Hoosiers will enjoy expanded deer hunting opportunities this fall in an effort to better balance deer populations with available habitat.
The deer rule changes are a response to increasing deer-human conflicts and evidence that growing deer populations are straining the environment in some areas, according to DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife deer biologist Chad Stewart.
“It’s a matter of keeping deer in balance with what the habitat allows,” Stewart said. “Whether it’s forest regeneration or crop damage or deer-vehicle collisions. What we are doing now is managing the deer herd within the constraints of the land.”
The most significant rule changes:
- Created a special antlerless deer firearms season beginning in late December in designated counties.
- Hunters can use a crossbow during archery season.
- Merged early archery season and late archery season into a continuous archery season.
- Youth hunters can now harvest more than one deer during youth season.
- An “earn-a-buck” requirement for hunters working toward urban deer zone bag limits.
- Created a new “deer license bundle.”
With an abundance of corn, soybeans and acorns, and a relatively mild winter, Indiana provides the perfect environment for deer. Additionally, urban and suburban development has actually increased deer survival by creating refuge pockets where hunting is difficult or restricted.
Without proper herd management through hunting, deer populations in Indiana can get out of control fast.
“The bottom line is that these deer are unbelievably reproductive,” Stewart said. “There have been studies that show that females on average can reproduce between 1.4 and 1.8 fawns a year.”
Indiana hunters have harvested record numbers of deer in three of the last four seasons. In the 2010-2011 season, hunters harvested 134,004 deer.
The harvest was down slightly in 2011-2012 at 129,018 deer. The drop, however, likely had more to do with weather than deer populations. November was warmer and wetter than average, which may have affected deer movement and hunter participation.
Numbers from 2011-2012 were still significantly higher than they were 10 years ago, when hunters harvested 103,163 deer.
Stewart said the DNR does not have a goal number for annual statewide harvest. Instead it tries to manage deer on a county-by-county basis using local information on hunting harvests, deer-vehicle accidents and crop damage complaints to determine where populations should be reduced.
Some hunters have expressed concern that the new rules might put too much pressure on deer populations in Indiana. Stewart said he is doubtful that will happen. Nonetheless, DNR will be monitoring the populations, and undesirably low deer numbers are easily corrected by adjusting bonus antlerless county quotas.
In 2007, for example, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) diminished deer populations in southwestern Indiana. Harvest numbers in Pike County were down nearly 35 percent from the year before. Within four or five years, however, the population had recovered to acceptable management levels.
“It’s a lot easier to grow a deer herd than to shrink it,” Stewart said.
The changes underwent a year-long approval process that involved more than 30 steps, including an open comment period, public hearings before an administrative law judge, and finally, adoption by the Natural Resources Commission
“In the grand scheme of things, these changes are probably fairly minimal,” Stewart said. “But for what Indiana does and has historically done, it’s kind of a big deal, which is why people are talking about it more.”
The new special antlerless deer only firearms season is an effort to focus the state’s deer management on counties with high deer densities. The season will start Dec. 26 and end the first Sunday in January. It applies only to counties with a bonus antlerless quota of four or more. Bonus antlerless quotas are revised by the DNR every year.
The special antlerless deer season will encourage families to reconnect over hunting during the holiday season when many parents are home from work and children are not attending school, Stewart said.
“And if they had a rough season up until that point, they still have a chance to get out there and take a few more antlerless deer,” Stewart said.
The crossbow rule change is an effort to get more hunters involved in the archery season and hopefully increase the deer harvest early in the season. In the past, hunting with a crossbow was allowed only for hunters with disabilities and during the (former) late archery season. See crossbow license requirements.
“We are trying to take advantage of that excitement that comes with the onset of the deer hunting season, getting people involved earlier in the season,” Stewart said.
Archery season starts Oct. 1 and now continues through the first Sunday in January. Gone are the days of early archery season and late archery season with a week-long break in between. In the past, the split archery seasons led to confusion among hunters about licensing rules for archery. Having one season eliminates confusion, Stewart said. The new archery season also offers an opportunity for hunting in the five days between the end of firearms season and the beginning of muzzleloader season.
In another effort to expand hunting opportunities, youth hunters may now take more than one deer during youth deer season. Youth hunters may take the number of antlerless deer during youth season that is allowed by the bonus antlerless county quota. They can still harvest an antlered deer during youth season, but it will count toward their statewide bag limit of one antlered deer.
Like the archery season, the urban deer zone season is now one continuous season. In the 2012-2013 deer hunting season, urban deer zone hunting will start Sept. 15 and run through Jan. 31. The new rule changes also create an urban deer zone license, which replaces previous requirements to possess an extra archery license, bonus antlerless, or regular archery license while attempting to satisfy urban deer zone bag limits.
But the biggest change to the urban deer zone season is the institution of an “earn-a-buck” requirement. Hunters who are attempting to satisfy the urban deer zone bag limit must harvest an antlerless deer before harvesting an antlered deer. The “earn-a-buck” rule change, however, does not apply to all hunters in a designated urban deer zone, only those working toward their urban deer zone bag limit and hunting under an urban deer zone license. The “earn-a-buck” rule, for example, would not apply to hunters in a designated urban deer zone who are hunting on a firearms or archery license and working toward bag limits for those seasons.
The deer license bundle is a new option for hunters that includes privileges to harvest two antlerless deer and one antlered deer. Cost is $65 for residents, $295 for nonresidents, and $65 for nonresident youth. The deer license bundle can be used during archery, firearm, muzzleloader and special antlerless only seasons. In addition, nonresident youth can use the nonresident youth deer license bundle during the special youth deer season. The deer license bundle cannot be used for hunting deer in an urban deer zone to satisfy urban deer zone bag limits.
Several more rule changes take effect this season, including changes concerning rifle cartridges and hunter orange requirements. See the summary of the deer rule changes.