By LOUIE STOUT
THE GOSHEN NEWS
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.
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.
Early bass tourneys
The R&B Bass Circuit will host two open tournaments this month.
On March 23, a team tournament will be held at Lake Manitou and March 30 on Lake Wawasee (Syracuse ramp). Both events run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and have a $60 entry fee. No membership required. Call Andy Buss, 574-993-3028.
Youth turkey hunts
Youth hunters can apply for a reservation to hunt on Indiana DNR properties during the special youth wild turkey hunting season, April 20 and 21.
Hunters should register at the property they wish to hunt March 18-22 or March 25-28 and the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The hunters must be younger than 18 on the day of the hunt.
Northern Indiana reserved hunts are held at the following fish & wildlife areas: Jasper-Pulaski, Kankakee, Kingsbury, LaSalle, Pigeon River, Tri-County, Winamac and Willow Slough.
Hunts will also take place at Salamonie and Mississinewa lakes.
The number of hunters allowed on each property will be limited. Interested hunters must register in person or by phone with the property they wish to hunt. Hunters can register for only one property.
At properties where the number of registered hunters exceeds the spots available, a drawing will be held on April 1. A youth hunter may be drawn for either one or both hunt days, depending on the number of applicants.
Applicants must possess a 2013 Youth Consolidated Hunting & Trapping License, a 2013 Non-Resident Youth Spring Turkey License with a game bird habitat stamp privilege, or Lifetime Comprehensive Hunting License. Apprentice hunting licenses of the types named above also may be used.
During youth wild turkey season, hunters under age 18 on the day of the hunt can take a bearded or male wild turkey. The youth must be accompanied by someone 18 or older. The adult must not possess a firearm, bow and arrow, or crossbow while in the field.
Contact Goshen News outdoor writer Louie Stout at email@example.com.