The Dirty Secret of Indiana’s Declining Deer Herd

declining deer herd

Wonder why you aren’t seeing deer?  Take a look in the mirror.

Visit any coffee shop, café or local watering hole where deer hunters gather and you’ll likely hear the same story. For the last couple years hunters have been complaining about declining deer herd. And for the most part they are right.

For me, the months of October and November are spent in treestands or still hunting though thickets and woodlots and my own personal observations back this up. It wasn’t that long ago when returning from the field the question asked was “How many deer did you see this time?” Now the question is “Did you see any deer?”  I look forward to collecting a mature buck during the early archery season but the past couple years have been different. Now the pendulum swings the other direction.

Indiana contains roughly 36,418 square miles. With this much land there are still a few “pockets of plenty” where deer populations are high, hunting pressure is low and habitat is perfect. If you are one of the fortunate to have access to these few special areas, consider yourself lucky. But for the majority of the state, deer numbers are down and numbers prove it.

Hunters are no different and sometimes it’s easy to complain and even easier to pass blame. Some believe it’s due to outbreaks of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease and bluetongue which have decimated deer in certain, isolated areas. A few say it’s due to previous hard winters and predation. But almost everyone agrees the large increase in antlerless permits made available by our state’s fish and wildlife agency is to blame. Although all of them impact deer populations I think it’s time for hunters to take a good long look at themselves. Let me explain.

Our Division of Fish and Wildlife have been fairly open when discussing their philosophy regarding our state’s deer herd. In previous years they operated under a maintenance policy which kept our deer herd stable. But several years back they moved to a reduction philosophy in an attempt to lower deer numbers.

Today, everyone is an arm-chair quarterback. I have talked to hunters and other writers who think they are deer biologists, when in reality they know very little. These folks have the answer for everything, and interestingly enough, it never involves them.

Indiana’s deer managers have to walk a very tight-rope. They are constantly under pressure from insurance companies and the Department of Transportation to reduce the number of car-deer accidents. They get pressure from farm lobbyists to curtail crop damage caused by our state’s wild ungulates. The money trail is loud and clear.

So what do they do? They up antlerless quotas and even create a special doe only season at the very end, at which time most does have been bred, I might add. Many hunters, including myself, would like to see antlerless deer tags reduced and the late doe season eliminated.

Now the rub. Some hunters who complain about not seeing enough deer go right along with it and are the biggest part of the problem. Does the state make you pull the trigger or finger the release?

The Quality Deer Management Association and wildlife biologists have put tons of money and time researching this very issue, not that they needed to because to me its common sense. Shooting too many does reduces deer herds. Pretty simple.

I know of several who have each taken a handful of does and continue to hunt. It was just last week a guy was telling me how he collected seven antlerless deer but wanted to get a couple more to donate. “You’re hammering the herd in your area aren’t you?” I had to ask. “Hey, it’s legal and I will take everyone I can,” he replied. I call this the “bluegill bag limit.”  Even though there is no restriction on the number of fish, is it ok for one person to keep 200? Is it legal? Yes. Is it ethical? You be the judge.

In four counties where I have permission to hunt a total of 18 antlerless deer can be harvested and that’s not counting a buck and additional doe legal to take during the early archery season. It was only a few years back when Howard County was listed as an eight, which meant eight additional antlerless deer could be collected from this one marginal county alone. Why would anyone need to harvest that many deer? Yet some will take all they can, then they are the same ones complaining the following season when not seeing as many deer. Think about all the buck and doe yearlings you have just removed from the following year’s deer herd and the year after that.

It’s great to take a buck. If you still need more venison to make it through the year by all means take a tasty doe, maybe two. But filling every tag just because you can is destroying the herd around us. Don’t take me wrong. We should share venison with friends and of course local food pantries because we need to help the less fortunate. However using that as an excuse to wack every deer you can is wrong.

High deer numbers to me are important. They keep hunters interested, more importantly, children. Youngsters are the future of traditional hunting and we need to keep them involved. Keeping people, young and old, interested in hunting is one of the most important issues we have for generations to come.

The state manages our entire deer herd from state-line to state-line but we should manage the deer where we hunt. So the next time you don’t see as many deer, don’t look at the DNR, don’t criticize big money lobbyists for doing what they get paid to do and don’t blame it on disease and predation. Maybe it’s time to take a good, long look in the mirror.

John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

84 COMMENTS

  1. The bonus tags are a big problem . The man and his son took 14 dear 2 seasons ago they know complain they can’t find any dear to shoot . People like that drive me nuts .

  2. I’ve taken 2 deer off my property since 2006 both mature bucks , I’ve let everything else walk. You are lucky to see a deer on a hunt where before the DNR eradication program you would see 2 or 3 or 15 and your telling me to look in the mirror . The state has been bought by special interest groups. That along with a very small portion of hunters who have no ethics and are greedy bloodthirsty jerks have ruined our hunting in Indiana . The state needs to stop selling out to special interest and get rid of the eradication program . Our wild life is not an endless resource. The DNR should be ashamed . They have encouraged the mindset and made it legal to kill everything you can. Seems the only enforcement is trying to catch out of states not paying for nonresident tags. Even there tagging system encourages cheating . The DNR is to blame they are pathetic

  3. Naturally most hunters are the greatest of ethical sportsmen and conservationists. I was referring to those few who take everything they can, only because they can, then complain about not seeing many deer.

    • Spot on. We hunters are our own worst enemy, either shooting more than our fair share, or by not wanting to stand up to special interest groups. Meantime we complain about hunting fees and not willing to invest in our resource.

    • Before my husbands twin past away Jerry we decided that we was only going to kill 2 does and 1 buck and then we put stipulations on both
      The does had to be 1yr to 1and a half and the bucks 4 to 5 yrs
      The reason behind the doe age is it gives them a chance to have at least 1 baby but under no Scercumstances did we kill the older ones
      You have to stop and think the older that doe is the more babies she’s going to have in a litter
      So if you want to repopulate your heard quit killing those big old does

  4. Few of use even see them but there everyware the coyotes there a major threat to deer.they dont care they chase the little deer at night till they cant run know more and have dinner.while mamma deer has to bite the bullit.its wrong happens everynight will were at home asleep.do the deer a big favor guys and hunt them dogs this winter.kill as many as you can there know good for nothin and thats that.

  5. The cars kill some but its cyotes that do the most harm yes its true.they pack up at night and chase the little deer down and kill them.will momma deer has to bite the bullet.chances are they kill a lot more deer then use people do the whole deer season.the cyotes are a major threat to deer .they thrive in warm dry areas and hunt and extermanate small animals.do the deer a favor and take up predator hunting please.

  6. I agree with John. It is up to us as hunters to protect the deer herd population. I have been just taking one doe and a buck if I get the opportunity and letting everything else walk and if you have a buddy or something that is taking everything that walks past speak up and try to make them realize what they are doing.

  7. AMEN BROTHER! Except that we need to stop shooting does completely! Even taking one is too many, we are in danger of completely wiping out the herd. We all need to pledge to not shoot a doe! THOSE OF YOU THAT SAY YOU WILL TAKE JUST ONE MATURE DOE – NEVER SHOOT A MATURE DOE. THEY ARE THE PRODUCERS AND KNOW HOW TO SURVIVE. I am here to help any one who still does not understand.
    Eric – 260-226-5381.

  8. In our area we used to see deer about every time out. Now the area is down and maybe you will see a deer or two a whole week hunting. I reason why we had a family move in and during deer season they bring their whole family (18 to 25) and kill everything. So we know why our area is lower and lower, you can talk to them they says each one of us are allow one Buck and three does and they are right, but now after four years of this and we know why are numbers are down. I think that only around three percent of hunters kills move than three. I say if we the hunters don’t start let’s does walk, our kids and grandkids will not be able to enjoy what we love to do. DNR and Hunters must change there attitude on killing so many deer. Blame can be said that its because of hunters, DNR and thousand others things but stop and think before we pull the trigger. Please let some of the deer walk for our kids. The IWDHM was form to help save our Doe herd. I know there is other clubs that have ideas to, but nothing will work until we join together and do a mind change on killing does. My two cents

  9. Until Indiana tightens its regulations down all the way around it will continue to be a lack luster season. They need to go to a straight Doe tag, no Anterless permits period. To many hunters are taking advantage of this and taking buttons, and small spikes just because the ” Permit Says I can Can ” . They need to go to a 6 point minimum, no doe period after the opener of Firearms Season. In 3 years we would notice a change, in 5 years we would see more deer and better bucks. Taking Does after they have breed is just taking 2 and possibly 3 deer out of the herd at a time, and continuing to take the small bucks leaves nothing to grow to a mature deer.

  10. Everyone should be concerned about the referendum in the last election.
    https://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2016/10/21/should-hunting-fishing-constitutional-right/92514844/

    I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not opposed to hunting, but I noticed the implications behind the referendum and voted “NO” while knowing that it was certain to pass. It did.

    This sneaky new law was intended to make it illegal for the state to enforce laws that place restrictions on hunting. Now “hunting” is listed as a fundamental citizen right that cannot be revoked, just like the right to free speech, religion, etc.

    Examples: Some guy enters state protected conservation lands with “No Hunting” signs posted and shoots prize bucks that were alive this long only because they have been off limits until the referendum passed. The game warden chases the guy down and hauls him to jail. Through his slick-talking attorney, he pleads innocent, arguing that the state has no constitutional authority to infringe upon the right to hunt. The judge gives the hunter a moral reprimand, but throws the state’s case out. The state loses. The hunter wins. Everyone else loses protected wildlife.

    The hunter celebrates his courtroom victory by going right back to the protected hunting lands, decorates the “No Hunting” sign with holes, shoots every last living buck, doe, fawn that remained on the land, drives away with a flatbed trailer loaded with deer. The warden tracks him down. Knowing that the guy already proved in court that hunting cannot be infringed, the most he can charge him for is the misdemeanor fine for vandalizing the “No Hunting” sign, except that he wasn’t there to see it happen. The so-called “hunter” drives away and makes a killing selling deer skins and venison. The most the state can do is try to get him for food-related violations.

    Of course, I’m making all of that up. I just HOPE I’m not right. I hope that the referendum that is now law in Indiana and 20 other states does not render laws intended to protect species from becoming officially “unconstitutional”.

  11. The impact of deer on the landscape is undeniable. I’m a forester and see the impact on hardwoods and crops every day. You all have been spoiled and don’t understand what a healthy deer herd is and what the resources can support. I am a deer hunter and can say there are way too many deer. Hunting is a wildlife management tool, PERIOD. Harvest more does folks!!!

  12. Mr. Perry what part of the state are you from ? I hunt from northern Indiana to southern Indiana …and have only seen this in 1 area only ever in my 45 yrs of life .. one southern county in Indiana .. You could spotlight and see 300 deer in this county now you are lucky to see 30 .. I have logging buddies and they have never spoke of what you are saying . I have a ton of farm buddies and have only seen one field I would say was over eaten . So where did you see this dessimation ?

  13. How does the state take a count to know what the statewide deer herd numbers are? It’s impossible. Are they simply guessing by years past and deer taken?

  14. Too many deer taken under the regulation that permits farmers to eliminate deer regardless of any state hunting restrictions.

    How many deer are taken and not reported? I know there are “hunters” who will only report their kill if they are afraid of being reported.

    I’ve given up deer hunting because the deer just aren’t there anymore. Couldn’t convince my grandson to hunt with me because we just weren’t see the deer like I used to see them.

  15. I get tired of hearing it’s the hunters fault….BS. If the bag limit on rabbits is 5, who doesn’t try to get there limit. It’s up to our DNR to set bag limits on game based on populations. They have the control. They should have cut back on doe permits about 5 years ago, but instead they have have done the opposite. I’m just about to the point of going out of state to hunt deer. I own two different farms that are in two different countys. Deer populations are down to the point where you are lucky to see a deer during the entire season. On opening weekend I don’t even hear shots. It’s a shame! I know a number of guys that don’t hunt in Indiana anymore. This is going to backfire on the dnr with lack of license sales. It already effecting retails sales like Gander Mountain going under.

  16. I too believe the harvesting of so many does is the biggest cause of low deer populations in our county. I’ve always been happy with 1 deer in my freezer but this year haven’t even seen one in our woods. Some of my neighbors kill all they can wether they use the meat or not! Stupid can’t be fixed! If the game commission can’t see where this is headed, we will all lose in a couple of years!

  17. Need to go back to being drawn for a doe tag. Doe season needs to be taken completely out. I hunt in Sullivan and Vigo counties, and I see atleast 3 bucks to every doe around here. In the 80’s and 90’s it was like 8 doe’s to every buck.

  18. When Dr Jim Mitchell was deer biologists he estimated herd at 450000. Where does DNR come up w 700,000. No way in the world does In have that number of deer. We have been on reduction not management since 1990. IDNR Idiots doing nothing right!!

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