Editorial: High-Fence Deer Hunting Bill is a simple lesson in the economics of politics

declining deer herd

0004654Our position: Allowing high-fence deer hunting operation in Indiana is a bad idea.

Two days ago, House Bill 1453 passed the Indiana House on a 55-39 vote; it now heads to the Senate where it likely faces a warmish welcome.  If you have been in the dark, basically this bill strips captive deer from Indiana Department of Natural Resources oversight and allows hunting of cervids (deer and elk) in high-fence enclosures.  It is part of a battle that has been fought over 10 years pitting the hunters of Indiana versus well-heeled, well-funded Indiana deer farmers.

Though the high-fence facility operators try to portray themselves as a bunch of “down home family farmers,” simply looking for a way to pay their property taxes, the reality is quite different.  Basically, to play in this game you need cash and marketing savvy to bring in the high-roller “hunters” who make use of such facilities.  We have no problem with this because, after all, this is America and if you can make money within the guidelines of the law, we’re all for it.

Unfortunately, the law currently stands in the way of the Indiana deer farmers and their allies, so they are working to change it.

Again, that is how the American system of government is supposed to work.  However, in this case, the push to change the law is a matter of private financial gain trumping good public policy…which is also an (unsavory) American tradition.

For the sake of this brief discussion, let’s put aside the ethical arguments of high-fence hunting.  We believe the practices of such operations ARE unethical but as a registered Republican-with-a-strong-streak-of-Libertarianism, we have to concede that if you want to shoot a unnaturally large-antlered deer in a pen and thump your chest afterward, go ahead.  Your personal morals really aren’t our concern.  We know a few folks who have done similar and they seem like decent enough, if not misguided, people.

However, you can’t argue against disease.

The deer farming industry transports deer- frequently- across state lines.  In spite of regulations, periodically some of those are deer infected with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a contagious and uniformly fatal disease.   Simple odds would suggest that an Indiana high-fence facility will unwittingly and unintentionally bring in deer with CWD since there is currently no live animal test for the disease.  Then, it is a matter of likelihood that the disease will ignore the eight-foot wire fence around the facility and begin to infect the local herd where it will spread unchecked.

As an example, I submit Wisconsin where the state has an active deer-farming system and the majority of the state has counties with CWD in the herd.  You might also look to Kentucky, which just banned captive deer from Indiana.  See- http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2015/02/12/kentucky-bans-hoosier-captive-deer-imports/23307885/

However, speaking as a long-time observer and frequent participant in politics, we know that this bill will probably pass for one simple reason: money talks.

Money talks in the form of political contributions and influence.  And, on that account, the hunters of Indiana don’t speak with a unified voice or, more importantly, a fat checkbook for political contributions.  Several people and organizations do good work on our behalf but hunters in Indiana are pretty much a silent majority who will ultimately lose this battle because deer farmers have influence in the legislature that is bought the good old-fashioned way: via campaign contributions and lobbyists.

There is a chance: if enough hunters raise enough hell with Senators, there is a very good chance they will listen.  But, we know too many hunters who think, “I don’t have a dog in this fight.”

Yes, you do.  Make your voice heard.

Otherwise, don’t complain when CWD comes to your local woodlot.  That could make for a pretty bare freezer come January- and that IS your concern.

Find your legislator: https://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/

HB1453 (passed 55-39 on 2-17-2015):  https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/house/1453

IndyStar.com: AG appeal calls unregulated high-fence hunting ‘absurd and dangerous’

IndyStar.com: Trophy deer industry linked to disease, costs taxpayers millions

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


  1. Well said Brent. In the past I have tried to stay out of “political” issues but this topic really annoys me and while I am an outdoor writer I all too often keep my “pen” shut when it comes game laws and such but to me this goes way deeper than game laws as you mentioned which is why, I’m sure, that the DNR don’t want no part of this one and I don’t blame them. You said above to keep the morality of high fence hunting out of the discussion and I do understand why but man it hurts to see yet another outside entity giving hunters a bad name and as we struggle to shed good light on not only our traditions but our heritage. A heritage that was passed down to all of us and a heritage that should be protected. My only hope would be that those that don’t really agree with hunting might actually join the ranks of hunters to fight this form of hunting. As a non-political person myself I have got involved with this issue and have emailed the senators who have voted for high fence hunting in the past and I will continue to do so. I feel like we all have a dog in this fight and should make our voice heard any way we can. As a last note: If this does become legal I only suggest a hunter orange ear tag that reads “Farm Raised & Pen Killed” and the tag should remain on the mounts.

    Ken McBroom


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