Along The Trail 3-3-16

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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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As I write this week’s edition of ‘Along the Trail’, the Indiana Senate will have taken up a vote on a proposed new law to allow high powered rifles to be used for hunting deer. The current version of HB 1231 restricts the use of high powered rifles to the southern half of the state and says they can only be used from elevated blinds or treestands 10′ or higher. The imaginary North/South dividing line based on the house bill is the southern edge of Marion County.

So, if the bill passes out of the Senate, it will then go back to a joint committee made up of House and Senate members with any amendments, deletions or additions, and then go to a final vote.

From information I have heard or read and looking at the co-sponsors of the bill, it is likely that it will easily pass out of both houses and become law; and my guess is that it will lose the south end of the state restriction as well as the treestand rule.

For the life of me, I have never understood why Indiana’s fish and game rules and regulations are dictated by politicians rather than by natural resources professionals like most other states, but that’s an argument for another day.

What will this mean for deer hunters if it becomes law?

Well, it will open up a whole new chapter of hunting here in Indiana.

A deer hunter will legally be able to use a true, center fire, high powered rifle, much like those used in Western states. Calibers such as a 7mm, .270 or a 30.06 will become the norm during our gun season. It’s not that I’m against high powered rifles or guns in any manner. I’m a proud gun owner and a strong advocate of the 2nd Amendment, but the way I see it, why is there a need to use high powered, large caliber rifles in Indiana to deer hunt with?

We already have effective firearms that are used to hunt deer in our state.

A 12-gauge shotgun with a rifled barrel is more than capable of sending a slug 120 yards down range with accuracy in the right hands. We have “cowboy” cartridge rifles such as .45LC’s and .44 magnum’s that are easily shot out to those same distances and are more than capable at taking deer sized game. Our modern muzzle loading rifles can easily be shot beyond 150 yards with the correct load and bullet combinations, so why the push to add even more guns to the mix?

For the most part, especially here in the southern part of the state, the majority of shots taken at deer are less than 100 yards during gun season; and I’d wager that many of them are in the 30 to 50 yard range. I’m not a guy to shout against one’s choice in weapon or saying they should only hunt a specific way, but in all my years of deer hunting experience, I just don’t see the need to introduce long range rifles into our deer hunting.

Indiana’s whitetail herd is in a decline of sorts and the past couple of season’s harvest numbers bear out that fact. Many hunters are seeing fewer and fewer deer and their chances at taking a deer are becoming less. Biologists have admitted that many areas in the state have been hit hard by EHD, an oftentimes fatal deer disease commonly known as blue tongue that has added to the decrease in deer numbers. The nearly unrestricted hunting of does for the past several seasons, car accidents and rising fawn mortality rates due to coyote predation have all added to the decline in animal numbers.

There has to be a balancing act to maintain an acceptable number of animals and if the state expects deer hunters to act as managers of the herd, they have to have opportunities.

In my opinion, adding rifles to the mix will only continue to reduce the numbers of whitetails in our state.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: hunting, whether with a bow or a firearm isn’t supposed to be easy. It is “hunting”, after all.

The very definition of the word implies chasing or pursuing and hopefully, the end result is the successful, humane taking of prey.

But adding high powered rifles into our gun season, guns capable of shooting 400, 500 yards or farther across a bean field will all but eliminate the hunt from hunting and in my opinion remove the challenge of pitting our skills against the natural instincts of the deer. If we stay on the path we seem to be on, we will quickly lose our identity as hunters and become nothing more than deer killers working on behalf of the State of Indiana and continue to whittle down the herd numbers.

-David Hewitt