Deer season is once again upon us, and many hunters are wondering what will be in store.
During the 2016-2017 deer season the overall harvest was 119,477. While it ranks 14th since the state started keeping records in 1951, it continues a downward trend since the record harvest in the 2012-2013 season. Contrary to the downward trend was the increased percentage of antlered deer taken by hunters. In fact, the 2016-2017 antlered deer harvest ranks 5th since 1951. We'll take a look here at some of the factors contributing to the deer harvest totals statewide and a little of what hunters can expect this season.
"The number of deer-vehicle collisions and the number of deer taken with depredation permits are factors that influence the bonus antlerless quotas set for the hunting season," biologist Joe Caudell reported. "Numerous deer-vehicle collisions and abundant damage due to deer in a county may indicate too many deer."
Crop, orchard and landscape damage is of a huge concern to many Hoosiers. And the cost of this damage can really add up, according to recent figures.
During 2016, an estimated $8.1 million worth of damage was done by deer on corn alone, reports indicate. One way to combat damage is depredation permits. The most recent installment of the IDNR's annual deer season summary report explained that depredation permits are issued to Indiana residents experiencing an economic loss of $500 or more as the result of property damage caused by deer. Each depredation permit specifies the number of deer a landowner is authorized to take under the permit. Permits are only valid on the permit holder's property, and the permit holder is allowed to designate assistants to remove deer in place of himself. Depredation permits for deer are only issued outside of the deer hunting season.
Of equal or greater concern is the safety hazard deer pose. Vehicle collisions involving deer that resulted in property damage of $750 or more or injury to any person were reported to the Indiana State Police and Indiana Department of Transportation by local and state law enforcement agencies, IDNR reports explained. Using this combined data, the IDNR decides how many and where bonus antlerless permits are allowed.
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As most of you know, a variety of rifle cartridges were allowed last year during deer firearm season, but only on private ground. This year, HB 1415 sought to correct part of the confusion and was signed into law in April. Be sure to check the Indiana DNR website or printed regulations for finalized wording before hunting.
The recent regulation changes are a source of speculation for some. Will these new regulations mean doom and gloom for the deer herd? If history is an indicator, no. In fact, the changes in place for the 2016 firearms season had little, if any, impact. According to the recent data, hunters just traded their shotguns and muzzleloaders for a rifle, while not increasing the overall harvest. This is not surprising for many biologists who claim weather has more to do with harvest than weapon used. It is well documented that good weather means more hunters afield, while inclement weather drives them indoors.
Indiana hunters are keeping their eyes on several diseases that could decimate our herd.
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is a viral disease spread to deer via biting midges often found near stagnant water. Drought, similar to what transpired in 2012-13 in some places, exacerbates the problem by concentrating deer around remaining water, increasing the chance of an infected midge transmitting the virus from deer to deer. Luckily, deer in Indiana can rapidly reproduce, overcoming the losses in a few years.
IDNR analysis offers some more insight on CWD in the state. The disease has been found in free-ranging deer approximately 40 miles west of Lake County, Ind., recent IDNR reports indicate.In 2002, Indiana initiated a monitoring program to randomly sample tissues from hunter-harvested deer throughout the state. The Division of Fish and Wildlife's 2016 CWD sampling effort included 836 deer through active and targeted surveillance efforts. Lab results failed to detect CWD in these samples. As of today, no CWD prions have been detected in over 19,000 sampled deer since monitoring began in 2002, according to the IDNR.
Another disease of concern is bovine tuberculosis, reports from the IDNR indicate. In 2008, bovine tuberculosis was detected in a cow located in Franklin County, Ind., reports indicate. A few months after that, the disease was detected in a captive cervid herd consisting of elk, red deer, fallow deer, and sika deer. A large proportion of animals on this farm were infected by the bovine tuberculosis bacteria and were depopulated, the IDNR reported. During wildlife testing procedures on the two locations of the infected farm, raccoons, opossums, woodchuck, and other species of medium size mammals were trapped and tested, along with 16 wild whitetail deer. One of the wild whitetail deer and one raccoon tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.
Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan discuss the impact of wind on deer behavior.
(Via North American Whitetail)
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As a result of the positive wild whitetail deer, the IDNR and other agencies initiated a surveillance program during the 2016 hunting season, in which 2,044 samples were submitted for testing. All the hunter-harvested deer tested negative for bovine tuberculosis, the IDNR reported.
Indiana has great genetics, and given the perfect combination of food and year-round cover, can produce impressive numbers of deer and huge bucks.
The biggest threat to Hoosier deer is the continued loss of suitable habitat in the highly agricultural counties of central Indiana and the isolation of habitat that does remain.
While prime habitat can be found all over the state, the hilly southern section of the state is perfect for deer and turkeys. The rugged hills of Switzerland, Dearborn and Ohio counties out-produce many nationally-lauded locations when deer per square mile statistics are compared. The northeastern natural lake country of Steuben County is also a powerhouse deer producer.
The most important factor that determines hunting success is you. The luckiest hunters are those who do the homework long before season starts and stay in the woods when everyone else is heading home.
Our state continues to solidify its reputation as a top location for pursuing quality deer. A little time spent before the hunting season researching the best hunting areas near you can translate to greater success in the field.
Now that we've taken a closer look at recent trends in deer harvest numbers as well as a few factors that could impact hunting locations this season, it's time for you to hit the woods and fields at one of the state's many great hunting areas.
NEW PUBLIC HUNTING LANDS
Indiana's Healthy Rivers: In 2010 work commenced on the largest land conservation initiative in Indiana. Indiana agencies started working with landowners to permanently protect more than 43,000 acres along the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in west-central Indiana, and more than 26,000 acres of the Muscatatuck River bottomlands in southeast Indiana. Recently, it hit its halfway point with the opening of three new conservation areas for recreational use.
Austin Bottoms Conservation Area: Approximately 2,355 acres are now open for use. It consists of a variety of habitat types, mainly bottomland hardwoods interspersed with wetlands. Hunting is available for deer, turkeys, squirrels and waterfowl. Furbearers are also abundant throughout the area. Limited opportunities are available for rabbits, quail and woodcock.
Wabash River Conservation Area: About 419 acres are open within the Wabash River Project area. The area is mainly a river-bottom floodplain bordered by a hardwood tree line along the Wabash. Hunting is available for waterfowl, deer and squirrels. Furbearers are also abundant throughout the area. Limited opportunities are available for turkeys, rabbits, quail and woodcock.
Sugar Creek Conservation Area: About 1,321 acres are now open. The area is mostly forested, with rugged terrain and rich biological diversity. Habitats found in this area include upland forests, ravine forests, cliffs, bottomland forests, flatwoods, seeps and springs. Hunting is available for squirrels, turkeys and deer. Furbearers are also abundant throughout the area. Limited opportunities are available for rabbits, quail and woodcock.