Goshen News, Goshen, IN


March 17, 2013

OUTDOOR COLUMN: Buck kill down in record harvest

GOSHEN — New regulations led Indiana to a record deer harvest last fall, but statistics reveal the state’s deer herd may be declining.

Hoosier hunters took advantage of regulation changes and extra hunting dates to harvest a record 136,248 deer during the 2012 season, a 6 percent increase over 2011 and topped the previous record of 134,004 deer set in 2010.

“We started down the path to strategically reduce the deer herd in order to balance the ecological, recreational, and economic needs of Indiana citizens,” said Mitch Marcus, wildlife chief for the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife, in a press release. “We initiated several regulation changes to make it easier to take antlerless deer. It appears the regulations may be working.”

The state harvest consisted of 45,936 antlered deer and 90,312 antlerless deer; the proportion of antlered deer in the harvest (34 percent) was the lowest in Indiana history while the antlerless total was the highest.

DNR county-by-county stats reveal Michiana followed that trend. For example, St. Joseph County saw 484 bucks harvested, 43 fewer than last year. Nearly 100 more does were taken this year in St. Joseph compared to 2011.

Hunters in Elkhart and Marshall counties also killed more deer this year, but their buck harvest was down as well. Elkhart hunters shot 1,555 deer, 44 more than the previous year, but 77 fewer bucks.

Kosciusko County, one of the state leaders in deer harvest, saw its overall harvest drop from 3,123 to 2,870. Its buck harvest was down nearly 200.

LaGrange County, hit by the EHD virus that killed several deer prior to and during the season, saw its overall harvest drop nearly 500 deer, including 190 fewer bucks compared to the previous year.

Hoosier deer biologist Chad Stewart said the antlered deer harvest tracks the total deer population about as well as anything because there are fewer variables to consider.

“Year-to-year hunter efforts don’t change much, so people aren’t all of a sudden taking three bucks or eight bucks; they’re locked into one buck,” he said, noting the one-buck limit in Indiana. “If there are fewer bucks to kill with the same amount of hunter effort, not as many bucks get killed, which tells us the overall population is down.”  

Hunters using archery equipment tagged more deer in 2012 (27,580) than they did in 2011 (26,715) or 2010 (27,186). Crossbow hunters took 8,452 deer, or 6 percent of the overall total. That was a 1 percent increase. Youth hunters bagged 3,587 deer, up 55 percent from 2011, and the new special late antlerless season accounted for 10,091 deer.

Harvest exceeded 1,000 deer in 63 counties; 2,000 deer in 21 counties; and 3,000 deer in five counties. The counties with the highest harvests were Switzerland, Dearborn, Harrison, Franklin, Steuben, Parke, Washington, Kosciusko, Marshall, and Noble. The counties with the lowest harvests were Tipton, Benton, Blackford, Hancock, Rush, Clinton, Shelby, Wells, Marion, and Howard.

Walleye survey

Indiana DNR creel surveys are being conducted on the St. Joseph River below the Elkhart Dam in downtown Elkhart.

The creel surveys will last three months. Anglers contacted by a DNR creel clerk are being asked to participate in a short interview.

As the ice fades, walleye are moving upriver to spawn, creating one of a few early season walleye hot spots in northern Indiana. Early spring is a great time of year for shore anglers to connect with walleye and March can be the best month.

While the shallow gravel bars and the swift current make boat angling difficult and often dangerous, shoreline anglers can find plenty of space to fish from Elkhart’s Island and Bicentennial parks and Indiana Michigan Power Company’s fishing pier.

Hunter Ed Course

Pheasants Forever of Elkhart County will host a hunter education course at the Nappanee Conservation Club in Milford, Ind. March 22-23.

Class hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. until all materials are covered on Saturday. For information, call 574-642-4502.

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