Indiana's Bonus Urban Deer Zone Hunting

If you'd like to add some venison to the freezer, plus help to control burgeoning deer numbers in urban settings, than we've got some hunts just for you.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Adding high numbers of deer to the urban growth around our cities can result in a mess, according to Al Van Hoey, a Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) biologist. Deer populations have skyrocketed in areas where hunting is prohibited; car-deer crashes have increased, and something began eating off Aunt Molly's daisies in the dark of night.

"The more you have people in close competition with deer, the more problems you'll have," Hoey said.

Mixing growing populations of white-tailed deer with new subdivisions, highways and farmlands lying within no-hunting areas has resulted in stacks of complaints made to the DFW from landowners and farmers. Throw in an increasing number of hunters who want to see more and larger deer and the DFW has its hands full.

"We have a tough time balancing what the sportsman wants to see and what the farmers and insurance companies will tolerate in crop damage and insurance losses," Hoey said.

"We're trying to keep the herd at a steady level where complaints balance with the desires of hunters. The herd still fluctuates, but we try. The high point in deer numbers was in 1985 or 1986. I'd go out and see unbelievable crop damage along with orchards that deer had sheared off.

"Even though more deer are being harvested, the reproduction rates seem to be keeping up even when more hunters are getting involved. The main goal is to keep a balance between what the hunters want and crop damage. We did bring the deer herd numbers down from the 1980s and the damage isn't anything like it was. We've had more deer being harvested and recently had the second largest deer harvest ever," Hoey said.

As the number of deer in urban areas has grown, car-deer crashes have become commonplace. An insurance industry release claimed that on average, a deer-car crash results in about a $2,000 claim for auto repair and injuries. Higher speeds can be correlated to an increase in road-killed deer while higher numbers of deer enter into the equation in a minor way.

As urban areas turn into giant deer refuges due to laws restricting hunting, a lot of people believe that deer are moving into the cities, but this isn't true. Cities continue incorporating ideal deer habitat with little thought of controlling the herd that's already there. Before long the only real controls on whitetail numbers are cars and trucks, literally.

The DFW responds by adding liberal bag units under special hunting conditions. The state's urban deer zones are located in metropolitan areas and allow only bowhunting because of the proximity of roadways, homes and businesses.

To hunt these zones, archery hunters need an archery license and an extra archery license, in addition to their regular hunting license. An extra archery license is needed for each deer taken.

The bag limit for the urban deer zones allows hunters to harvest three antlerless and one deer of either sex. This is in addition to all other bag limits, which provides plenty of extra opportunities for additional deer.

Antlered deer are defined as deer having at least one antler 3 or more inches in length. The DFW recognizes the difficulty of trying to determine the sex of a deer in field hunting conditions, so it has made taking antlerless deer legal.

The opening of urban hunting zones has become a bonanza to archery hunters. If you can get permission to hunt, you may be on some of the best deer areas in the state. There is also a good chance at finding trophy-sized bucks. The combination of minimal hunting pressure on some private property, along with good forage and the deer's chance to get old enough to develop a good rack, can present hunters with excellent deer-hunting prospects.

Here's a look at some of our state's best urban deer units where hunters will do well this season.

INDIANAPOLIS URBAN DEER ZONE

"The urban deer zones were implemented to provide a means of controlling deer populations," said Jim Mitchell, a deer management biologist at the Bloomington field office.

The Indianapolis Deer Zone is not unique in that regular hunting regulations fail to provide hunters with enough opportunities to harvest antlerless deer in sufficient numbers to keep the population in check, according to Mitchell.

A drive through the Indianapolis area would make you wonder if deer can even survive here, but surviving they are. Shopping malls, housing developments and highways dominate the landscape, but in the midst of the urban sprawl are wood lots, fencerows and bottomlands where deer are thriving. Whitetails have developed the ability to hide virtually anywhere, usually within earshot of highways and homes.

But car crashes and crop damage are evidence of the overpopulation problems plaguing the metro area. Farmers lose a lot of crops to deer damage annually when deer numbers increase to disproportionate sizes in limited areas. Soybeans and corn suffer the most, especially in areas bordered by wood lots or river bottoms.

Neighborhood flowers and shrubs have not been immune to foraging deer, either. Some folks in the smaller, outlying areas have resorted to fences and tied dogs to fend off marauding deer, which enjoy munching on the ornamentals and in the garden plots.

To stabilize the deer population in the Indianapolis area, the DFW has formed an urban element to hunting, which benefits area bowhunters immensely.

"The urban zones (statewide) were first implemented in 1996 and were liberalized in 2002," biologist Jim Mitchell said.

"We know that the zones have added some additional harvest, which was the desired impact, but we have no quantitative data on the number of additional deer taken as a result of the zones. I have talked to a few hunters, though, who have found good places to hunt."

A lot of deer have been taken from the counties included in the Indianapolis Urban Deer Zone. In 2003 alone, over 1,200 antlered and antlerless deer were taken, according to the DFW.

Public lands are scarce to nonexistent in the Indianapolis zone, and the only way for hunters to locate prime hunting spots is to ask permission of landowners. Outlying areas around the city offer your best chance at gaining permission to hunt.

Look for areas with wood and brush cover, especially near river bottom areas too swampy to build on. Whitetails will use these stretches for daytime cover and as corridors into other feeding areas. If hunters can gain permission to hunt in spots like these, which are adjacent to crops, they're probably going to hit the jackpot.

An advantage to bowhunting the zone is the apparent fearlessness of the resident whitetails. Many have become accustomed to the presence of humans and getting a good bowshot is probably easier than in other parts of the Hoosier State.

The Indianapolis Urban Zone includes all of Marion County, Hendricks County east of state Route (SR) 267, the southeast portion of Boone County bordered by SRs 32, 267 and Interstate 65, and the part of Hamilton County south of SR 32.

For more information, contact the District 10 office at (317) 591-0904.

The Indianapolis Convention and Visitor's Association can be reached at (800) 958-4639 for assistance in locating lodging and maps, or visit their Web site at

www.indygov.org/home.htm.

FT. WAYNE URBAN DEER ZONE

"The Fort Wayne Urban Deer Zone lies within the boundaries of interstates 69 and 469, which run around the city," biologist Hoey said.

About half the zone is within the Ft. Wayne city limits. In the northern half, a whole lot of hunting occurs where there are some farmlands, the St. Mary's and Wabash rivers and wooded areas off the rivers.

"The suburbs being developed have had deer problems because the rivers make an excellent corridor into the area. The urban area was developed because of the number of complaints that were coming in, particularly in the winter months when the deer would come in and eat the yews and shrubbery," Hoey said.

White-tailed deer seem to have adapted well to the presence of urban sprawl in the Ft. Wayne area, and without hunting pressure have the tendency to multiply out of control.


Even though more deer are being harvested, the reproduction rates seem to be keeping up even when more hunters are getting involved.
 

Businesses have not been immune to the overpopulated whitetail herd any more than the housing developments and area farmers.

"There are a lot of deer coming in on the General Motors plant," Hoey said. "GM even had a deer running up and down the assembly line."

Needless to say, hunters have responded and hunt the area within the urban zone heavily, with a lot of deer being taken every year. In 2003, over 1,200 deer were harvested in Allen County, and of those, 592 were antlered.

Are big bucks possible in a crowded area like this one? Absolutely!

"There are more and more archers getting into hunting and a lot more hunters want to hunt bigger and bigger bucks," Hoey said.

"That's why the rule came along that only one buck statewide could be taken by a hunter every year. This gives the 1 1/2-year-old bucks a chance to get larger."

Good nutrition and the chance to reach 2 1/2 to 3 years old are the necessary ingredients to bragging-sized racks; hunting areas where deer are sheltered from hunting pressure are the best places to find them.

Archery hunters have found surprisingly good hunting in areas that were previously closed to hunting. According to Hoey, archers can do well right outside of the county's many subdivisions.

The Ft. Wayne Urban Deer Zone covers the portion of Allen County lying within the bounds of interstates 69 and 469.

For additional information, contact the District 8 office at (260) 468-2165.

The Fort Wayne/Allen County Convention and Visitor's Bureau can be reached at (800) 767-7752. Their Web address is

www.visitfortwayne.com.

GARY URBAN DEER ZONE

"There are some pretty good archery hunting opportunities," said Bob Porch, wildlife biologist with District 6.

"The urban deer zone is pretty much north of U.S. Route 30 and the Crown Point area. The southern part of Lake County has a lot of good farm ground along the Kankakee River, while the northern half is pretty bleak. The northern section has pockets of good habitat, but it's getting squeezed out and is pretty much built up with lots of subdivisions coming in."

The Gary area isn't known for its wilderness, but there are a surprising number of deer here. According to Porch, over 1,000 deer were reportedly taken in Lake County in 2004. Of these, 574 were bucks.

"If you can get permission from landowners, there are a lot of properties with 10 or more acres where you can literally hunt from someone's back yard. People move to the country and then complain about deer eating their bushes," Porch said.

"Though it would be hard for someone to go to Lake County and just knock on doors, there are some pretty good areas to hunt. Hunters should look for private property that is landlocked by subdivisions bordering, say, 50 acres of cattail stands where there are lots of deer. It's surprising how many deer can be in these landlocked pockets."

Even these small pockets of good deer habitat can produce a lot of deer, as evidenced by the numerous subdivisions with major problems. Many property owners in the urban zone are happy to give permission to hunt, as will farmers who suffer a lot of crop damage. But even so, there are property owners who won't appreciate being asked for permission, so get ready for a variety of responses when seeking permission to hunt on private land.

Hunting the edges of public properties such as state parks and the National Lakeshore can be very productive. Gaining access to surrounding private properties will position hunters to target deer that have escaped hunting pressure for years. There are some big bucks that wander onto private holdings from these public areas, and they can make all of a hunter's efforts worthwhile.

"Places like this harbor a lot of animals," Porch said.

Savvy hunters will find whitetails in corridors and sheltered areas where they travel from one source of food and cover to another.


Savvy hunters will find whitetails in corridors and sheltered areas where they travel from one source of food and cover to another.
 

"Look for nat

ural geographic peculiarities, such as a drainage with bottom ground, large cattail stands or one of a number of marsh areas, even if totally surrounded by houses," Porch said. "The houses will be on the high ground and the deer will be in the bottomland."

A surprising fact for Porch is the absence of hunting accidents while archers are targeting the Gary Urban Zone.

"I've never heard of a serious hunting accident where someone was injured due to bowhunting, unless it was someone falling out of a tree," Porch said.

The proximity to homes and businesses in much of the area is a concern that hunters have taken seriously, and the result is that excellent deer-hunting opportunities will continue to be enjoyed.

The Gary Urban Deer Zone covers the portion of Lake County north of U.S. 30. The Crown Point zone in Lake County lies within the corporation limits of Crown Point.

For more information, contact District 6 at (219) 285-2704.

The Lake County Convention and Visitor's Bureau can be reached at (800) 255-5253 for trip planning assistance and maps, or visit their Web site at

www.alllake.org.

Hoosier archers also have other urban deer opportunities this year. The Evansville zone covers all of Vanderburgh County.

In LaPorte County, the Michigan City Urban Deer Zone incorporates the part of the county north of U.S. Route 94. The Chesterton Urban Deer Zone in Porter County is within the county boundaries north of U.S. 94.

Archers should experience good hunting around Madison in the portion of Jefferson County bounded on the east by U.S. Route 421, on the north and west by state Route (SR) 62 and on the south by SR 56.

Hunters in the Lafayette area can enjoy the urban zone in the part of Tippecanoe County north of SR 28.

The DFW points out that state archery hunting laws do not supercede local ordinances that may restrict hunting or the shooting of bows. Hunters must be granted permission from landowners before hunting on private property.

For additional information, visit the DNR's Web site at:

www.in.gov/dnr.

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