Hoosier Deer Special -- Part 1: Our Top Harvest Counties

Hoosier Deer Special -- Part 1: Our Top Harvest Counties

Here's a statewide review of the top harvest counties in each of Indiana's wildlife zones from last year. (October 2008)

A total of 124,427 deer were legally harvested In Indiana last year, which ranks the 2007 season as No. 3 all time. This harvest number was down only slightly from the 125,381 deer harvested during 2006, which ranks as the overall No. 2 total season harvest figure.

Steuben is again the top harvest county tallying 3,754 deer, followed by Switzerland County's total of 3,259, and Kosciusko County's total of 3,003. The number of deer harvested in individual counties ranges from 134 in Benton County to 3,754 in Steuben County. Harvest exceeded 1,000 deer in 62 counties, 2,000 deer in 16 counties and 3,000 deer in three counties.

The antlered deer harvest of 49,375 was up just slightly from the 49,097 taken the previous year. The number of adult (as determined by the Department of Natural Resources) does harvested was 44,514, down only slightly from the 45,257 does taken in 2006.

The age and sex structure of the 2007 deer harvest was 40 percent antlered bucks, 36 percent does, 11 percent button bucks and 14 percent female fawns. About 44 percent of the antlered bucks and 38 percent of the adult does harvested during 2007 were yearlings of 1 1/2 years old.

The antlered buck harvest exceeded 1,000 in five counties compared with four in 2006, while the antlerless harvest exceeded 1,000 deer in 25 counties compared with 27 in 2006. Antlerless deer comprised at least 50 percent of the total harvest in 87 counties of the state's 92 counties in 2007 compared with 89 counties in 2006. The only counties not having 50 percent of the harvest consisting of antlerless deer were Benton, Boone, Marion, Sullivan and Tipton counties. (Continued)

Once again, a widespread outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) -- perhaps the worst in state history -- was reported in Indiana. The EHD outbreak struck primarily the southern half of the state, but reports were received throughout the entire state. Deer tested positive for the disease as far north as Wabash County, and deer were also suspected of having the disease as far north as LaGrange County.

Nineteen additional counties were suspected of having EHD, based on hoof sloughing observed at check stations the opening weekend of the firearms season. In all, EHD was reported or confirmed in the free-ranging deer herd in 59 counties in Indiana in 2007.

Counties most affected were those in the southwestern corner of the state, consisting of Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Perry, Pike, Spencer and Warrick counties. These counties all experienced reduced antlered harvests from 2006 of at least 20 percent, with Pike County experiencing a 40 percent decrease, the highest decrease of any county.

The Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) in Athens, Georgia, has confirmed the presence of EHD in deer found dead in Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Jackson, Jefferson, Perry, Pike, Posey and Warrick counties. It is the second straight year Indiana has been hit with the disease.

The disease, a virus carried by infected gnats, or midges, is not in any way related to chronic wasting disease (CWD). It (EHD) poses no danger to humans from handling, processing or eating the meat of an exposed animal, nor is it transmittable to humans. Hunters should, however, use their normal precautions when handling any deer. Whitetails contract the disease after being bitten by an infected midge or gnat. People frequently find the dead deer in or near water sources.

This northeastern zone has one of the highest densities of whitetails found throughout the state. This zone has an abundance of diverse habitats, including a mixture of woodlands, wetlands, swamps, thickets and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields, intermixed with plenty of agriculture.

Zone 1 produced 18,602 deer last year compared with 17,559 in 2006. Once again leading the zone, and Indiana as a whole, is Steuben County, which produced 3,754 deer. This deer factory produced 3,287 deer the previous year. Kosciusko County ranks at No. 2 for the zone with 3,003 whitetails harvested, which is down only slightly from the 3,083 deer it produced in 2006.

Following close behind at No. 3 is Marshall County, which produced 2,854 whitetails and passed neighboring Noble County, which produced 2,792 deer for 2007. Marshall County turned in 2,583 deer in 2006, and Noble County produced 2,740 that same year.

Rounding out the zone are LaGrange with 2,624 deer being harvested, DeKalb with 2,216, and Elkhart with 1,359. With high deer numbers, this zone should continue to produce plenty of deer for hunters into the future.

Northwestern Indiana's Zone 2 contains plenty of whitetails as well. With a mixture of diverse habitat types, plenty of timber in many areas, and a unique combination of suburban and agricultural areas, the zone can hold its own in the deer harvest category.

As a whole, Zone 2 produced 16,047 whitetails during the 2007 season, which is up over the 2006 total of 15,344. Leading the way once again is Laporte County. This zone leader produced 2,285 deer compared with the 2,421 in 2006. Once again coming in at No. 2 is Fulton County, which produced 2,046 deer; Fulton is up quite a bit from its 2006 haul of 1,757 deer.

Starke County made a statement as it jumped up from No. 6 in 2006 to No. 3 with 1,530 deer. This number is up from 1,361 taken during the previous campaign. Jasper County, which registered 1,478 deer for 2007, dropped down a spot to No. 4. It produced 1,438 deer the year before.

Cass County remained at No. 5 for the zone with its take of 1,405 animals, up a bit from its previous number of 1,376. Look for Zone 2 to continue to produce good numbers of deer into the future as well.

The other northeastern area, Zone 3, encompasses eight counties. This zone is made up of a few different types of habitat, from river bottoms to flat agricultural lands to hillier regions near the northern fringe of the Wabash Valley.

While Zone 3 doesn't hold the numbers of deer that Zone 1 does, there are some areas within the zone that have many whitetails. The zone produced 8,246 deer for 2007, up f

rom the 7,806 it totaled in 2006.

Wabash County, which cracked the 1,500 deer mark in 2007, surpassed Allen County as the No. 1 deer producer in the zone. It produced 1,717 deer last year, up significantly from the 1,362 deer taken the previous year.

Allen County, while producing more deer than it did the year before -- 1,666 compared with 1,589 -- dropped down one spot to No. 2 for the year. Whitley County held onto its No. 3 spot with a take of 1,308 deer, barely surpassing its 2006 number of 1,305 deer.

Huntington County cranked out 1,218 deer in 2007, compared with 1,159 the previous year; it held onto its spot at No. 4 for the zone. This zone continues to hover near the 8,000 deer harvest mark as a whole, and should continue to produce around that many for the next several of years.

North-central Indiana's huge 25-county Zone 4 lies in the heart of the central prairie region of Indiana. This vast farming swath consists mainly of open agricultural fields. While some sections of the zone do provide plenty of good cover for deer, especially those areas adjacent to the large river systems that run through it, much of the zone is part of the Midwestern Corn Belt.

The zone produced a total of 16,621 deer last year, compared with the 15,318 it gave up in 2006. Fountain continued to lead the zone with 1,455 deer taken, compared with 1,452 it gave up in 2006. Miami County trailed only slightly at No. 2 with 1,434 deer, up significantly from the 1,248 deer it provided in 2006.

Tippecanoe remained at No. 2 for the zone with 1,339 deer harvested, compared with 1,232 the previous year. Montgomery County hopped from No. 5 to No. 4 in 2007 with a total of 1,110 deer, up a bit from the 988 deer it produced in 2006. Warren County dropped down one spot to No. 5 with 1,106 deer, up just a touch from the 1,020 whitetails it produced the year prior.

Interestingly, all of the remaining counties in the zone all showed increases in deer harvested over their 2006 numbers. The one lone exception is Hancock County, which produced three fewer deer from the previous year. Zone 4 should continue to produce similar numbers of deer in the near future as well.

Southeastern Indiana's Zone 5 is another one of the areas in our state that has a higher deer density. This nine-county area has produced its share of deer over the years and 2007 saw no exception to this rule. The heavily timbered hills, wooded draws and hollows of the zone, complete with prime river bottom habitat in some areas, and intermixed with good cropland, holds plenty of deer.

The zone produced 16,783 deer for 2007, compared with the 15,784 deer taken the previous year. Switzerland County once again leads the way in the zone with 3,259 total deer harvested, good once again for second place statewide. This deer factory produced 2,821 deer in 2006.

Franklin County held onto the No. 2 spot with a total harvest of 2,950 deer, compared with 2,766 in 2006. Dearborn County held onto the No. 3 spot with 2,840 total whitetails, up slightly from the 2,670 it coughed up the previous year.

Jefferson County remained at No. 4 with a take of 2,139 deer, down just a bit from the 2,195 taken in 2006. Ripley County jumped up one spot to No. 5 last year with 1,669, compared with 1,553 the previous year. Jennings County dropped one spot to No. 6 with a total harvest of 1,666, down just three deer from its 2006 take of 1,670. Zone 5 did see some EHD losses last year, but it shouldn't be affected by the disease in the long term. This zone should continue to produce an abundance of deer for its hunters.

The huge chunk of Hoosier real estate in south-central Indiana, which consists of 20 separate heavily timbered counties, continues to crank out deer in huge numbers. The thickly forested hills and hollows, in conjunction with the diverse topography and agricultural areas spread throughout, are home to many whitetails.

The zone produced 33,439 deer in 2007, down somewhat from the 36,826 it produced in 2006. As mentioned, several of the zone's counties experienced a significant outbreak of EHD, which no doubt affected numbers in some counties.

Parke County once again topped the zone with 2,698 deer in 2007, compared with 2,905 in 2006. Washington County also held onto its previous No. 2 ranking in the zone. It produced 2,414 deer last year, compared with 2,882 in 2006.

Harrison County remained at No. 3 in the zone with 2,350 deer taken, down from its 2006 total of 2,650. Jackson County climbed up to the No. 4 spot, from No. 7 the previous campaign, with a total of 2,132 deer. It tallied 2,047 deer in 2006. Greene County also climbed one spot to No. 5 with 1,975 total deer, down from 2,139 the previous year.

Following Greene County at No. 6 for the year was Lawrence County. Lawrence County was able to jump six places from No. 12 the previous year. It produced 1,919 deer last season, up a good bit from the 1,821 deer its hunters produced in 2006. Orange County dropped from No. 5 in 2006 to No. 7 in 2007 with 1,861 deer taken. This number is down from the 2,276 deer it produced the previous year, and is a microcosmic view of how certain counties actually decreased their overall harvest numbers significantly due to EHD.

While the aftereffects of EHD will be felt in certain counties in the short term, the long-term effects shouldn't be that much of a concern. The four-year average harvest number in the county stands at 36,072 whitetails.

Southwestern Indiana's Zone 7 is another of our state's high deer density areas. With favorable diverse river bottom habitats, hills with large stands of timber and intermixed with agricultural areas, this zone can really produce large numbers of deer. The zone produced 14,684 deer in 2007, down some from the 16,697 it produced in 2006. As noted, some of the counties in the zone experienced significant losses of deer.

Sullivan County was able to climb four spots to No. 1 for the year with 1,638 total deer, compared with 1,497 the previous year. Posey County took over the No. 2 spot for the year with 1,464 deer. It was No. 4 in the zone the previous year with a total of 1,526 deer.

Gibson County climbed from No. 7 in 2006 to No. 3 in 2007 and, interestingly enough, produced less deer. It produced 1,423 deer in 2006, and 1,385 last year. Vigo County climbed from No. 8 the previous year into the No. 4 spot in 2007 with 1,349 deer, which is actually down slightly from its 2006 take of 1,406.

As mentioned previously, Pike County suffered the worst decrease in numbers of any county in the EHD area; it dropped from No. 1 in 2006 to No. 5 in 2007. Its previous harvest total was 2,042, and its total last year was 1,334 deer. Warrick County also suffered as it dropped from No. 2 in 2006 to No. 6 in 2007. It produced 1,325 last year compared with 1,611 deer the previous campaign.

While this zone was hit the hardest, its four-year harvest average is still at 16,218 deer per year. Hunters in those counties hit the worst by EHD last year should m

onitor the animals seen in those areas and make selective choices as to how many antlerless animals they should take there.

And there you have it, the 2007 Indiana Deer Harvest report. With a warming climate, deer hunters in Indiana and throughout North America should perhaps get used to the fact that EHD is a part of the modern deer-hunting landscape.

Those deer that survive the disease will build up immunities to it, and then pass those immunities on to their offspring, ensuring an eventual successful deer comeback in those areas. While many hunters are extremely concerned about epizootic hemorrhagic disease -- and they should be to an extent -- it really is nothing more than Mother Nature taking care of her overpopulated deer herds in some areas.

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