The state of Indiana is literally surrounded by top-tier buck-producing states. The sister states that border Indiana, deer hunting hotspots like Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky, often soak up much of the notoriety and there is no doubt great hunting for awe-inspiring bucks in all of these states. Both Boone and Crocket along with Pope and Young scores prove the caliber of deer in this part of the world.
Indiana, however, is often lost or left out of conversations regarding big deer. Many trophy whitetail hunters across the country can pick out Pike County, Ill., on a map but can’t name a single county by name in the great state of Indiana. While Indiana might not get the national attention it deserves, buck potential in the Hoosier State might be one of the best-kept secrets and bargains in this part of the country.
A SWEET DEAL FOR ANYONE
This is particularly true for non-resident hunters; the license is cheap compared to neighboring states and licenses can be bought right over the counter. No points or wait is required to get a license. Comparable to other nearby states, Indiana just doesn’t seem to attract the same kind of non-resident hunting pressure. Respectable racks, however, make Indiana the whitetail diamond-in-the-rough.
ON THE MAP
“We really saw the average racks score much higher in Indiana when the state went to being a one-buck state,” explains well-known Indiana outfitter Mark Liebner of Camp Kay Outfitters. What this rule means is that hunters are only allowed to tag one buck per season with either archery or firearm. This rule cut down on bucks harvested and caused hunters to be more selective. The result for Indiana hunters has been larger deer. “I believe that this rule really set Indiana over the top as far as quality bucks. Our expectations have gotten higher over the past few seasons, but our success average has been phenomenal. Indiana is now on the map for hunters pursuing trophy whitetail deer.”
What also set Indiana apart from some other states are the new laws passed this season that allow archery hunters to use crossbows. While controversial in some states, crossbows allow elderly and handicapped hunters the opportunity to pursue deer during the archery season and this is a niche that Liebner hopes to expand on in the future.
“We have several handicapped-accessible blinds and we are seeing a huge interest from archery hunters who want to use a crossbow to harvest an animal,” explains Liebner.
For hunters who pursue deer in Indiana, what is striking are the vast differences in tactics, terrain and topography from one end of Indiana to the other. The Hoosier State has diverse deer habitat that grows big deer. To capitalize on this big-buck potential, hunters have to be adaptable and not overlook some areas or patterns.
“Basically, north of Indianapolis, you are going to find much wider open country with a lot of agriculture and some people might make the mistake of believing that there aren’t enough big woods to grow big deer, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Liebner. “On the flip side, the topography south of Indianapolis is much more forested, with hardwood forests; the kind of habitat that many hunters associate with big-buck potential. And across the state, we have good deer, but how we hunt in each of these areas is strikingly different.”
The habitat is varied and big bucks aren’t necessarily found in one particular region. In all habaitats, respectable deer are shot across Indiana.
“In the very northeastern part of the state, we have counties with several lakes and in this region there are numerous swamps that big bucks use notoriously to avoid hunters. I run self-guided hunts on property in Carroll, Cass and White counties in north-central Indiana,” explains Liebner, and some hunters who have only hunted woods like those found in Michigan and some other parts of the country, sometimes look at all of the wide-open agricultural fields and underestimate the deer numbers. Deer in farm country grow big because of good forage like corn and soybeans, and there are some real advantages to hunting this type of terrain. “I actually think the hunting is easier for several reasons,” stresses Liebner.
When hunting Indiana’s Corn Belt, hunters will generally see more deer. Deer can also be easier to pattern. Hunters can often scout from the roads as the infrastructure is laid out in a grid. As deer move out into harvested corn, soybean and other crops, they can be seen from considerable distances. The visual advantage of being able to use good optics to scan wide-open areas makes locating big deer much easier.
Much of Indiana’s farm country in the north-central part of the state is broken up with small wood lots, fence lines, ditches, creek bottoms, hollows and some drainages, and deer use this cover to travel between crop land and bedding areas. Thick cover makes deer feel safe, but some of the areas deer choose to bed in are surprising to hunters who have cut their teeth chasing whitetails in woods.