The Indiana Deer Rifle Controversy

WildIndiana Publisher Brent T. Wheat shares his thoughts on HB1231

Indiana Deer Rifle Controversy
Photo courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

As a Hoosier deer hunter, depending on your particular viewpoint and degree of self-interest, the sky is either falling or blue as the sapphire sparkle of a kitten’s eye.

Last week governor Mike Pence signed HB1231 which legalized several common high-power rifle cartridges for deer hunting on private land during the 2016 deer firearms season. On the face of it, we’ll admit that it’s pretty exciting news that puts Indiana on par with many other states that have a “traditional” rifle deer season. But, as with most things, the devil is in the details.

We’re not officially on record -yet- as opposing this law but there are some issues that need to be resolved before we can feel better about this latest political overreach into game laws.

Therein lays problem #1: the legislature ignored the findings of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The DNR concluded last year after many public meetings that deer rifles weren’t a pressing need for this state. A sizable minority with loud voices did want rifles approved but the Natural Resources Commission decided there was no compelling reason or overwhelming demand to make the change.

Apparently some voices are well-connected because they just walked down the hall and spoke to State Rep. Lloyd Arnold from southern Indiana. The request resulted in HB1231.

The second problem is the biggest: no one knows what effect this will have on deer numbers. Common sense would suggest that the deer harvest will increase substantially due to increased hunter interest and the use of longer-range weapons.

As DNR numbers prove, and most hunters have noticed, Indiana’s deer herd is down in recent years. Most believe this is by design as the powerful Indiana insurance and farming lobbies regard deer as nothing but vermin that eat crops and cause automobile accidents. Liberalized bag limits and a reduced deer herd are the result of pressure on law makers.

If you doubt such a conspiracy theory, ask any state game official about it point blank and then call us if you get a straight answer.

I have and you won’t. It’s not their fault because, naturally, they’d like to hold onto their (thankless and low-paying) jobs for another year.

So, once again, the legislature has helped out special interests and all deer hunters may suffer in the long run.

One issue that opponents raise is safety. There is concern, especially in the flat topography of northern Indiana, there will be an increase in hunting accidents due to the greatly increased range of rifles.

We’re inclined to disagree on this. Of course, one accident is too much but wherever there is hunting, there will be bad luck compounded by human stupidity. We predict there will be more media coverage of hunting accidents but that overall numbers will remain steady or climb only slightly.

Another problem is that the law isn’t written very well. There are five “cartridges” that are legal: .243, .30-30, .300, .30-06, .308. Technically speaking, the “.300” isn’t a cartridge per se. We assume the lawmakers mean the .300 Winchester Magnum, a common long-distance hunting and target round but the number could theoretically include literally dozens of other cartridges with “300” in the title. It’s not a trivial distinction when dealing with law.

Moreover, the bill also leaves out some very popular cartridges such as the .270 Winchester, one of the most popular deer rounds in the country. If we’re allowing the somewhat overpowered .300 WM, why not permit the 7mm Remington Magnum? We could go on and on but again it’s not trivial if your favorite (or only) hunting rifle is a .25-06 or a grandpa’s trusty lever gun in .35 Remington.

Finally and personally, our biggest concern is the wounding factor. We have railed for years about the rotten state of marksmanship as witnessed by the carnage at the butcher shop and deer check stations.

As rifles are effective at longer distances, hunters will be tempted to take shots that they are not capable of making. This means those 400-yard shots that wouldn’t be taken with a shotgun will probably be attempted with a rifle and it is a fairly rare shooter who can actually make a one-shot kill at such distance. Speaking as a former precision rifle instructor, the limiting accuracy factor of most rifles is the operator rather than the equipment.

That makes it imperative that the many Indiana deer hunters who have never hunted with a centerfire rifle must make a commitment to spend this summer on the firing range with their new gun.

Ultimately, like many other folks, we’ll probably start hunting with a rifle during the 2016 deer season. Yet, in spite of the enjoyment of the day, we will continue to wonder what the future will bring.

As always, be careful what you wish for.

LINK: Read HB1231 for yourself

Brent Wheat
A well-known and award-winning writer/photographer/radio & television talent/speaker/web-designer/media spokesperson/shooting instructor/elected official/retired police officer/bourbon connoisseur/cigar aficionado/backpacker/hunter/fisherman/gardener/preparedness guru/musician/and jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none, Brent Wheat is the editor and publisher of WildIndiana.com

2 COMMENTS

  1. i reserved my coment until after the 2016 deer high power rifle season. reading brents colorful if not liberal symantics with words like overreaching, not overwhelmingly wanted. or other misleading description of his not to disguised disgust of the new high poewr rifle laws for deer hunting.
    i am 66 been hunting all my life and welvcome as do all the hunters i talk to in nor5thwest indiana. only a few traditional bow hunters are not enthuased but the majority are demanding the rifle season be permemant.
    i am one of them i hunted for years with bow and arrow still do, but for deer firearms season it is welcome and about time. hey brent how many shootings in 2016? make sure you report accurately. i really question your objectivness to all indiana sportsman. DNR SITED REASONS AGAIN NOT REALLY LISTENING TO US HINT GET OUT MORE BRENT . AND GET ON BOARD.
    0 FATALITIES, NO MORE DEER KILLED THAN PREVIOUS YEARS, ITS CALLED BAG LIMIT BRENT, AND FINALLY LESS WOUNDED DEER BRENT. I WILL BE WATCHING YOUR NEXT ARTICLE. GET ON BOARD IF YOU DONT LIKE RIFLE HUNTING THEN GO CUT A GOOD STRONG POLE AND SPEAR EM. BUT DONT PRETEND TO SPEAK FOR THE INDIANA DEER HUNTERS. I REJECT AND AM OFFENDED FOR THE RETORIC. EXCUSE MY MIS SPELLING AND GRAMMAR I AM NOT A WRITER BUT I AM A PISSED OFF INDIANA SPORTSMAN AND I STRONGLY DONT LIKE THE TONE AND LEFT LEANING SLANT. I AM OLD ENOUGHT TO REMEMBER THE GUNS OF AUTUMN ON pbs . YOUR ABOUT A STEP AWAY

  2. There is no reason to limit the deer gun to a hand full of cartridges while the more ardent deer guns stay home. Here again, the law makers are seemingly always the ones who know nothing about the true effect the law has on the people obeying them. Some states allow all center fire rifles, and many allow from a certain diam. upwards . As a 220 swift would kill a deer at 400 yds. it is not considered a deer rifle at all and a 375 H.& H. Mag would not only kill the deer, but a Elephant standing behind it! common sense is required here. The 243 win is a gun capable of deer, and even elk, as much smaller dia. bullet is not the choice at hand. This marksmanship issue is silly. Every shooter, using a rifle with scope, or open sights will be more accurate than most shotguns and thus a better kill on the deer! Allowing hunting on only private land is also a burden on those without a great deal of land. Hunting on state land is no more dangerous with a rifle than shotgun with slugs. Actually , those looking through a quality scope will not pull the trigger when looking at a man in the scope, as one may with open sights and dirty glasses! All in all, expand the cartridge selection, allow the rifle to be used on state land, and relax…

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