Along The Trail 12-1-16

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Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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The boom of firearms season has ceased and the dust has settled.

Over the next few months, officials from the Department of Natural Resources and various sportsman’s organizations will debate on whether the season was a success or not. Personally, anytime I spend out in the woods hunting is a success for me regardless if I bring home meat, but the measure of hunting season success by the State’s definition is the number of deer taken.

A few years ago, Indiana’s deer herd management switched from maintaining its numbers to a policy of reducing the total number of deer across the state. It’s no secret that the new direction has been driven by special interest from the automobile insurance industry as well as the agriculture lobby. Both groups have very valid concerns when it comes to the number of deer in the state. Ones goal is to reduce the number of car versus deer accidents and the other is to reduce the amount of crop damage caused by whitetail deer.

Indiana’s aggressive policy to reduce the numbers of deer has worked and over the last few years, harvest numbers of deer are down, so it seems the state is achieving its goal of fewer deer. That’s great for the auto insurance companies and the large farmers, but not so much for the average deer hunter or for those trying to generate interest in hunting to the next generation.

While there is no doubt that certain parts of the state have larger deer populations than others, the fact is numbers are down overall.

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, commonly known as ‘blue tongue,’ has taken its toll on the herd. Obviously car accidents kill a large number of deer each year along with depredation tags, predation and poaching.

All of these factors add up to a reduction in the herd, but by far the main reason for fewer deer are hunters.

Yes, that’s right: We as deer hunters have contributed more than any other factor in the knocking down our deer herd.

Up until a couple years ago, Switzerland County was what was referred to as an “8 deer county”, which meant that a hunter could legally take up to 8 antlerless deer along with an antlered buck and an additional doe or antlerless deer during archery season. That’s a total of 10 deer per hunter. Most deer hunters didn’t take that many deer, but there were many who took 4, 5 or 6 deer each year.

When you consider the fact that most of those antlerless deer are does, any future deer that doe would have given birth too are also removed from the herd. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the writing on the wall. If hunters continue to kill large numbers of does, we’re going to have fewer deer in the future.

The DNR has recognized that counties like Switzerland couldn’t continue to sustain record harvest numbers, so the expectations have been lowered and we are now a “4 deer county” – with that being said, if hunters want to see more deer there is a simple answer. Stop shooting so many deer. Yep, just because the DNR would like deer hunters to shoot more deer, it doesn’t mean we need to squeeze the trigger or drop the string. The DNR has followed a state wide policy in management of our deer herd when in fact, Indiana’s herd is highly localized.

Case in point: I hunt two farms, about 10 miles apart. One used to be loaded with deer. It is shell of what it used to be and most of the time, I see no deer, zero. The second farm that I hunt typically has good numbers and most of the time, I see multiple deer each sit.

The major difference?

Farm #1 has a great deal of hunting pressure around it and for years, hunters on surrounding property killed nearly any deer they saw. Couple that with a liberal amount of depredation tags and voile – few to no deer. The second farm doesn’t seem to have as much surrounding hunting pressure and has become more of a sanctuary for neighboring deer seeking hiding places during the blast of gun season.

I’m not suggesting that we as deer hunters don’t do our part as managers of game.

All hunters should play our role as conservationists. But, does one hunter really need to shoot 5 or 6 whitetails? I enjoy eating venison as do many of my friends. I have no issue with a hunter taking 2 or 3 legal deer to help feed his/her family or someone else, but to continue to take large numbers of animals out of the herd just because we can or because it’s legal no longer holds up. Especially if deer hunters want to see more animals and still have opportunities. It’s time for deer hunters to stop placing the blame elsewhere and take a look in the mirror.

– David Hewitt