last hours of daylight and into dark, depending on the species of fish in the lake. It is generally a waste of time to fish the rest of the day if the goal is to catch fish.

The effects of fishing pressure became apparent to me after I built my own 15-acre lake and started managing it very strictly.

I sometimes fish well-known public lakes on Friday and Sunday, sandwiching my lake in between on Saturday. The results are always the same.

The public lakes usually only give me a short window each day when the fish bite, whereas on my unfished lake the bite is all day, and wherever I dig a hole.

This is a function of the greater density of fish in private lakes, but also due to the fact that public water fish are more educated about artificial bait presentations.

There are still lots of fish in most public lakes at the end of the season; they just won’t bite.

Pressure can also mean barometric pressure, which is an atmospheric condition. For some species of fish, it should dictate whether it is worth even going fishing.

The barometric pressure is so important, it even has an effect on fish in private lakes.

High or rising pressure is generally the worst for fishing because it makes some fish physically uncomfortable. Northern pike, for example, become lethargic when there is high pressure because they have very large air bladders that are adversely affected.

Fish are more active when the air pressure is dropping, but are most active when it is in the low range and has been there steadily for a couple days.

Very different types of pressure create real safety concerns for ice fishermen.

Pressure cracks are long breaks in often thick, and otherwise safe ice, and typically occur on larger bodies of water.

As expansive sheets of ice expand, they need somewhere to go and sometimes push away from, or on top of each other, creating open water gaps and mountainous ridges.

The process is similar to plate tectonics on land.

The result on a frozen lake is often open water in the middle of a lake. These areas sometimes partially freeze and cover with snow.

Fishermen don’t often discover them until it is too late and they fall in.

The last bit of pressure fishermen need to be aware of is downward pressure on the ice.

As snow accumulates or is melting and water begins piling up on a frozen body of water, ice sheets sometime struggle to support the added weight.

When a hole is drilled and water pushes up through the hole like a gusher, the weight on the ice is greater than the sheet can hold and the ice is sinking. It is usually a sign to get off the ice.

Most northern Indiana lakes are probably going to have safe ice until March this year. Late winter is a great time to catch fish as long as Hoosier anglers pay attention to every type of pressure.

Today's newspaper column

High-fence win means loss for hunters

High-fence win means loss for hunters

On Feb. 2, 2015, the Indiana Court of Appeals handed down the latest ruling in the high-fence hunting debate that has gone back and forth since 1999. The ruling represented the biggest win to date for proponents of the practice and a devastating loss for people opposed to hunting game in enclosures.

On one side of the ongoing battle there are a couple preserve owners. On the other side sits nearly everyone who deer hunts in Indiana who thinks killing deer in an enclosure is both unethical and dangerous due to disease concerns.

The appellate court’s majority opinion held that the applicable Indiana code did not prohibit high-fence hunting of deer in Indiana, and that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources previously went beyond its authority when it prohibited the practice with an emergency rule in 2005.

The court also said in its opinion that the IDNR is not authorized to manage deer in the high-fence enclosure in this case because its animals are exempt from the general authority conferred upon the IDNR under the Indiana Code.

In its opinion, the court avoided addressing the ethics of killing deer in an enclosure despite film evidence of practice at some high-fence enclosures of drugged and chemically restrained animals being shot at close range for their oversized, genetically created antlers.

They reasoned ethics in this case should be parsed out by the legislature, not the court.

Unfortunately, for the opponents of high-fence hunting, there is ample support for the practice in the current legislature. One of its supporters is Senator Susan Glick, R-Howe. District 13. She represents constituents in LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and portions of Noble counties.

Senator Glick is currently the chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee. She joins support for high-fence hunting preserves with Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, District 57, who is also a member of the Natural Resources Committee and who recently authored House Bill 1453.

Perhaps in anticipation of the court ruling, 1453 would, once and for all, legalize high-fence deer hunting in Indiana.

Unfortunately, neither the court of Appeals nor the legislators behind 1453 adequately addressed the real concerns presented by the IDNR and outdoor sportsmen.

Besides ducking the ethics question, the court also said very little about the real and frightening effects of Chronic Wasting Disease, and its traceable link to the deer farming industry.

CWD is a communicable disease in deer and other animals that is always fatal. It has been present in the western United States for decades, but has shown up for the first time in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania in the deer herd in recent years.

When it is detected, the common tactic employed by biologists is to eradicate the deer herd in the affected area. That means both potentially affected deer and deer with no symptoms are all killed to stop the disease from spreading.

According to Doug Allman, spokesperson for the Indiana Deer Hunters Association, which is opposed to high-fence hunting, the toll CWD takes on hunting is not only a social one.

“Twenty-three states now have CWD in wild and/or captive deer populations. Six of those states were added to the list in the last two years and were all associated with captive deer facilities,” Allman said. “Wisconsin has spent more than 50 million dollars in attempting to control the spread of CWD.”

He said high-fence operations are at the heart of the expansion of the disease and the associated cost to contain it because as part of their business, they buy and sell deer across state lines, often in and out of CWD infected states.

As high-fence hunting moves forward here, there are a couple philosophical questions that need to be answered. First, whom are we catering to with these high-fence hunting operations, and second, should the needs or gains of those few outweigh the needs of the rest of us?

The wild deer hunting economy generates around $300 million in Indiana every year. Is it really worth threatening that for a limited business that every hunting and conservation organization in the state is opposed to?

But even if high-fence hunting generated even close to the number of jobs and revenue as wild deer hunting, does Indiana really want to attract the kind of outdoorsmen and women who find any sort of accomplishment or enjoyment in killing an animal that is genetically engineered, restrained or cannot escape?

Hunters here say no, but as is increasingly the case in Indiana, there is a disconnect between what we, the majority, want and what the people in charge do.

Contact Sen. Susan Glick via email to tell her what you think about this

Today's newspaper column

The men, reasons behind high-powered proposal

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To fully understand what one deer biologist called a “slippery slope” when describing Indiana’s deer management scheme over the past few years, it is critical to understand the men behind it from the very beginning.

Blame or praise them, but these are the men who orchestrated the most radical changes in deer management here in decades. If they succeed, their plan will culminate with high-powered rifles (HPRs) coming to a field near all of us next year.

In a public response to a previous column I wrote about this issue, Phil Bloom, DNR spokesperson, said I was in err when I said the DNR and the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) were the architects of the HPR proposal. He also said this was not part of any agenda.

Evidence suggests otherwise.

In 2014, two separate petitions were sent to the NRC asking them to allow HPRs for deer hunting. One came from Jeff Clark in Bremen. The other came from Drew Price and Eddy Walter, both of Evansville.

Jeff Clark summed up the killing versus hunting rationale in both, which has taken over both the DNR and NRC in recent years.

“I know first-hand the frustration of watching a deer that would have filled the freezer walk along a tree line 400-plus yards away,” he said.

Mark Reiter, DNR Director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, answered that letter and told the petitioner his department would be handling the process. In fact, Mark Reiter has been one of two men with a hand in every single historic rules change over the past four years and across two DNR administrations.

The other is Bryan Poynter, NRC Chairperson.

To support their claim they have no agenda, the DNR said they were only acting on the request from the hunting petitioners when they supported moving the process along.

But the actual proposal was not verbatim from either letter. In an interview with Cameron Clark, DNR Director, he explained that DNR and NRC staff wrote the actual proposal as it currently reads.

He also said they have received letters in the past asking for the legalization of HPRs for deer hunting, as well as requests for things like deer baiting and a squirrel season in the spring.

The NRC and DNR chose to not process those requests for rules changes, including previous requests to allow HPRs. Both, however, chose to not only move the HPR proposal ahead this time, they even wrote the language.

That sure sounds like architects and an agenda.

It was ultimately Director Clark’s discretion to support the new rules or not, as it was Rob Carter’s, the last DNR director, whether they want to admit it or not.

“State law specifically assigns responsibility for managing Indiana’s fish and wildlife resources to the IDNR,” Clark said. “The NRC is the rule making body for the DNR.”

For the DNR to deny being the architect of the HPR proposal or that they have an agenda is something the DNR has been doing since all the rule changes started three years ago. Clark is just the latest director to continue down this road, which is paved with misdirection even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

And while all of the liberalizations to deer hunting including the inclusion of HPRs next year should fall on the shoulders of directors Clark and Carter, it is important to remember Reiter and Poynter have had their hands in all of the changes.

The expansion of crossbow season, legalization of pistol cartridge rounds, an additional 10-day doe season in January, increased antlerless tags, a deer population decline of eight percent and now HPRs all happened since these two men took control behind the scenes.

Many Hoosiers have asked why they would do this. According to Director Clark it is happening because most of us want it.

“343 of 478 respondents to a DNR survey independently asked for HPRs next year,” he said.

He also cited an out-of state survey by Responsive Management that said the majority of us want HPRs here as well.

That is so contrary to the unprecedented number of responses other people and I who are covering this issue have received it is difficult to explain.

Unless we consider the way the DNR handled opinions contrary to their agenda in the recent past.

After the last round of rule changes, the DNR sent out a press release saying a couple hundred people opposed the new rules that eventually passed.

The problem with that release was that I personally handed them hand written signatures of 700 people opposed to the rules. I also and sat in a public forum with 500 people not on my petition that were overwhelmingly opposed to the DNR position.

There were thousands of negative responses, not hundreds.

So, even if the DNR and NRC are being swamped with negative responses and not telling us, why not just drop it, as they have every other time people have petitioned for HPRs?

The best theory is that this is all about money.

New seasons create new licenses. New weapons create new gun and ammo sales for the economy.

But the DNR and NRC can’t keep going to the same well indefinitely. Hunting will just become killing until the deer herd finally crashes and people leave the sport.

In the end, short-term gains will create long-term losses in both our hunting traditions and revenue derived from the deer herd.

Perhaps the DNR and NRC need to listen to people in the field like Mary Ann Blanch of Daleville, IN. She is a single mom who wrote to tell me about trying to teach her son the ethics of hunting, like her father and grandfather taught her when she was starting her hunting career.

“I respect the deer, I respect what God has given us and I don’t need a high-powered rifle. I want my boy to learn, grow and respect all that is around him, but I won’t subject him to all of this if high-powered rifles are legalized.”

All of the men involved in this latest push to allow HPRs say they are responding to the majority’s wishes. Let them, your state legislator and the governor know what you think.

Today's newspaper column. Part 1 of 2

Rifle proposal baffles professionals, creates danger

Much has been said to and about me regarding my recent column that challenged the reasoning behind the proposal to allow all high-powered rifles for deer hunting in Indiana in 2015.

What I have found is that lots of people have opinions about this subject, many of whom are dumbfounded that we are even having this conversation.

Start with the head deer biologists from several adjacent states.

Tom Micetich has been in charge of the deer program in Illinois for decades. Under his watch, Illinois has become perhaps the top deer hunting state in the United States with a reputation for producing more trophy bucks than nearly everyone else while still giving hunters ample opportunities to fill their freezers.

Understandably, Micetich did not want to comment on Indiana’s plans, but said his state not only has a fraction of the guns days Indiana allows and does not allow pistol cartridge rifles like Indiana, but also that they are not even considering high-powered rifles there.

“Like many other places, the deer herd is declining by design. We are managing to kill all the deer we need with shorter gun seasons and short-range weapons without adding the danger of high-powered rifles to our open terrain,” Micetich said.

He explained that Illinois’ safety record is very good and that he would have real concerns if they added guns traditionally used in heavily wooded or mountainous states. He also said Indiana started down their “slippery slope” when they legalized pistol cartridge rifles for deer hunters.

Mike Tonkovich is Ohio’s top deer biologist and he feels the same way about high-powered rifles, but for a different reason. Like Illinois, Ohio currently only allows a fraction of Indiana’s current firearms days and, according to Tonkovich, will never allow high-powered rifles because of its rich hunting tradition.

“We base our decisions on what the hunters here want, and they want all the opportunities we have provided under the current management plan to see mature bucks and does,” Tonkovich said.

Like Illinois, Ohio puts far more bucks in the record book than Indiana.

He said they have achieved their goals with short seasons, short-range guns and either sex gun tags. Like Illinois and unlike Indiana, they also move the gun seasons out of the prime rutting activity when bucks are most vulnerable.

Perhaps more interesting than the statistics, however, is the trend Tonkovich sees in the Ohio counties that border Indiana.

“The majority of the complaints we receive every year about low deer numbers always come from the counties that border Indiana,” he said.

Even without long-range capabilities, our rules are already having an effect on deer in other states.

When asked why Michigan does not allow high-powered rifles in the southern third of the state, Brent Rudolph, Wildlife Research Specialist for the state of Michigan, cited safety concerns.

“We are familiar with the use of rifles for deer hunting as they are allowed across much of our state, but the southern third is too open and consists of many smaller parcels,” Rudolph said.

If readers recall, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources cited Michigan as part of it’s reasoning behind allowing high-powered rifles here.

The Indiana DNR’s response to the safety issue has been to say there are no credible studies showing high-powered rifles are any more dangerous that any other legal deer firearm.

That is mostly because no other state as populated and open as most of Indiana allows them for safety concerns. Simply put, there are no studies because the condition doesn’t exist anywhere to study.

The IDNR has mentioned studies from Pennsylvania, but they aren’t relevant unless they are also announcing the discovery of mountains here.

To their credit, some members of the IDNR Law Enforcement Division contacted me to express their opposition to the use of high-powered rifles here for deer season, albeit off the record.

For those who still think high-powered rifles would present no new danger if used during our deer season, consider the following very basic lesson in modern ballistics.

On average, a 3-inch magnum, saboted slug exits (muzzle velocity) a rifled-barrel shotgun at around 1,900 feet per second. A foster-type rifled slug from a smooth-bored shotgun has a muzzle velocity of only 1,760 feet per second.

A standard muzzleloader round using 100 grains of popular powder and a 300-grain bullet have a muzzle velocity of 2,300 feet per second but drops to 1,043 feet per second at 500 yards. This is important since our IDNR used muzzleloader ballistics to rationalize the used of high-powered rifles.

By comparison, three of the most popular high-powered rifles in places like northern Michigan and Pennsylvania have considerably more muzzle velocity than either the shotgun or muzzleloader.

Since high-powered rifles are capable of shooting bullets half the size of a muzzleloader bullet, rifle bullets are considerably faster and can carry for miles versus feet.

A .270 Winchester has a muzzle velocity of 3,100 feet per second, a 7mm Remington magnum has a muzzle velocity of 3,110 and the newer, very popular .300 WSM has a velocity of 3,200 feet per second.

Smaller bullets, faster speeds and sealed cartridges impervious to the conditions and small, open land holdings create the perfect storm for errant bullet strikes.

Perhaps more frightening is that there are no limits on the guns allowed in the proposal.

If your neighbor on his 10-acre bean field wanted to trot out his .50 BMG and shoot it at a deer next year, his monstrous 750-grain bullet would still be traveling faster than a slug from a shotgun at 2,750 feet per second and retain 11,070 pounds of energy at 200 yards.

But while we are all forced to debate the obvious and common sense regarding modern ballistics and safety, an equally important point is being overlooked.

This should not be about gun rights, as some people wan to frame it, but rather the health of the deer herd we are supposed to love. The herd our IDNR is supposed to maintain and not exploit.

Our deer herd is declining by design as it is in several other states. But unlike every other state, we are responding by making it easier to kill even more deer.

The voices of reason and conservation are being drowned out once again in Indiana by a few men with private agendas. In my next column, meet the men who brought you the high-powered rifle proposal, pushed it ahead and their often questionable motives.

Today's newspaper column for anyone wanting the truth about outdoor equipment

This year’s Outhouse Awards a royal flush

This year’s Outhouse Awards a royal flush


It’s time to expose the worst outdoor products and services from 2014 with this year’s installment of Outdoorswithdon’s Outhouse Awards. As always, all of the products mentioned were purchased and used in the field under real outdoor sports conditions, and are in no particular order.

1. Mr. Heater Little Buddy heater

This unit provides more than enough radiant heat for ice fishing shanties and deer blinds but is impossible to keep lit if it is outdoors or there is even a breeze in the enclosure. A small pilot light at the bottom needs to stay lit but is exposed and not windproof.

I kept mine for limited situations but went back to just using a lantern to heat my ice shed.

2. Alaska Airlines

An airline makes this list every year, partially because so many outdoorsmen and women travel out of state, but mainly because universally their customer service is often horrifyingly bad. This year’s winner/loser is Alaska Airlines.

On a trip to the Alaskan Arctic this year they lost my pre-reserved window seat on the long trip to Anchorage and made me sit in a center seat. Upon arrival they also informed me my bags did not make the flight because the cargo bay was full.

Along the journey I dealt with agents and customer service representatives who clearly did not have a clue about what they were doing and openly didn’t care.

3. Master locks and Python cable locks

I’m sure Master knows their locks are used outdoors. The ones I bought are camouflaged and have weather guards. So why then do they all freeze shut when there is precipitation and freezing temperatures?

Other brands don’t freeze as easily, but no one makes the Python locks required for Reconyx trail cameras. I have to carry a hand-held heater now to open my locks in the winter.

4. Moultrie trail cameras

I used to like these as a less expensive addition to my fleet of Reconyx cameras, but they often infuriate me. Perhaps because I also use Reconyx that are simple and just always work.

Despite taking every precaution and formatting every time, I often return to these cameras to find the unit didn’t take any photos. This usually happens because it rejected the SD card, which is sometimes a card that worked in the same camera every other time.

Reconyx remedies this with a warning on the screen when you start the unit that tells you there is a card reading error. With Moultrie you don’t know until it is too late.

5. REI

I spent lots of money at this high-end camping and survival gear store until I personally caught them inflating sale prices.

I found a hiking vest online and was going to buy it until I saw a 20 percent sale started the next day. I waited until after midnight and went to their website to take advantage of the sale but was shocked to see the item’s price raised by 20 percent when the 20 percent sale was scheduled to start.

Needless to say, I haven’t shopped at REI since.

6. Power Monkey Extreme solar charger

I took this compact solar panel to the arctic this year to indefinitely recharge my ipad and satellite phone battery packs. It worked but took almost 20 hours of full sun for one charge.

Additionally, I had to be present to constantly reposition the panels toward the sun or it would stop charging.

7. The Indiana Resource Commission

This group of anti-hunting, anti-conservation hypocrites has entirely too much power, motives no one understands and are quietly decimating Indiana’s deer herd.

My least favorite hypocrite member is a deer hunter who sold his Indiana deer hunting property and bought a place in Kentucky because he wasn’t seeing any big bucks here. He then proceeded to vote to liberalize deer seasons here.

These fools are also to blame for the possibility of high-powered rifles being allowed for the 2015 deer season despite their admission our deer herd is declining.

8. Cabelas Tundra hip boots

I generally think most Cabelas products are better than average. These boots are cheaply made, however, and fell apart out of the box.

The speed lace studs are anchored in weak material and several of them on my pair snapped off when I tried to use them to cross a swamp in the Brooks Range in Alaska. I made them work with copious amounts of parachute cord, but was without proper water boots for two weeks.

9. All crossbow cases

There are very few hard cases available and the ones that are out there don’t fit my scoped crossbow. I don’t like soft cases for anything that cost me more than $1000.

SKB made a new hard case that top loads, but is awkward and doesn’t hold all the other junk necessary to use a crossbow.

Today's newspaper column

Rifle proposal latest assault on deer hunting by DNR, NRC


Here we go again.

Despite last year’s documented decline in our deer population across the state and screams from every deer hunting organization in Indiana to reverse the trend, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and their recent partner in crime, the Natural Resources Commission, responded by proposing high-powered rifles be allowed for deer hunting starting in 2015.

Until now, only shotguns, muzzleloaders and pistol cartridge rifles have been allowed during firearms seasons in Indiana.

The new rule was the result of a citizen’s petition and was primarily approved by the NRC, where it should have been thrown out.

The new rule reads as follows: “allow additional rifles to be used by reducing the bullet size required to .243 and eliminating the maximum rifle cartridge case length. This will allow high-powered rifles such as the .30-30 and .45-70 during the deer firearms seasons. Full-metal-jacketed bullets would be unlawful because they do not expand when fired, and therefore, do not kill as humanely.”

That means you can use an elephant gun to kill deer next year if this rule passes.

What is as disturbing as the prospect of 1,000-yard guns in the hands of a quarter million deer hunters at one time, and the horrible effect it will have on our already declining deer herd, is the fact that there isn’t a single thing the majority can do to stop it.

In his response to my questions about this proposal, Phil Bloom, IDNR spokesperson, assured me this is a long process, and that the public will have a chance to comment before the rule is adopted.

Anyone involved in past fights to slow liberalizations of bag limits, season lengths and weapon expansion with this DNR and NRC knows it is a done deal if someone far more important than average hunters wants to use his rifle to kill a deer next year.

In the last fight, the DNR ignored the majority and even lied about the number of people who responded negatively about most of the rules changes.

But let’s consider the DNR’s arguments in favor of allowing moose guns to deer hunt here, and why they are willing to change a policy based on one person’s petition.

They cited an increased deer harvest in 2012 as justification for additional tools for hunters when hunting deer. They, however, skipped over 2013, when there was an eight percent decline in our harvest. Their response to the gap in logic was that even with the decline, the 2013 harvest ranked 8th all-time.

And with that answer it became clear; the DNR and NRC are not seeking the unbiased, whole truth to make policy, but rather selecting bits of the truth that support someone’s private agenda.

They also reasoned that there are no limits on rifles that are legal to use for species other than migratory birds, deer and wild turkey.

I assume they are referring to coyote hunting here. This shows how out of touch the DNR is with the sports they manage. Coyote hunters might number in the hundreds or even thousands at best.

Opening weekend of deer season sees more than 200,000 hunters in the field at the same time. Additionally, no coyote hunters use .300 Winchester magnums or similar guns because they are overkill and would ruin the pelt.

The DNR also argued modern smokeless powder muzzleloaders are 500-yard guns, and no different than the center-fire rifles hunters would use if allowed.

It is hard to know where to start on this uninformed piece of misinformation.

Smokeless powder muzzleloaders are still hand loaded, and therefore not nearly as consistent in the field as a rifle that shoots a sealed cartridge. And of the folks I know that use smokeless guns; none would ever consider a 500-yard shot.

But even if they did, that is nothing compared to the 1000-yard range of my .300WSM, not that I would ever take such a shot.

The DNR also reasoned rifles are legal in “several nearby states, including Kentucky, northern Michigan and Pennsylvania and there has not been an increase in hunting-related accidents as the result of the use of rifles.”

This is another selective use of evidence again and compares apples to oranges.

First, all of the places they named are comprised primarily of expansive forests, where bullets can’t go far. Two-thirds of Indiana is open farmland with homes on every county road.

If the DNR wants to apply Michigan’s reasoning, they need acknowledge all of it. Southern Michigan’s landscape is a lot like northern Indiana and rifles are not allowed there.

Better comparisons are the open, populated states around us like Ohio and Illinois, and they do not allow high-powered rifles. Not surprisingly, there was no mention of them.

Call the DNR, call the NRC, call your legislator or call the dogcatcher if you are opposed to the new rule. That call will likely be as equally effective regardless of which one you choose to contact.

Someone more important than all of us wants to kill a deer 1,000 yards away with a moose gun in Indiana and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.

This week's Outdoor Channel column

The Practice of Buck Sorting

Deciding which buck to tag depends on the hunter and circumstances.

A healthy Hoosier buck that would be a trophy for many, despite the inches of antler on his head. (Don Mulligan photo) A healthy Hoosier buck that would be a trophy for many, despite the inches of antler on his head. (Don Mulligan photo)

By: Don Mulligan,

While there are unquestionably more deer in the Midwest today than there were 50 years ago, there are certainly fewer deer here now than there were 10 years ago. Even still, lots of hunters in America’s midsection choose to let buck after buck pass by, waiting for something special.

The practice is called buck sorting, and it is becoming more prevalent every year.

The days when deer were seen as nothing more than a bag of meat are gone. Today’s hunters want a freezer full of venison and a big rack for the wall, and some are prepared to wait for a deer that gives them both.

For dedicated sorters the decision is a difficult one and varies dramatically from one hunter to the next. A deer that would be considered the trophy of a lifetime by some might barely get a glance by others.

Click image to see photos of The Practice of Buck Sorting
The Practice of Buck Sorting

Choosing which buck to shoot and which one to let pass is often a split-second decision and should be influenced by several variables.

The first consideration is time available to hunt.

Most deer hunters are gun hunters and will only make it to the woods a few days a year. They want to shoot a big buck and might pass a yearling or two, but more often than not, shoot the first antlered deer they see and regret it.

The dilemma of when to shoot or pass doesn’t affect them as much since they are usually pressed for time or patience.

The length of their local deer season also factors into how many bucks these guys pass on before taking a shot. Excessively long firearms seasons, like those in Indiana, encourage more hunters to wait for the perfect deer.

In places like Indiana, hunters figure they have more than 40 days of gun season and will be back. But they often don’t make it back into the field, and if they do, the deer are so spooked they are not as visible or easy to kill.

The result is often an unfilled buck tag, which is a nightmare for biologists who rely on gun hunters to thin the herd and buy lots of tags.

A Numbers Game

It is a smaller subset of deer hunters who struggle most with how to define a shooter. These dedicated outdoorsmen and women hunt for months and are patient.

For them, it usually has to do with numbers. All antlered animals are scored based on the number of inches of antler they grow, and that number is a big deal to many.

Organizations such as Pope and Young, Boone and Crockett, The Safari Club and various state groups set minimum numerical standards for animals to be entered into their record books. Boone and Crockett is the most popular of the clubs and it sets the minimum entry score for a typical whitetail deer at 170 inches.

To put that into perspective, the vast majority of deer hunters, even in the big buck factories of the Midwest, will never even see a 170-class buck while hunting in their lifetime. Even in the best trophy states and their best counties, Booner deer are rare.

Because making the book with the national organizations is so difficult, most hunters set their personal minimum score much lower.

For some, the number is based on past kills and not wanting to tag anything smaller than their previous biggest deer. For others, it is a stagnant number and any deer that eclipses a preset goal is fair game.

Where to set the number should not only depend on the state and county hunted, but also the parcel and its surrounding hunters.

There are places in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Iowa where a deer over 140 inches has not been harvested in a decade. Those places are over hunted or simply hunted by too many meat hunters who argue there isn’t any nutritional value in antlers.

They aren’t wrong; they just hunt for a different reason than people who want to see mature deer and big antlers. There is a place in management for both types of hunters.

In places where the “if it’s brown it’s down” hunters rule, allowing every two-year-old buck to walk by probably means never killing a buck. After a few years of that, most big deer hunters start to question why they hunt, and either move or quit the sport altogether.

There are places in the Midwest, however, where it is well worth letting even 160-inch bucks go. The circumstances have to be perfect for a farm to make this cut.

If an area is big enough to allow deer a place to escape hunters, or all the hunters in the area feel the same way about what constitutes a shooter, it may be worth letting a trophy go.

For a place to predictably produce several old bucks every year it must also consist of more than several hundred contiguous acres with at least 50 percent cover, and provide a place for deer to eat and drink without being constantly bumped or shot at.

Nutrition and genetics are a factor, but don’t be fooled. Big deer occur in the Midwest where they are allowed to live more than four years. The truth is, the other stuff barely matters here when deer are allowed to live beyond adolescence.

But even in the big buck states there are times when an old buck may not make the magical cutoff number a deer hunter requires.

Sometimes a buck gets lucky, lives past his antler-growing prime and actually has declining antler growth.

This is a rare occurrence these days and usually only happens on huge, well-managed farms. It also happens on occasion when a buck is injured less than critically but enough that it impedes his movement during the rut.

And though nearly any buck that makes it to the age of five in the Midwest would be considered a shooter by anyone’s standards, there are always a few bucks that will just never grow big antlers, regardless of age.

Letting these bucks go won’t translate into bigger bucks in the future, but are hard for even seasoned hunters to identify.

Midwest states limit the number of bucks a hunter can tag as strictly as any other part of the country. Whether a hunter uses those one or two tags on the first or 10th deer he or she sees is becoming more of a gamble as deer populations continue to decline.


This week's Outdoor Channel column

The Game of Complicated Food Plots

With so many hunters planting plots, only most elaborate offerings may attract deer

Remote food plots are visited by mature bucks during daylight hours when they are left undisturbed until they are hunted. (Don Mulligan photo) Remote food plots are visited by mature bucks during daylight hours when they are left undisturbed until they are hunted. (Don Mulligan photo)

By: Don Mulligan,

One of the first lessons beginning deer hunters learn is to focus on food. Where there is deer food there are does, and where there are does there are eventually bucks.

It sounds like an easy concept to take advantage of, but at some point in the past 20 years the simple tactic of hunting near food became complicated.

A simple clover plot consisting of seed from a local farm co-op used to be enough to set any hunter apart. Now, food plotters aren’t alone and need to compete with their neighbors who are probably also planting for wildlife.

For a food plot to really work these days, a plot needs to be more inviting than all the other food sources in the area.

The first consideration is location.

One of my neighbors says he has deer on his food plot all summer but struggles to understand why they all leave once deer season starts. A quick look at the site revealed the problems.

His first mistake was constructing the plot within 100 yards of a gravel road with no screen to block the view of the site. Like it or not, bad hunters cruise gravel roads during season and either poach exposed deer or harass them.

If a plot has to be exposed to a road, the owner should at least plant a screen crop.

Egyptian wheat is a good choice. It grows to more than 10 feet tall and is dense if done in rows. Never plant corn as a screen because it will pull all the wildlife to it and away from the plot.

His next problem was that the plot was too big and not adjacent to thick escape cover. No plot should be larger than two acres and it should be approachable on all sides through dense cover.

Wide-open woods look nice against a plot and allow the hunter to see deer approaching but are poor habitat for not only deer, but also other wild animals.

Ideally, a two-acre plot is in the most secluded spot on a property and is separated by 100 yards of cover from another two-acre food plot. The area between the plots is always the best seat in the house once season starts.

That is, unless the deer are constantly harassed at the site. Even a well-placed plot will go cold if it is hunted too hard or constantly pushed by neighborhood dogs.

Only hunt food plots in the evening and never exit a plot stand if there are still deer in the plot. Going in before daylight will only bump deer off the site.

Bump them in the morning or evening a couple times and they will find somewhere else to eat. Remember, your plot isn’t the only one in today’s woods.

Click image to see photos of "The Game of Complicated Food Plots"
The Game of Complicated Food Plots

Buffets are best

The next consideration is what to plant. White clover that seed companies have bred to be attractive to deer should be part of everyone’s food plot plan.

It is hearty, good for about five years with some maintenance, and is loved by both deer and turkeys.

But clover isn’t enough in woods today. A great food plot consists of at least three different food offerings. In fact, many serious food plotters plant as many as eight to ten different food offerings every year.

“Our business keeps growing because more and more guys are seeing the benefit of offering their deer a wide variety of food,” said Mark Trudeau, Director of Certified Research for Whitetail Institute.

It is the smorgasbord approach to food plotting and has grown in popularity over the years.

“The goal in today’s woods is to give deer different food sources that will be available early, mid and late in the season. That requires very different types of plantings,” he said.

The biggest problem with this tactic is that it requires a lot of equipment, time and money to create and maintain.

For hunters with all three, it is critical to still not overdo it. One or two plots are more than enough on 80 acres, and three are enough on 200.

Planting more causes deer to move between all of them, making their movement and whereabouts unpredictable, which is the opposite of what most food plotters intend.

And depending on deer density, five to six acres of food is usually more than enough food to leave standing all winter. If that much food doesn’t make it until spring, you need to kill more does.

Other than clover, a mixed-bag approach should include a mixture of turnips, radishes and brassica in one plot. Another section should include field corn, and another should include soybeans where the soil supports them.

After that, there are hundreds of choices.

While many of the seed companies sell cheap seed for plots, beware of what is in them. Stay away from rye grass, but do plant rye grain in the fall.

Rye grass grows quickly and easily, but is nearly worthless. Cereal grains like rye grain, however, do great over-seeded into dry soybeans, and are preferred by deer and turkeys when they are less than six inches tall.

In the spring, the rye grain will return and is a preferred food and cover source for turkeys.

In addition to seed crops, smart plotters also maintain a stand of pear and apple trees, as well as a manmade water source or two.

Once a healthy, year-round food plot system is established, Trudeau says hunters need to take the next step if they want to truly grow big bucks.

“The right kind of mineral site is crucial and will take your deer to the next level,” he said.

He warned that hunters should beware of many of the mineral products available, however. Many of them are almost all salt, which has little value to the overall health and growth of deer.

There will always be deer to harvest on the edges of farmer’s harvested grain fields, but as the food plotting game gets more complicated and sophisticated, the wait on those spots is getting longer every year.

One of my recent newspaper columns

Dream hunts, nightmare prices


I recently received a postcard offering the deal of a lifetime. Someone canceled their Canadian bighorn sheep hunt at the last minute and the outfitter was offering it to the first buyer at a discount.

The “reduced” fee was $20,000. I was tempted to call the guy and jokingly ask if he had two hunts available for that nominal fee.

I didn’t call, but did reflect on how much dream hunts really cost. Because even if a hunter had the $20,000 for that hunt, the total cost of such a trip would be much higher.

As I prepare for my 13th consecutive year to travel to the Alaskan wilderness to hunt and fish, I started adding up the total cost from door-to-door. What I realized is that even with my connections and discounts, most out-of-state hunts are probably still out of reach financially for most hunters.

And if my wife added up what I spend on my Alaska trips, they would be out of reach for me too.

While I have hunted and fished all over North America, I’ll use Alaska as an example since it is likely at the top of most serious hunters' dream destinations.

The cheapest big game hunts in Alaska right now are Sitka blacktail hunts on the southern Islands, black bear hunts anywhere south of the Brooks Range and caribou hunts on the north slope of the Brooks Range.

None currently require a guide, which is a huge savings. Moose also do not currently require a guide in Alaska, but those hunts are more expensive because they require so much more gear and support.

Dall sheep, mountain goat and grizzly bear (including brown bear) hunts all require nonresidents to use a guide in Alaska, and for that reason can not be touched for less that $10,000, all in. Some of them often cost more than $20,000.

So, let’s focus on Alaska’s most plentiful big game animal: the barren ground caribou.

Bowhunters can drive 500-miles north from Fairbanks on the Dalton Highway and hunt caribou from the road after they pass over the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass. Gun hunting is not allowed five miles either side of the road the entire length of the road.

Getting in position to hunt is the issue.

A roundtrip plane ticket from Indiana to Fairbanks is about $800. Since you need to take a lot of gear, you will also need to add at least $140 more for extra baggage.

Then add the obligatory $520 for one caribou tag, one wolf tag (only $30) and a fishing license.

Now add at least one night in a hotel in Fairbanks on either side of the trip. Rooms aren’t cheap in Alaska, so expect to pay $150 a night for a less than five star hotel.

You will need to purchase food and other minor camping gear in Alaska that can’t be carried on the plane. Add another $300.

You must also rent a vehicle approved for driving the Haul Road (Dalton Highway). Only one outfit has those trucks and they aren’t cheap. Count on about $1000 a week and another $500 for gas, depending on how far and often you drive.

If you are lucky enough to tag a caribou, add another $500 to send home about 50-pounds of packaged meat and a set of split antlers.

Assuming you already own all the gear you need to hunt, including great boots and clothes capable of withstanding a grueling arctic hunt, you must still rent a satellite phone for safety.

There is no cell coverage in the arctic beyond Atigun pass until you reach Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean. A two-week Iridium phone rental with 120 prepaid minute will run you about $350.

Assuming you only have the rental car for one week, which is very unlikely, the total expense for a do-it-yourself hunt should cost around $4,110.

The other option is to skip the drive, increase the odds of tagging a caribou, and pay a bush pilot to fly you well off the road.

While you lose the $1,500 vehicle fee, you add another flight to Deadhorse for $800 and the pilot’s drop off fee, which runs around $2,500.

Now, you are looking at close to $6,000 to kill a caribou in Alaska because you also need to add a five percent tip for the pilot.

When it is all added up, deer and black bear hunts cost a little less, but not much since you still need to get into the field from Indiana.

Hunter’s interested in an Alaska hunt shouldn’t give up on the dream, despite all the bad news I just disclosed.

Save money and ask pilots if they are willing to charge you a resident’s fee versus the fee they charge nonresidents. Most will not, especially when booked, but some might in a pinch and it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Don’t bother trying to barter services or goods, either. Guides, and especially pilots, have a lot of cash invested in their operation and only need money.

Most importantly, don’t book a hunt until you have all the money necessary to hunt with a reputable service. It is very possible to spend $6000 and have nothing to show for it but a bunch of screaming matches with your guide or pilot who wouldn’t do the job you paid for.

Enter a Descriptive Title for your New Blog Entry

Hunting chores need attention now


One of the unfortunate consequences of owning or leasing property and trying to maximize its hunting potential is the never-ending list of chores that must be performed all year long.

While some might think summer is a time to focus on fishing and camping, hunting property managers are spending their summer hard at work preparing for a successful year this fall.

In Indiana, that means working on habitat improvement, enhancing food sources, culling predators and about a dozen other thankless, strenuous jobs.

Spring planting of corn, clover and soybeans should be done by now, but maintaining those crops for maximum yield has just begun.

Once plants that are glyphosate resistant are a couple weeks beyond germination, they need to be sprayed to control weeds. Fail to spray in Indiana and the crop will likely be stunted a month from now and gone by fall, buried in weeds.

After spring plants are sprayed, they also need to be redressed with another application of fertilizer. The type and amount depend on the soil and plant, but all crops will increase their yield with a second application at this stage of growth.

When using granular fertilizer, try and time application to a day when rain will likely follow. Otherwise, the sun will steal most of its effectiveness before it makes it to the plant.

If last year’s crops haven’t already been removed for late summer planting, it is critical to get that done now as well.

Unless brassica, turnip and radish plots from last fall were totally decimated, many of them re-grow in the spring. Left unchecked until now, they form a six-foot-tall, impenetrable sea of plants that are great cover but have little food value.

Removing them and preparing the plot for a more beneficial fall crop requires a commercial bush hog and most of a day if the plot is bigger than an acre.

For soil health and to limit disease, never plant brassicas in the same plot two years in a row. Rotate annuals like them with other annuals such as clover or rye grain.

A less common but increasingly critical off-season chore for Hoosier hunters involves the necessary year-round battle with predators.

The majority of deer that are killed by dogs and coyotes are fawns. And most fawns are at their most vulnerable stage of life right now.

Their instinct tells them to hide motionless when a threat is nearby. That mostly doesn’t work, however, in places where cover is limited and canine number are exploding.

In places where deer numbers are healthy, it is not a problem to lose a few fawns to canines every year. Unfortunately, most hunters and people in the field would not describe Indiana’s deer population as healthy.

Land managers already frustrated with low deer numbers as a result of liberal doe seasons and disease outbreaks increasingly feel like they can’t afford to lose as many deer to dogs and coyotes.

Controlling summer canines, however, is as difficult sometimes as it is convincing the DNR to listen to hunters and stop slaughtering the deer herd in the name of profit.

Predator calling coyotes still works in the summer, but is only legal for landowners and hunters with written permission from a landowner. Trapping is also effective but is indiscriminate and will snag domestic dogs now as well as coyotes.

A better option in places where domestic dogs are also killing fawns is a large cage trap. They can be purchased at Tractor Supply stores or online for around $200.

They are reusable, but don’t expect to fool the same dog with them twice, and think ahead about what to do with a neighbor’s dog once you have him in your trap.

The dog and its owner will both likely be mad at you despite the fact that they are both breaking the law and trespassing.

Before loading up the boat his weekend, consider if your hunting chores are done. If good hunting next fall is a priority, the boat might not get wet all summer.

This week's newspaper column

Deer harvest should prompt rules change

Deer harvest should prompt rules change


The Indiana Department of Natural Resources released the harvest results for the 2013 combined deer seasons. As suspected by most hunters, there were fewer deer taken than in 2012.

According to the DNR report, a total of 125,635 deer were reported harvested in Indiana during the 2013 season. This harvest was 8 percent lower than the 136,248 deer harvested during the 2012 season.

The reported antlered deer harvest of 46,240 was nearly identical to the 45,936 reported harvested in 2012. The antlerless harvest of 79,395 was 12 percent lower than the 90,312 harvested in 2012.

In 2013, the reported harvest for total deer ranks sixth all-time, while the total antlerless deer harvest ranks as the fifth highest all-time in Indiana history. The antlered harvest ranks 16th all-time.

The entire harvest report can be read on the DNR website, and breaks down the harvest and trends further. What it does not do is reflect the concern hunters have for the decline of deer in Indiana or offer a plan for the future of Indiana’s deer herd.

Because the DNR has never historically admitted making mistakes, opting instead to always put a good spin on failed strategies, they defined the 2012 harvest as simply the sixth biggest in history.

By broadening the sample to include the entire history of deer in Indiana, they benefit from a time when the herd was only being established.

Consider the trend over only the past five years, however, and things are a bit bleaker. The recent history is more relevant because it reflects the transition to the new rules and modern sentiment about deer and deer hunting.

It is important to first note the popularity of deer hunting in Indiana. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of deer hunters in Indiana grew from 290,392 in 2001 to 392,000 in 2011, the last time it conducted a census.

The Indiana DNR shows a drastic drop in license sales over the past few years, but that is only because of the new bundled license, which allows hunters to take several deer without buying more licenses.

The point is the deer hunting population is growing in Indiana. As a result, the harvest should have gone up, not down.

Some have argued the deer harvest declined in other Midwestern states this year, and that we simply followed suit. That would be a valid point if Indiana had comparable opportunities to hunt as every other Midwestern state.

Our new rules, however, put us in a category all by ourselves. We allow firearms hunting for deer for 45 days every year.

That is nearly double the number of days any other whitetail deer state allows, and totally disqualifies any potential excuse the DNR gives us for a reduced harvest.

With 45 days, weather is not a factor, which was blamed in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. And with 45 days of gun and three months of crossbow season in Indiana, few deer escape being seen by a hunter with a long-range weapon in their hand before season is over every year.

A look at the trend since the new rules were forced on hunters two years ago foretells the future of deer hunting in Indiana.

Those new rules created a third any legal firearm season for does in December and made all of archery season one big crossbow season. They started in the 2012 season.

The effect of those rules are exactly what many of us feared and should be cause for the DNR to finally admit their mistake and change course.

The first year the new rules were in place (2012) there was a 7,000-deer increase in the harvest from the year before (2011), which had been a decline from the year before that.

Under the new rules, 2012 was a new record for deer harvested in Indiana, but ominously included the harvest of 10,000 more does than in 2011. The new rules were responsible for the slaughter of too many does.

But despite the new, liberal rules still being in place, the 2013 harvest dropped by 8 percent. The does were gone, as were the fawns they would have produced.

It doesn’t take a biology degree to link the massive increase in doe killing to the new rules and the decreased harvest. What is more important is that the same laws of nature will apply next year and every year until the rules are changed.

The future does not look bright for our deer herd under the current, liberal rules structure. More than 1,000 Hoosiers tried to explain this to the DNR administration and biologists in writing three years ago, but they ignored them.

Maybe this time, someone will have the courage to admit they were wrong and fix their mistakes before it is too late.

My syndicated newspaper column this week.

An outdoor great passes

An outdoor great passes


As an outdoor writer for the past 20 years, I have met countless thousands of people. Most I never spoke to again after interviewing them, some remained professional acquaintances and contacts for a few years, and a few were friends for a brief time.

Only a handful turned out to be real, long-term friends. Last summer, one of those rare guys died unexpectedly, leaving a legacy in his passing.

Mike Piano owned and operated Mountain Cove Lodge near Espanola, Ontario. He died after suffering a stroke at the young age of 74.

If his name and lodge sound familiar, it is because I have written about them several times and referred many of my readers to them over the years.

Mike and his wife, Grace Piano, were responsible for creating lifelong outdoor memories for me, some of you, and countless families and children from all over the continent.

I met Mike at a trade show more than 10 years ago when fate landed me in a booth next to his. We started talking about Canadian fishing and black bear hunting and he quickly impressed me with his knowledge of the sports.

As the hours progressed and I listened to him pitch his operation to fairgoers, I knew he was an honest man and the kind of person I would like to hunt with.

As an outdoor writer, I have fished and hunted with professional athletes, Grammy- winning musicians, national politicians and A-list celebrities. Mike Piano was none of those things.

Mike was a regular guy who loved the outdoors and loved running a Canadian camp even more. He fished on occasion, but was always more interested in helping everyone else catch fish or see bears.

And under Mike and Grace’s stewardship of their piece of wilderness, few people ever went home unsuccessful or unhappy.

Their intangible qualities are what made them so important, however.

Mike brought sincere humility and charity to the outdoors, something I have found to be mostly missing in the current outdoor business.

On the occasions where Mike took time to fish or set bear baits with me, he never reminded me he had likely forgotten more about both than I ever knew. Instead, he listened to my theories about bear food and lure selection quietly and respectfully.

On the occasions when I eventually listened to his advice and scrapped my own, I typically ended up with a bear or stringer of walleyes to show for it.

The only thing that frustrated me about Mike was that he routinely made me argue with him to take my money. He fed, housed and chauffeured my friends and me around the wilderness for a week at a time, and woefully undercharged for his services.

And I wasn’t the only customer he helped.

Other outfitters in the area charged more than Mike, but Mike refused to raise his prices to adequately reflect his overhead and the quality product he offered.

“After Ontario abolished the spring bear season, there were more bears here but the big ones became more difficult to harvest,” Mike once told me. “Because of this, I don’t think it would be fair to charge what some other camps in the area charge.”

Mike and Grace chose to charge people what they thought was fair, not what they simply thought they could get.

I will miss the place where I took my first bear, but like thousands of other people, I will never forget Mike, Grace and Mountain Cove Lodge. They left a legacy of memories with many of us, and for that we will all be forever thankful.

Grace has reluctantly decided to sell Mountain Cove Lodge. It includes 61 acres of Canadian forest, 2,000 feet of beach and shoreline on Lake Panache, and all the buildings and equipment necessary to continue Mike and Grace’s legacy. The asking price is $799,000.

Interested parties should contact Doug Marsh at Coldwell Bankers Sudbury at 705-566-6111.

I hope whoever buys the place lets me know. I would love to be their first paying customer, and get a chance to say goodbye to Mike from the place he loved.

Latest Outdoor Channel article

Hard Freeze Fishing

Only hardiest anglers and gear work in sub-zero temps

Hard Freeze Fishing Hard Freeze Fishing

By: Don Mulligan,

In the diverse world of outdoor sportsmen and women, few pray for cold as religiously as ice fishermen. No other sport is as dependent on bitter cold for its enthusiasts to just participate.

But even for most ice fishermen there is a limit to how much cold they can stand.

Every fisherman’s definition of extreme cold, or what they consider unfishable conditions, is different. For some, their limit is reached when gear ceases to work. For others, it is all about pain.

The winter of 2013-2014 has tested everyone’s limits.

Click the image to see photos of Hard Freeze Fishing
Photos of Hard Freeze Fishing

The entire Midwest has suffered through harsh winter conditions this year, but consider Minnesota’s plight to get a feel for the worst of it.

“According to the National Weather Service, this winter is the coldest in 30 years, depending on which numbers you measure … So far this winter is running about 7.5 degrees colder than average through December and January. Add up all the highs and lows and you come up with 10.2 degrees,” Paul Huttner of the Minnesota Post said.

Ten degrees doesn’t actually sound that bad for most upper Midwestern fishermen until you remember that is only the average. To get to that number, Minnesota has suffered through weeks of subzero weather and days when the real temperature dipped to -30 degrees or worse.

The rest of the Midwest hasn’t been much better off.

“The perfect recipe for extremely cold temperatures is a deep snowpack and calm winds,” Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service said.

By February 1, Indianapolis had already registered its fourth snowiest winter ever and Chicago wasn’t far behind.

The first challenge brutal cold brings for ice fishermen is thick ice, which can be approached as a mixed blessing.

With a foot of ice on most lakes by Christmas this year, anglers were able to drive their trucks out early. By Valentines Day, however, the ice in many places in the upper Midwest was three-feet-thick.

Gas-powered augers are a must, but with ice so thick, they require extensions and new blades after drilling only a few holes.

And despite the fact that they are made for the cold, gas augers are difficult to operate when the air is -20 degrees or colder. For that matter, phones, cameras, diesel trucks, batteries, heaters, reels and lanterns have a tendency to break or die when it is that cold.

Additionally, bait freezes and dies after only brief exposure to the air, and everything gets caked with ice.

A good shanty levels the playing field for fishermen, but getting to them and setting up can be downright painful. Additionally, being restricted to a spot where a permanent shanty is sitting is often counterproductive.

Portable shanties have come a long way in their design, are more mobile and are critical in extreme conditions. Once sealed with snow, they can be heated to tolerable levels, even when the air outside is 25-below zero.

A good tipup will work, regardless of the air outside but they are painful to set up and maintain in the bitter cold. The round, insulated type is better than the stick type for obvious reasons.

Thick ice pike Several factors affect where fish are and how they eat under ice. Bitter cold is just one of them. More than anything, long-lasting, bitter cold affects fish simply because of the massive amount of ice it produces.

As ice gets thicker and snow accumulates on top, less light penetrates into the water column. This accelerates plant death and decay, which in turn consumes more oxygen. Depleted oxygen is a real issue under very thick ice and can be blamed for periodic fish die-offs in some lakes. Sometimes, a lake will die-off during unseasonably cold winters simply because they freeze right to the bottom.

Assuming a lake is diverse and deep enough to avoid a cold-related die-off, there are other factors to still consider. More than the cold, the barometric pressure drives the bite under the ice.

Clear, calm skies generally bring the coldest temperatures but also high pressure. High-pressure ridges are the worst weather event to ice fish, and some fish are affected more than others.

Northern pike and muskies are highly sought-after fish in the northern states and are generally some of the easiest fish to catch through the ice. They are, however, affected by high pressure more than any other game fish.

They have one of the largest air bladders of any fresh water fish since they routinely like to suspend throughout the water column. That massive air bladder is a liability when the air pressure is high or rising.

Normally daylight and sight feeders, northern pike slow down and become more passive until the barometric pressure stabilizes or a low-pressure ridge descends.

If the pressure is right, extremely thick ice doesn’t bother pike, and they are commonly seen cruising in only a foot of water under three-feet of ice. Even in deep water under thick ice, pike fishermen know to sometimes set their tipup bait only a foot below the ice.

Pike have learned that some baitfish use the irregular ice to hide and can be easily trapped up against it. Spear-fishermen have been taking advantage of this odd behavior for hundreds of years.

As winter wears on and some shallow bays freeze out, larger pike and muskies often find refuge on deep-water breaks and cliffs. These fish are harder to find for stationary ice fishermen, especially when it is bitter cold above the ice.

Where several lines are allowed, scattering tipups across various underwater environments is necessary to find big pike. Once a good hole is identified, however, it will likely keep producing all winter.

Tipups, however, are difficult to set and reset when it is 25 below.

The old saying; “no pain, no gain,” applies to many of the outdoor sports, but none as much as ice fishing in the extreme bitter cold. Be prepared and call it quits if it gets too cold.

And remember, spring is just around the corner.

My latest Outdoor Channel article

Big Buck Bingo

Waiting for perfect shot at perfect buck big gamble in some places

Dreams of a buck like this Indiana monster are why some pass on smaller bucks. Indiana currently supports fewer trophy bucks than ever due to mismanagement by wildlife managers and policiticans. (Don Mulligan photo) Dreams of a buck like this Indiana monster are why some pass on smaller bucks. Indiana currently supports fewer trophy bucks than ever due to mismanagement by wildlife managers and policiticans. (Don Mulligan photo)

By: Don Mulligan,

Among the ranks of deer hunters, there are a growing number of enthusiasts more than willing to end the season empty-handed. Many of them are even happy to string together several years without killing a deer.

Some call them trophy hunters, but they are usually much more than that. They wait on bucks that are 1 in 1000, or might not even exist.

And though they eat the game they kill, they define success much differently than the average meat hunter. For this patient set of hunters, filling a tag just for the sake of filling it is nonsensical, counterproductive and bad for the sport.

These are the men and women who don’t even raise their bow in October for a 160-inch buck because they understand truly old bucks don’t start moving until November and December. In short, their bar is typically set higher than everyone else’s and they know what it takes to clear it.

Click the image to see the photo gallery
Mulligan's biggest buck from his Indiana farm was the first to survive to 4 years old in his 10 years of management because of long gun seasons and a “brown and down” mentality of neighbors. (Don Mulligan photo)

The requisite criteria to shoot is different for all of them, but they all still strive to have one thing in common: to have access to land capable of growing and holding the kind of rare buck they seek.

Not all whitetail states grow bucks in sufficient numbers to merit holding your shot at a 160-inch buck, and even in the states that do, not all counties or properties are always a good bet.

Worth the risk

Most of these hunters begin their search for hunting land to own or lease with a detailed study of Boone and Crockett’s trophy list by state and county. Few are surprised the list reveals the northern plains and Midwest states are home to the greatest number of big bucks, but the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, why some are trending up or down or why some are better than other.

Wisconsin tops the list of big buck states by a wide margin, and is an untouchable beast when it comes to trophy whitetail. From 2008 until 2013, hunters there killed 426 record book whitetails; almost twice as many as second-place Ohio.

What is odd about Wisconsin’s ability to produce so many big deer is that they rate poorly on many of the criteria big buck gamblers require.

Wisconsin’s average farm is only 201 acres, smaller than the average for Indiana (254) and nearly half the average size for productive states such as Minnesota (345), Iowa (355) and neighboring Illinois (377).

Trophy hunters rightfully understand larger, privately owned parcels give deer a better chance to live beyond their first or second rack.

Wisconsin also has one of the highest hunter densities among big buck states, something that often equates to more small bucks being harvested. According to The Quality Deer Management Deer Association, they support 13.7 hunters per square mile. That makes them the fourth most crowded deer hunting state behind three states that almost never put a single buck in the books.

Then why does Wisconsin turn out so many big bucks?

Because of something no statistician can quantify: the mindset of the deer hunting populace there.

When Wisconsin Gov. Walker appointed Dr. James Kroll as a Deer Czar, it illustrated how important deer hunting was to everyone in the state, and how much nearly everyone there valued not only deer, but big deer.

While many did not agree with the actions taken by Dr. Kroll, most agreed deer were important enough for the Governor to get directly involved.

Other states are good bets as well, but for different reasons.

Ohio killed 228 record book bucks from 2008 to 2013 and Illinois took 219 during the same period. They achieved those numbers differently than Wisconsin, however.

While the hunters in those states likely also value deer and deer hunting like Wisconsin hunters, they also structure their seasons to allow more deer to survive from one year to the next.

Most states hold bow seasons for whitetails from September until January, but gun seasons shape deer herds.

Bucks in Ohio are only legally hunted 13 days a year (including youth season), and firearms seasons don’t begin until December. Illinois only allows hunters to shoot bucks with firearms for 12 days, starting in late November.

This is critical, and it results in a large carry over of bucks from one season to the next. Big buck gamblers understand this and confine their hunting to states with the shortest gun seasons, especially if they are scheduled out of the rut, when mature bucks are most vulnerable.

Other factors big buck hunters consider when choosing a farm and state to hunt include the culture of outfitting in the state and area, the number and type of properties adjacent to a hunting property, neighbor’s mentality regarding harvesting bucks, recent history of Epizootic Hemorrhagic or Chronic Wasting Disease, the actual layout of the property and whether it can easily be protected from trespassers and poachers.

A bad bet

Despite being surrounded by monster buck producing states, Michigan is a really bad bet for big buck hunters. Most hunters there will never see a 160-inch deer in their lifetime, let alone have a chance to pass on one and eventually see a 180-inch monster.

The northern third of the Lower Peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula are dominated by big woods and almost never grow big bucks these days. Odds are better in the south, but where hunter mentality aids mature deer in Wisconsin, it hurts them in Michigan.

Michigan’s average farm size is 191-acres and, sadly, too many bucks, regardless of antler size, get killed every year across the state. It is part of the culture in Michigan that any buck is a worthy target, though when asked, nearly all Michiganders wish they could shoot a big buck.

Like the 800-pound man who points to the 1000-pound man as evidence of someone who really needs help, Michiganders need to look no farther than Indiana to expose a state’s deer herd in worse shape than theirs.

While Indiana’s Boone and Crockett record book entry numbers look pretty good over the past five years (184), they don’t tell the horror story that is presently unfolding in the Hoosier state.

Most of the big bucks taken In Indiana were killed prior to 2012, when the Indiana Department of Natural Resources teamed up with politicians to restructure the deer seasons. As a result, last year Indiana dropped from being the fourth best state to kill a record book buck to ninth.

Most in Indiana believe this is just the beginning of its fall from nobility.

Where Wisconsin created a political position that recognized the value of deer there, Indiana IDNR officials teamed up with politicians behind closed doors and devised a plan that sportsmen and women did not want.

The plan reveals how out of step the IDNR is with hunters, and treats deer like vermin to be exterminated.

The shortsighted plan was clearly devised to maximize profits from the sale of new deer tags, but fails to recognize or identify a future for deer in Indiana.

The new rules allow buck hunting with firearms for 34 days a year, starting during the peak of the chasing phase of the rut. Additionally, there is an additional 11-day late shotgun antlerless season that runs into January, and the introduction of crossbows from September until January.

The IDNR and politicians in Indiana took what were already the most liberal gun seasons in the Midwest and made them longer and more liberal.

To illustrate just how out of step the new deer plan is with Hoosier hunters, The Indiana Deer Hunters Association and The Indiana Bowhunters Association, the only two statewide deer hunting groups in Indiana, both sent letters to the IDNR after the rules were adopted, severing ties with them on any future collaborations. Those letters marked the first time either organization ever ended communication with the IDNR in history.

The only silver lining resulting from Indiana’s bureaucratic handling of the deer herd has been the increased value of hunting properties in neighboring Illinois and Ohio, two great bets for big buck gamblers. Hunting properties just across the border from Indiana are now selling and leasing as soon as they are listed.

Waiting on a trophy-class buck is not for everyone and what qualifies as a trophy rightfully varies by hunter. Regardless of the definition, however, some states, counties and farms are a much, much better bet than others.


- See more at:

This week's newspaper column

Columnist presents annual Outhouse Awards

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 6:19 am, Thu Dec 19, 2013.

It’s time expose the worst outdoor products and services from 2013 with this year’s installment of Outdoorswithdon’s Outhouse Awards. As always, all of the products mentioned were purchased and used in the field under real outdoor sports conditions, and are in no particular order.

1. Flambeau howler coyote decoy — This decoy looks real enough to fool a coyote, but the legs need to be permanently attached. They unnecessarily detach for storage and are a pain to put back together in the field.

Carrying it with the legs already attached is a problem too since they routinely either fall off, or break off where they connect to the body.

2. U.S. Airways — An airline makes this list every year, partially because so many outdoorsmen and women travel out of state, but mainly because universally their customer service is often horrifyingly bad. This year’s winner/loser is U.S. Airways.

On a trip to the Cayman Islands to snorkel this year, they cancelled my first flight after we boarded, then rebooked me on another flight that had already left, then lost my bags on the way home. Along the journey I dealt with agents and customer service representatives who clearly did not have a clue about what they were doing and openly didn’t care.

3. Porcupine fish attractor — Insert various lengths of PVC pipes into these plastic spheres and drop them into a lake to create fish habitat. It is a great idea but they are made so cheaply it is hard to get them into place without breaking them into pieces.

4. Rage broadheads — Most mechanical broadheads are unreliable, especially when the shot at an extreme angle to the target. Rage is the worst, however, and probably responsible for a lot of wounded, unrecovered deer.

The blades are too loose and have to slide down and hold upon impact. When I pointed out the potential for failure to a rage dealer, he said he uses wax to hold them in place on the arrow.

Any time you find yourself having to fix the design of a broadhead to make it work, it is not worth using.

5. Earthway 2050P broadcast spreader — With the growth of food plots, hand-operated seed and fertilizer spreaders are becoming very important to outdoorsmen and women. Earthway is a North central Indiana company with a decent product to fill the niche, but it has one massive problem.

Unless it can be purchased assembled, it is not worth the money. This spreader comes in too many pieces and has very poorly written instructions. After one hour, two of us gave up on it, piled it back in the box and returned it.

6. Mojo Outdoors predator decoy — This rotating fur ball might help bring wary coyotes in for a shot if it were made better. The stake that holds it up is junk and breaks the first time it is pushed into even modestly hard or frozen ground.

7. Foodsaver vacuum sealer — Because preserving the fish and game I harvest is important, I immediately upgraded my vacuum sealer when my old one broke. I wish I had my old, cheaper one back.

While the old one was straightforward and easy to use, the newest model is nonsensical and infuriating. It is not clear how to just seal a new bag or vacuum, and the new design won’t allow the user to double seal the seams like the old one.

8. Primos and Bushnell products — When Bushnell purchased Primos in 2012 it was the union of the two cheapest outdoor product manufacturers in the business. Then, when defense contractor Alliant Techsystems, Inc. purchased Bushnell in 2013, already cheap products got even worse.

Most of the products are very poorly made with cheap materials, and customer service is cumbersome and hard to navigate for refunds or returns.

9. Gerber machete — I realize Gerber doesn’t make high-end blades, but the metal used on their machete is too thin. I use mine a lot for clearing brush, but have to regularly stop and pound out the blade where if folds over.

10. Mission MX360 crossbow — This weapon shoots accurately and consistently but is made too cheaply considering what it costs. For $1,000, it shouldn’t have a hollow, plastic butt and foreend.

They are noisy when hit against anything and can easily break or crack, especially in cold weather. Mission tried to dampen the noise with rubber grips but it isn’t enough of a fix for the money.

New hope for Indiana outdoors

Here is big news for outdoor sportsmen and women and conservationists in Indiana. It was reported two days ago by the Fort Wayne paper. 

Assuming this means Carter is leaving the IDNR, there may be hope that someone new will right the ship and start repairing the damage his administration did to this state's ecosystem and outdoor sports.

INDIANAPOLIS- Gov. Mike Pence is losing two agency heads only a few months into his new administration.
The Journal Gazette reports Indiana Department of Natural Resources chief Rob Carter has asked the Indiana Ethics Commission for a formal opinion on whether he can accept a position at Ivy Tech Community College.
Robert Wynkoop left his post as Indiana Department of Administration commissioner last month. He's asking the commission to approve his move to a Purdue University job that he started several weeks ago.
The Ethics Commission will hear the requests Thursday.
Pence had tapped both men in December to remain in positions they began under former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Daniels is now president of Purdue University

This week's newspaper column

Both sides lie in the gun debate


Unless you are preaching to the choir, writing about gun control is a risky venture for an outdoor writer.  In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado shootings and the resultant national debate on guns, however, I feel compelled to add my 2 cents.


I believe I have a unique and conflicted viewpoint on the topic.  On the one hand, I have been an outdoor writer for 25 years, supporting gun and hunting rights across the continent. 


I have also been a licensed child and adolescent therapist for the same 25 years.  In that capacity, I diagnose and treat the kind of individuals who committed the recent mass shootings, and also help children who are victims of the same types of trauma.


There shouldn’t be a divide between the people I associate with in one walk of my life with the people I associate with in the other, but there is.   In both worlds I hear accurate depictions of the other side’s position, as well as lies and propaganda to support selfish agendas.


What I have concluded is that there are liars on both sides of the gun control debate.


When I hear supporters of additional gun control use the argument;  “no one needs an AR-15 assault –type rifle for hunting,” or that those who use them for hunting are in some way unethical, I stop listening.


In fact, the AR-15 is a well-established, legitimate varmint rifle.  My hunting partner carries it on all of our Indiana coyote hunts, and it is responsible for quite a few of the overpopulated pests being removed from the environment.


Opponents of the current gun rules also like to frame the debate in terms of what hunters and shooters “need.”   That argument is self-serving.


Even if the AR-15 wasn’t an efficient coyote gun, wanting one has always been enough of a reason to own one in the United States. 


Wanting versus needing is the basis for many purchases in the United States.  It’s a critical part of what makes our economy vibrant.


Nothing makes a person sound like more of an imbecile than when they express an opinion about something they know nothing about.  And both sides in the gun debate do it a lot lately.


Every time I hear Ted Nugent or Wayne LaPierre from the NRA start talking about mental health as a panacea, I hold my breath.


Despite their efforts to come up with a solution to a national crisis without looking at guns, the mental health system is not an easy answer.


And yes, 20 6- and 7-year-olds being executed is a national crisis.  It was only one incident, but was enough for most Americans and me to look critically at everything we do to protect children in this country – including gun laws.


Mental Health experts do not have a crystal ball.  We cannot predict who will commit heinous acts any more than a medical doctor can predict who will get cancer or a mechanic can predict if and when a car will break down.


Lots of patients qualify for the types of diagnosis’ the mass murders likely suffered from, and nearly all of them will never hurt anyone in their lifetime.


Even if they are identified as homicidal, we only have a limited amount of control over how we treat them.  Free people have rights, including the right to drop out or never seek treatment.


If a clinician pursued a client with no history of violence or overt, pointed threatening statements, he or she would expose himself or herself to a career-ending lawsuit.


And like suicidal people, most truly homicidal individuals don’t tell anyone about their plans until it’s too late.


Could the mental health system be more efficient and better?  Certainly, but no one, including Wayne LaPierre or Ted Nugent will pay for it. 


Those guys don’t want to pay more taxes to increase reimbursement levels and create a living wage for most mental health professionals, and without salaries that cover basic living, the mental health field has not attracted the best and brightest for a long time.


I have worked with many fulltime, masters-level clinicians over the years whose children qualify for free school lunches due to the parent’s income.


Sorry to my colleagues, but you know it’s true that only medical doctors and administrators make a living in mental health, and as a result, the system suffers. 


In a nutshell, the mental health system is too overburdened, underpaid and unappreciated to be LaPierre’s and Nugent’s easy fix to the gun violence problem in the United States.


That leaves me with no good answers, and maybe that’s where both sides should begin the conversation instead of with lies and personal agendas.









reader response to previous column

Here are three samples of the emails I received regarding the newspaper column posted below.  Though most letters are supportive, I do get negative letters as well, as illustrated by one of the three here.  I removed last names and addresses since I didn't ask for permission to publish.



I read your article on The Outdoor Page this morning.


The several hunters I know appreciate the more liberal DNR regulations. I enjoy the deer sausage!


Why don't you get a LIFE, quit crying, and stop your ranting. Life changes.







I too am sickened by what's happened to deer hunting in Indiana. Gone are the days of seeing deer walk through my backyard here in the woods or herds milling about during late winter. Although I've devoted my life and resources to conservation of all wildlife, my lifelong efforts have been defeated by my own DNR, and unfortunately, my own neighbors and deer hunting "friends."  Our local herd has been decimated by those who simply can't understand that this magnificent creature/renewable food source doesn't reproduce like the rabbits. Until they grasp what these hunting practices have done to our sport, consider it effectively destroyed. I have full control over just 460 contiguous acres of bedding/sanctuary and corn food plots, but my fence rows are lined with shotguns and crossbows, and it's failing. I didn't take a deer the last two years, and honestly, I think I never will again. For the most part I am giving up deer hunting...guess I can only save just one to help maintain my herd.


Keep up your great work Don





Mr. Mulligan,


    My name is Chad ______ and I own a farm in southern Noble County, which we manage for deer hunting. I want to thank you for your article on how the DNR is attacking the state's deer herd.  It's nice to see someone able to get this problem into public eye.  Last year myself and other landowners in my area spent a lot of time (most of it wasted) talking to our regional biologist about the endless handout of depredation tags to a few individuals in our area. These individuals reportedly killed between 30-40 deer throughout the summer and just let them go to waste. The biologist stated to us that they do not have to utilize the animal and can shoot them with any firearm.  We weren't able to get any satisfaction with the biologist we were talking to and were wondering if you had any suggestions on whom to contact and voice our complaints on this issue and the lack of regulation in general.  I have several people who are willing to call, write, email, etc and do what needs to be done to voice our concerns. Any information on who to contact would be greatly appreciated.  


Thank you for your time,






This weeks' syndicated newspaper column

Indiana DNR attack on deer and deer hunting continues


Here we go again.

Just when deer hunters, landowners and conservationists didn’t think the Indiana Department of Natural Resources could do any further damage to deer hunting in Indiana, they found a way.

Despite public protests by deer hunters and nearly every hunting organization in Indiana against the IDNR’s expansion of deer season in 2012, they are proposing even more devastating changes for 2013.

Frustrated hunters and stewards of Indiana’s outdoor resources likely recall the IDNR and Indiana Natural Resources Commission’s move in 2012 to attack deer and deer hunters when they took the most liberal deer seasons in the Midwest and inexplicably made them even more liberal.

They created and implemented a late doe-only firearms season and let crossbows take over the all of the deer seasons.

The results were as expected.

The Internet was full of photos of guys in January apologizing for killing bucks during the late doe-only season because they had already shed their antlers, and crossbows started their eventual domination over vertical bows because they are easy to use and don’t require any sacrifice.

The future of deer hunting was already in need of rescue after this year’s failed experiment.

But instead of listening to hunters, landowners, farmers, conservationists or even deer biologists from other states to find ideas on how to fix the problem they created, the IDNR went the other direction.

They proposed the following new rules for 2013.

According to subsection C of the new rules proposal, instead of starting Oct. 1, “the deer archery season is from Sept. 15 until the first Sunday in January.”

That means the end date stays the same, but the start date begins 15 days earlier than any time in the past 60 years.

The next, more devastating and unexplained rule change is under subsection I and proposes: “The primitive muzzleloader season is from the first Monday in January and continues for an additional six days. An individual must not take more than two deer of which only one may be antlered under this subsection.”

That is another new firearms season in addition to the four already in place. Even more shocking is that it pushes into mid-January and allows buck to be harvested.

The IDNR’s hatred of deer and deer hunting is now obvious.

No other administration has so openly ignored the screams of their constituency and done the opposite of what is reasonable time and after time with no consequences.

Organizations wrote letters to legislators, individuals met with legislators, groups flooded the state with emails and petitions to try and stop to last set of rules, but private agendas won the battle without a hitch.

And that lack of consequences is why when Gov. Mike Pence reappointed Rob Carter to head the IDNR, most Hoosier hunters knew it was nearing time to turn out the lights on the outdoor sports in Indiana.

Our resources are too thin and fragile to withstand another anti-hunting administration that seeks to squeeze the last dollar out of the deer herd with no care or understanding of the outdoor sports or mammalian ethology.

Will there always be deer in Indiana? Probably. Will hunting be fun here? Regardless of whether sportsmen and women like seeing does or mature bucks, it’s going to get a lot worse.

I would like to tell readers to contact their legislators and the IDNR to express their opinion about the new rules, but their track record proves they answer to someone other than us.

In conversations on and off the record with people in the IDNR, the INRC, legislators and insurance companies, they all deny this escalating anti-hunting agenda is their idea and say there are larger powers at work here.

If there is some shadowy figure behind some curtain somewhere shoving these rules down our throats besides the IDNR, it’s time for the IDNR to place the agenda at their feet and let us at least point our angst at the rightful owner.

Knowing whom to blame the most may not change anything now, but at least in the future history can accurately assign the shameful legacy being created right now.

This week's newspaper column. It doesn't go over well with the industry

Don’s 2012 Outhouse Awards released PDF Print E-mail

It’s time to expose the worst outdoor products and services from 2012 with this year’s installment of Outdoors With Don’s Outhouse Awards. As always, all of the products mentioned were purchased and used in the field under real outdoor sports conditions, and are in no particular order.

1. Primos Trigger Stick

Rifle hunters know a solid rest is crucial for long-range shooting in the field. The answer is a quality monopod, bipod or tripod that supports the foreend of a gun and connects it solidly to the earth.

When Primos added the versatility of a rest that was easily adjusted up and down with a trigger, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, the trigger and leg sections of this product are made so cheaply they stick, freeze, and break routinely.

2. Shimano fishing rods

Shimano makes some of the finest spinning reels on the market. The rods they made are a different story.

I purchased two new rods that retailed for over $100 each. The tips broke off of both of them within the first few months of use. One of them even broke while cradled in a padded rod case.

3. Quality Deer Management Association

This one pains me. I generally support the concepts of QDMA, but in 2012, they waded into our deer rules debate and sided with big money and bureaucrats.

In a letter to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, one of their out-of-state biologists supported the new rules without ever consulting with their members here. If they had, a past president would have told them that he and his members almost unanimously opposed the rule changes.

4. 2012 Ford F250, King Ranch, Diesel

This truck can haul about anything and has lots of spectacular advantages for hunters and farmers who work in the field a lot. It is really expensive, however, and should be perfect for the money.

There are a couple misses on this truck. First, the diesel version with crew cab cannot accept skid plates. Second, the defrost function on mine is weaker than the defrost function on my 20-year-old Dodge Omni.

5. Plano Sportsman’s Trunk

This lightweight plastic storage unit would be a good idea if it didn’t fall apart. The hinges immediately broke on mine. After seeing a couple friends’ trunks with the same issue, I realized it was a design flaw.

6. High-end Airsoft Rifles

These toy guns shoot plastic pellets and are lots of fun to use with small kids. My son and I purchased a $200 airsoft assault-type gun with the hopes it would be more accurate than the discount store guns. It was not.

Despite a real scope, mounts and more bullet speed, we could not sight the gun in at only 10 yards. It sprays pellets everywhere and is worthless.

7. Off! Clip-on Mosquito fan

Global warming means outdoorsmen have to deal with bugs, even in Indiana, for nine months out of the year. This fan could be a good alternative to putting chemicals on your body when the user is not moving around.

The unit’s fan works fine, but no one I talked to could figure out how to get the chemical pad to dispense over the fan. Perhaps at times it was, but it was impossible to tell.

My advice is to just spring for a Thermacell. They always work and are spectacular.

8. Master Lock Python cable

The concept is great here: a locking cable that can be adjusted to cinch tight. They are perfect for securing select trail cameras, deer stands and climbing sticks.

The trouble with most of mine is that the lock jams if the cable is pulled too tight. I have needed to cut two of them off trees this year alone.

9. Honorable mention

The following items are just as problematic as those listed above, but with so many bad products this year, it was hard to fit everything in one column.

• Stanley Backpack Sprayer

The backpack clips fall off every time you take it off and are a bear to put back on.

• All rifle scope caps

I have used them all and all of them fall off in wilderness hunting conditions.

• Broadcast spreaders without remote controls

Most pull-behind and three-point attached spreaders require the user to reach back to stop the flow. In the mean time, the contents spill to the ground. It is just a stupid design.

• Yeti coolers

I don’t know what “Roto-molded” means and I don’t care. Why would any plastic cooler cost $400?

Letters from readers

Just a few of the many letters I received this week regarding my newspaper column.  As usual, all are in disbelief about the way our DNR is managing the deer herd and deer hunting.  Names withheld by me.



Congrats on a very well thought out and well presented article. I'm with you 100 percent on this. It seems some special interest groups like IN. Farm Bureau are more in charge thru politics than the DNR. I always enjoy your articles.  Keep up the good work.


Name withheld





    Great article “Let common sense decide late season deer harvest.”  As a teacher, I don’t have a lot of time to hunt except on weekends and was looking forward to hunting over Christmas break when I could actually have some time to get out. Plus, I love to hunt in the snow.

With that said I’m not sure I will hunt because of the low number of deer we have been seeing in our area. Besides the extra days that could destroy our herd, I am concerned about the number of deer lost to EHD this year.

I am hearing very little from the DNR about this and yet I hear plenty from farmers-found 14 dead, found 19 dead, found 20 dead. Common sense would say because of the unusually large number of death due to EHD we are cancelling the late season gun hunt for this year until we can get a better handle on the size of our herd that is left.

I know it won’t happen. I have been told that the DNR thinks that 4-6 deer per square mile is a good number. We had about 20 hunters in my square mile section on opening day. Not very good odds if there were only 4-6 deer.

Why does Indiana think the number needs to be so low? I watched a program from Wisconsin that stated that they had counties with a viable deer herd of 70 deer per square mile. We may not need 70 but I am sure our land will sustain more than 4-6. 

In my opinion, our problem is that hunters look at deer as a resource and the DNR look at deer as a menace. (By the way our car –deer accidents are down and our ratio is lower than many states).

                 Thanks for your continued fight for what is right. Keep up the good work!  

 Name withheld

Fort Wayne



Excellent article this week.  I knew no one in my area that was in favor of the rules that put in place the liberalized deer harvest.  How could this happen?  It is unfathomable that we are going to have another shotgun season into January with deer numbers already low.  The DNR has truly lost their way.

Name withheld


This week's newspaper column.

Let common sense decide late season deer harvest PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Don Mulligan   


With our first gun season over and two more to go, hunters need to look critically at the deer herd where they hunt, and harvest only the deer they believe the area can do without.

On some properties in Indiana, the herd would be well served if hunters culled lots of does. In many other places, however, not a single additional deer should be killed.

The days of trusting the regulations as set by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources or Chad Stewart, our deer biologist, to decide how many deer should be killed are long past. Both have shown questionable judgment and motives when setting deer seasons.

In perhaps the most ridiculous statement of 2012, Chad Stewart showed his naiveté in the current Indiana Hunting and Trapping Guide.

“In the grand scheme of things, these changes are probably fairly minimal,” he said in reference to all the new deer rules.

As deer hunters know, those new rules include a new third gun season that will run from Dec. 26 until Jan. 6.

The notion that a third shotgun season into January will only have minimal effect on deer and deer hunting in the future is, for lack of a better word, uninformed.

Stewart’s additional assertion that, “It’s a lot easier to grow a deer herd than to shrink it,” also tells us that his allegiance lies in rationalizing unprecedented rules and not in evidence-based science.

While I hunt with both shotgun and muzzleloader every year, I am also well aware of their potential to kill too many deer.

Deer were restocked in Indiana after they were nearly exterminated. Guns did that at a time when there were a lot less people, a lot fewer hunters in Indiana and a lot less sophisticated weapons available.

Rules brought deer back and rules can engineer their demise again.

It’s time for deer hunters to take deer management into their own hands.

Large, contiguous properties where private owners manage contrary to the way Stewart and the IDNR would like them to, can likely continue to kill deer through muzzleloader season.

I know of several properties that fit the bill in dozens of counties, but the reason they are full of deer is because the owners stopped listening to the IDNR a long time ago. None of those places will take part in the January doe season.

They understand what the IDNR and Stewart do not.

First, they know the 34 days of gun season prior to the new gun season offered more than enough time to manage their herd, and that anything more is unnecessary and unethical. Second, they know killing does in January leads to unintended buck kills.

Both buttons that would have survived until the next season and large bucks that have already shed their antlers will be killed in a January gun hunt.

And who here thinks the bad guys in our ranks will pass on a big buck in their sights just because they are only supposed to shoot does?

Add the new ability to register harvested deer by phone, and the IDNR has created a perfect environment for not only over-harvesting deer, but also a spike in poaching with the new January season.

The only answer is for hunters to refuse to take part in the January gun season. Serious deer managers are skipping it, but it’s the hunters with small parcels that need to get on board.

If there were fewer deer in your area this year, or your neighbors killed more than their share, skip the January season. Better yet, take time in January to enhance habitat and protect the deer that are left.

There will probably be deer in Indiana for years to come despite any rules. The number and type of deer, however, will change in just a couple seasons.

If enough hunters choose to do what is best for the sport, perhaps we can save our tradition from the people that were supposed to protect it.

Don Mulligan can be reached at

Latest Outdoor Channel article

Patience, Strategy And Luck

Hunt for suburbia trophy provides frustration but can end in real sense of accomplishment

Posted November 19, 2012  By Don Mulligan,
An urban two-year-old buck that hopefully survived to get bigger. (Don Mulligan photo)


My heart sank as two distinct slug gun blasts exploded across the creek. I had just watched a 130-class buck cross the same creek, and the shots came from the woodlot he just entered. 

Though I let the deer walk past me only moments before, it sounded like one of my neighbors didn’t see fit to do the same. Another buck cut short of his potential.

Such is the typical fate of most free-ranging bucks in the Midwest. Where I live and hunt in the suburbs of Indianapolis is no exception.

In Indiana, very few urban bucks make it to two-years-old, and even fewer live to the ripe old age of three.

Click image for the photo gallery 

Besides our obnoxiously long gun seasons to solely benefit unrepentant meat hunters, urban deer have to fend off dogs, traffic, drive-by shootings, hikers and over zealous developers every day. For a trophy deer hunter the challenge is monumental.

But despite all of the hazards, a few bucks find a way to survive every year. The really smart or really lucky ones beat the odds a couple years in a row, and in Indiana, that’s all it takes for most deer to grow to record book proportions.

So when that 130-class buck was taken from the gene pool, I was half frustrated, but half elated. The downside was that the deer had great genetic potential as a two-year-old. The upside was that my neighbor’s buck tag was filled, and I thought a bigger one was still slinking around the area.

In Indiana, and a couple other states, deer hunters are only allowed to kill one buck per year, regardless of the weapon. The results of the plan have been questioned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, who insist there aren’t more or bigger bucks wandering the Hoosier state as a result of the rule.

Hunters don’t agree. And in this case, as long as my neighbor didn’t break the rules, the one-buck-rule was about to work for me.

Hope and faith

On the half-mile walk home that evening, I quietly grumbled to myself, wondering why meat hunters didn’t just kill does instead of every bone-headed deer they saw. And though it was still only opening day, I was already convincing myself there weren’t any mature bucks left in the area.

As I mumbled my last bit of self-pity, however, I saw a deer at the end of the field that gave me hope.

Despite the quickly fading light, he looked bigger bodied than any I had seen that year. And though it was too dark and too far to see antlers, I could definitely make out some junk on his head.

Though it was opening day of regular firearms season, I had already bowhunted the area hard for 45 days. I had never seen the deer at the end of the field before, and as I squinted to get a better look at him, I felt reinvigorated with new hope.

I had assumed the oversized hoof prints I cut the day before were made by the now deceased 130-class buck, but suddenly, I couldn’t say for sure.

Had he been there all along, existing in the shadows and darkness until the rut finally forced him to move in the open? It was impossible to say, but I felt confident that once he found my field, he would stay for a while.

The field he was exiting is essentially a refuge from humans and dogs in the middle of a lot of other often-disturbed cover. It is an 18-acre oasis, created and maintained all year at great cost and sacrifice just for deer season.

No does are ever killed on the early successional field, and even I don‘t set foot in it unless I am planting a food plot or retrieving a neighbor’s deer. Besides all the seclusion it provides, it’s also the only cover around that remains mostly unmolested throughout gun season.

Getting a shot at the buck exiting the field, however, was going to be a challenge. Very few trees in and around the field were large enough to support an elevated tree stand, and visibility from a ground blind on the perimeter would be marginal at best.

The same five-foot-high thickets, dog-hair thick hardwood saplings and mats of raspberry bushes that attracted the buck, made it nearly impossible to hunt. Like other urban wildlife in the area, this buck had chosen wisely when he decided to take residence there.

When I saw him that first time at a distance, I immediately backed myself into the densely vegetated fence line I was walking. Hoping to go unnoticed, I crouched down until the buck made his way across the field and out of sight. It was dark by then, but I knew the woodlot he was heading toward, and noted the spot where I believed he entered.

I planned to hunt the perimeter of the woodlot the next day on the off chance I would get a closer look at the deer, and that he was as big as I hoped. Getting a shot in the woodlot would be a lot easier than the field.

The next day came and went with no sign of the deer, but shooting in every direction as usual. The rest of the week was just as bad, and was filled with typical urban deer hunting deal-breakers.

One day, I was chased up a tree by a pack of collared dogs. I knew these dogs, and had gotten into a nonsensical shouting match with the pack’s owner the year before. She essentially refused to fence her dogs, saying they were part of nature, and had a right to roam the heavily populated countryside.

Her misguided, selfish attitude resulted in a lot of busted hunts, and probably more native species dying every year than I accounted for in 10 years of hunting. Like too many city folk these days, she was hypocritically very anti-hunting.

As days ticked off the calendar, I continued to pass shots at smaller bucks. It was a gamble all trophy hunters take, but in an urban area, I knew it likely meant I would not kill a deer that year.

Indiana’s 16-day shotgun season came to a close, and though the buck I was waiting for was likely at the processor with someone else’s tag on him, I chose to continue hunting.

On opening day of muzzleloader season, I was tempted to finally fill my tag. A buck I had passed with my bow in October presented me with a 100-yard, broadside shot. He was a respectable 10-pointer that might have scored near 120. I put him in my crosshairs and eased my finger toward the trigger.

But instead of touching the hair-trigger, I lowered the gun and grabbed my camera. I reasoned that he would be a dandy buck next year, and since he had already survived shotgun season, he might have the skills to also survive muzzleloader and late archery seasons.

I had also already made peace with the notion that I wasn’t going to fill a tag. As a city buck hunter, I was just being realistic.

Late deer seasons can be either feast or famine in urban areas.

Some years the poachers take a break and lots of deer come out of hiding a couple weeks after all the shooting stops. Other years, the deer take a real beating and require a couple years to recover. This year seemed to be one where the beatings started early and lasted until the closing bell.

The fat lady sings

Though there wasn’t any science or logic behind it, I couldn’t help myself from obsessing over the spot on the woodlot where I watched the big buck disappear a month earlier. So, as usual, before I left my stand on opening day of muzzleloader season, I scanned the area with my binoculars once again.

Unbelievably, there was a buck standing right where the big boy had entered, and to my delight, he looked like a shooter.

Instead of taking my regular route home that night, I traveled in the opposite direction, leading me as far away from the buck as possible. I planned to sit on that spot the next morning.

I was being excited, but mumbled to myself: “Here we go again!”

Dawn the next day was clear, cold and calm.

From my 20-foot-high tree stand, the trail the buck entered the night before was only 30 yards away. Though I knew the odds were slim, I was still nervous as I stared a hole into the spot, hoping he would reappear.

Only minutes into legal shooting light, I saw movement in the trees. First the head, then the rack emerged from the cover. Unbelievably, he was right where he entered the woodlot a month earlier, and stood the night before. Though I knew better, it was as if the buck had hidden in that spot the entire season.

Cautiously, he eased into the field and looked both ways like a child at a school crossing. When his chest cleared the cover, I raised my gun and fired.

My decade old .50 caliber Knight muzzleloader exploded on cue, hitting the buck exactly where I aimed. He piled up within seconds, only 20 yards from where he exited the cover.

I tooth-aged the deer to be 3 ½-years-old, and he field-dressed 185 pounds. His antlers roughly score in the 150s, gross.

While the deer would not make the record book, and isn’t the biggest buck I have killed, he is about as big as they get around most cities in Indiana. Harvesting him took a combination of patience, strategy and luck. Three things that can tip the scales in any deer hunt, but are required when hunting the free-ranging whitetail trophies of America‘s big city suburbs.


latest Outdoor Channel article

Dirty Dogs

Free ranging cats and dogs frustrate outdoorsmen and environmentalists

Posted October 24, 2012  By Don Mulligan,
Forget about protecting wildlife, these two huge mastiffs routinely hunt Mulligan’s deer bedding area and pose a threat to humans. (Don Mulligan photo)


Domestic cats and dogs kill and maim more than a billion birds and mammals in The United States every year. And despite several studies outlining the wanton destruction our pets inflict on indigenous species year round, frustrated outdoorsmen, farmers, educators and environmentalists have few choices in some states to remedy the problem legally.

A 1990 University of Wisconsin study revealed that a single free ranging domestic cat could kill over 1,000 wild animals per year. Nationwide, there are over 60 million rural cats alone.  

Kills made by urban cats were not even counted.

The study made no distinction between the killing prowess of the more wild, feral cat, and the common household pet out for the afternoon either. They both proved to be equally efficient killers, even when declawed.

In addition, the study said that worldwide, cats are to blame for the extinction of more bird species than any other cause other than habitat destruction. Currently, they are contributing to the endangerment of birds like the Least Tern, and some varieties of marsh rabbits.

Domestic cats have infected the endangered Florida Panther with feline distemper, and even transmitted diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis to humans.

Click image to see Dirty Dogs gallery 

Domestic cats and dogs are considered “super predators,” by most biologists, and are the top-of-the-line predators in the Midwest. They quickly learn to hunt near bird feeders and food stations, and on vulnerable nesting birds and mammals in the spring.  

Late winter is a time of survival for wildlife, with food and fat reserves getting low.  

Even when wildlife outruns a cat or dog, it uses valuable energy needed for survival or reproduction. Wild animals simply cannot compete with a domestic animal that is well fed and spends its days sleeping in a heated garage.

Ground nesting birds like quail are especially vulnerable to being killed on the nest by domestic cats. Studies have shown that even well fed house cats destroy nests for no apparent reason.

Domestic dogs on the other hand, do not kill a billion wild animals in this country every year. Instead, according to a study done by The Colorado Division of Wildlife, they kill part of the time, and maim wild animals the rest of the time.

“Single dogs are not always a threat to wildlife, but instinctually they team up with neighborhood dogs and form packs. That is when the hunter/killer urge surfaces in them,” according to Lonnie Brown of The CDOW.

Brown said that most dog owners do not realize that when a dog chases down a deer, they often do not know what to do with it. Unlike coyotes, which are efficient killers, dogs often chew off the animal’s ears and nose, and the wild animal really suffers.

And contrary to some dog owners belief that fluffy could never actually catch an animal as big as a deer, Brown said they documented two dogs killing 12 elk in one single day. There are also cases of dog kills on bighorn sheep there as well.

No Easy Answers

Frustrated by the wanton loss of game, recreational time and property damage caused by uncontrolled pets, many landowners and hunters have adopted the shoot, shovel and shut up approach to trespassing cats and dogs.

There are problems with that approach, however.

Besides being distasteful, killing dogs is illegal in most states by anyone except law enforcement.

In all states, dogs are assigned property status. As such, they are subject to regulation as needed to protect the health and safety of all citizens.

Some states allow a private citizen to kill a dog when it is damaging livestock or threatening a person, but even then, some do not. By law, dogs are all presumed to be harmless, and there must be strong evidence otherwise if the case of defense of self or livestock is to be made.

The only legal remedy hunters and landowners have in states where law enforcement will not intervene, and it is against the law to kill a wildlife killing animal, is to capture the animal live.

Unbelievably, in some states dog owners have the right to trespass on private land to retrieve their dogs, however. And they can do so every day if they choose.

This rule has been abused in places like Michigan, where landowners claim bad dog owners intentionally use their dogs to gain access to private property.

In many other states, while a landowner cannot kill a marauding pack of dogs, regardless of the damage they do, the dog owner cannot trespass to retrieve them either. Indiana is one of those states.

In these places, if the dogs can be trapped, the landowner can sue the dog owner civilly for his time and expense.

The best answer to the problem is better cat and dog owners, but that is impossible to legislate. Legislation simply cannot remedy stupidity or domestic animal problems in the country where people routinely dump their pets out of selfishness.

To understand and comply with destructive pet laws, it is necessary to look and both state and county laws, as they vary wildly from one municipality to the next.

In the end, building dense cover for wildlife and reasoning with selfish neighbors may be the only long-term fix.

latest Outdoor Channel article

Dirty Dogs

Free ranging cats and dogs frustrate outdoorsmen and environmentalists

Posted October 24, 2012  By Don Mulligan,
Forget about protecting wildlife, these two huge mastiffs routinely hunt Mulligan’s deer bedding area and pose a threat to humans. (Don Mulligan photo)


Domestic cats and dogs kill and maim more than a billion birds and mammals in The United States every year. And despite several studies outlining the wanton destruction our pets inflict on indigenous species year round, frustrated outdoorsmen, farmers, educators and environmentalists have few choices in some states to remedy the problem legally.

A 1990 University of Wisconsin study revealed that a single free ranging domestic cat could kill over 1,000 wild animals per year. Nationwide, there are over 60 million rural cats alone.  

Kills made by urban cats were not even counted.

The study made no distinction between the killing prowess of the more wild, feral cat, and the common household pet out for the afternoon either. They both proved to be equally efficient killers, even when declawed.

In addition, the study said that worldwide, cats are to blame for the extinction of more bird species than any other cause other than habitat destruction. Currently, they are contributing to the endangerment of birds like the Least Tern, and some varieties of marsh rabbits.

Domestic cats have infected the endangered Florida Panther with feline distemper, and even transmitted diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis to humans.

Click image to see Dirty Dogs gallery 

Domestic cats and dogs are considered “super predators,” by most biologists, and are the top-of-the-line predators in the Midwest. They quickly learn to hunt near bird feeders and food stations, and on vulnerable nesting birds and mammals in the spring.  

Late winter is a time of survival for wildlife, with food and fat reserves getting low.  

Even when wildlife outruns a cat or dog, it uses valuable energy needed for survival or reproduction. Wild animals simply cannot compete with a domestic animal that is well fed and spends its days sleeping in a heated garage.

Ground nesting birds like quail are especially vulnerable to being killed on the nest by domestic cats. Studies have shown that even well fed house cats destroy nests for no apparent reason.

Domestic dogs on the other hand, do not kill a billion wild animals in this country every year. Instead, according to a study done by The Colorado Division of Wildlife, they kill part of the time, and maim wild animals the rest of the time.

“Single dogs are not always a threat to wildlife, but instinctually they team up with neighborhood dogs and form packs. That is when the hunter/killer urge surfaces in them,” according to Lonnie Brown of The CDOW.

Brown said that most dog owners do not realize that when a dog chases down a deer, they often do not know what to do with it. Unlike coyotes, which are efficient killers, dogs often chew off the animal’s ears and nose, and the wild animal really suffers.

And contrary to some dog owners belief that fluffy could never actually catch an animal as big as a deer, Brown said they documented two dogs killing 12 elk in one single day. There are also cases of dog kills on bighorn sheep there as well.

No Easy Answers

Frustrated by the wanton loss of game, recreational time and property damage caused by uncontrolled pets, many landowners and hunters have adopted the shoot, shovel and shut up approach to trespassing cats and dogs.

There are problems with that approach, however.

Besides being distasteful, killing dogs is illegal in most states by anyone except law enforcement.

In all states, dogs are assigned property status. As such, they are subject to regulation as needed to protect the health and safety of all citizens.

Some states allow a private citizen to kill a dog when it is damaging livestock or threatening a person, but even then, some do not. By law, dogs are all presumed to be harmless, and there must be strong evidence otherwise if the case of defense of self or livestock is to be made.

The only legal remedy hunters and landowners have in states where law enforcement will not intervene, and it is against the law to kill a wildlife killing animal, is to capture the animal live.

Unbelievably, in some states dog owners have the right to trespass on private land to retrieve their dogs, however. And they can do so every day if they choose.

This rule has been abused in places like Michigan, where landowners claim bad dog owners intentionally use their dogs to gain access to private property.

In many other states, while a landowner cannot kill a marauding pack of dogs, regardless of the damage they do, the dog owner cannot trespass to retrieve them either. Indiana is one of those states.

In these places, if the dogs can be trapped, the landowner can sue the dog owner civilly for his time and expense.

The best answer to the problem is better cat and dog owners, but that is impossible to legislate. Legislation simply cannot remedy stupidity or domestic animal problems in the country where people routinely dump their pets out of selfishness.

To understand and comply with destructive pet laws, it is necessary to look and both state and county laws, as they vary wildly from one municipality to the next.

In the end, building dense cover for wildlife and reasoning with selfish neighbors may be the only long-term fix.

Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.