Along The Trail 12-11-14

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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Cruising through the cereal aisle at IGA, I hear: “Hey Hewitt, where’s all the deer?”

I turned in the direction of the voice and saw an old acquaintance of mine who also happens to be an avid deer hunter. We caught up between the corn flakes and pop tarts, chatting about this and that, but mostly about deer season and the common theme this year – no deer.

My kids and I have had a successful deer season, with each of us taking a deer. Two with bows and my daughter’s harvest during firearms season, but the lack of deer sightings this fall has left me scratching my head. I had written earlier this year about my frustration from not seeing many animals and thought maybe it was just me. But over the past couple of months, I’ve spoken to other deer hunters, dozens of them more seasoned than me and it’s the same story over and over - virtually no deer are being seen.

I know that one of the farms I hunt has traditionally been a great place over the years. It has always been my “go-to” spot when everywhere else fails to produce, but over the past couple of years, I have watched the deer numbers drop and along with it, opportunities to take a deer. My hunting friends all across this part of the state are reporting the same thing. Even on properties that are managed for the deer herd, fewer and fewer deer are being seen and that leaves me wondering what’s going on – where are the deer?

I’ve discussed “blue tongue”, the common name for the whitetail deer disease EHD and how it has struck parts of Southeast Indiana the past few years. I know one of my fellow hunters found 14 deer carcasses last summer near a creek and a couple of years ago, I located nine dead deer on one farm – all apparent victims of EHD. Maybe the disease has been more widespread than the DNR has admitted or knows, because 9 or 10 animals removed from a local herd can devastate its numbers.

Of course the overly liberal bag limit numbers in this corner of the state has attributed to the decline in the herd.

After years and years of harvesting does, the State has taken a sizable number of breeding stock out of the herd. I completely understand the need for herd management from all sides of the table. The sportsman, the farmers, the insurance industry, all have a vested interest in keeping deer numbers in check, but the DNR needs to remember that a great deal of the funding for wildlife in Indiana comes from hunters and sportsman.

If we continue to knock the herd down further, at some point, the hunters will take their dollars elsewhere where they have better opportunities for success. Hunting isn’t supposed to be easy, but hunters want to at least have a chance to take an animal.

I understand that not one issue is the sole cause for the fewer numbers of deer. Disease; road kills; bag limits; depredation shooting; fawn deaths from coyotes and feral dogs; habitat loss; it all plays a role.

I also believe that wild animal populations tend to be cyclical, but if the DNR wants to keep the hunters it has and at the same time, recruit new deer hunters into the mix, it had better come up with a plan to address the sportsman’s needs and wants as well as the agriculture and insurance lobbyists needs.

– David Hewitt