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.

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Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.