I often wonder how wildlife does the thing they do? What is their home range and do they know where they are going?
I had a big doe pop out of a cornfield and cross the road in front of me. She was traveling across rows instead of down rows. The deer did not knock down a stalk of corn that I could see as she hurried on her way. These were two large cornfields with only fence rows to and fro. I wondered where she came from and where she was going. Heading west, the deer would find a creek bottom in about ¾ of a mile.
The first deer I heard of in Madison County was along Pipe Creek near the old Ryan’s swimming pits in 1961. I saw my first Madison County deer track in 1965.
Veteran outdoor writer Rich Creason remembers a Dr. Armington raising deer and buffalo on the south side of Anderson, “The two species did not get along. The deer either escaped or were released and populated Fall Creek,” he said. Creason believes this was in the early 1960s.
Deer were stocked in most military installations and the hills of Brown County. According to author Larry Lawson, “Our DNR got deer from several sources and there were about seven subspecies. A lot of whitetail in Jefferson County used to be golden brown, with a short snout and wide face.” When one considers the small number of deer stocked it is amazing how fast the herd grew. I suppose deer moved up creek and river beds out of curiosity, it could not have been due population densities back then.
My dad grew up on a farm north of Madison, Indiana. When a farmer saw two deer in his feed lot it was front page news in 1948. Dad helped build the Jefferson Proving Grounds (JPG) fence and my mother’s family was relocated from there.
Our family moved to Anderson in 1952. After visits to our grandparents, dad would grant my wish of not starting home until dusk so I could see the deer inside the JPG fence. Often, I would count over 50 whitetails.
I noticed an occasional box trap set for deer. They appeared to be made of wooden munition crates.
Most do not know that elk were stocked at JPG. A poacher killed one and then a bull attacked some kids living on base. They got rid of the rest. It was less than a dozen animals.
In 1962 I took my first deer using a 66 inch long bow shooting instinctively. That year there were less than 4,000 licensed archers in Indiana. The animal dropped within sight of the JPG fence on the southwest side. Even outside JPG there were few deer in Switzerland and Jefferson Counties in the early 1960s.
Deer have adapted well and have found a liking to the suburbs; the neighborhood behind Meijer’s on 96th in Indianapolis, have plenty of deer. So many are there city dwelling deer that the DNR has established an Urban Deer Zone where a hunter is allowed 10 deer and the season runs from September 15 through January 1. There is a catch; your first deer must be a doe and only one of the ten a buck.
About 1985, the late Doyle Fox I were driving, before daylight, west of Danville, Indiana. I mentioned they were beginning to see coyotes in the area. Doyle said, ”Rick there is not a coyote in the state of Indiana.” On cue, one crossed the road in front of us.
Our DNR was in denial about bobcats being in Indiana until a Parke County trapper found a very angry one in his leg hold trap. A Conservation Officer was summoned to help release the animal. This was about 1996.
With the advent of trail cameras, Hoosiers learned that there was a growing population of bobcats. These secretive predators have a range of 25 sq. miles. One bobcat, tagged in Lawrence County, was hit by a car east of St. Louis, I saw one east of Spencer last year. Ross and Gary Cloud saw two last year in western Owen County.
Three years ago trail cameras picked up the image of a mountain lion in Green County. Another or perhaps the same one showed up at the Crane Navel Depot.
Deer and squirrel hunters might doze with one eye open this fall.
Last year, a black bear from Michigan wondered into Indiana. Recently, a bear was observed, going through a garbage can, near Corydon. Our DNR thinks this black bear swam from Kentucky across the Ohio River. The bear population in Kentucky has exploded in recent years. Young bears will be pushed by dominate bears north to the Ohio where a 15 minute swim will put them in unpressured territory.
Will more bears filter in from Michigan and Kentucky? I would like to think so.