It has been an informative month for deer hunters concerned about Indiana’s deer population and the way it has been managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
In its annual deer harvest report, the DNR recently confirmed what hunters already knew: the deer harvest dropped in 2014. It was the third decline in four years, which began when the DNR and Natural Resources Commission increased doe tags, created additional seasons and added crossbows to bow season.
In equally critical news, the DNR surprisingly also took a formal position against the inclusion of center fire rifles for deer next year. This surprised most observers since it was the DNR who chose to take a citizen’s petition for rifles and submit it to the NRC for consideration. Until this year, the DNR had never advanced requests for rifles in deer season despite similar individual requests most years.
The proposed rule allowing high-powered rifles for Indiana deer season in 2015 was withdrawn. The issue is dead for now but could be raised again in the future with amendments.
The DNR did not link the decline in the deer harvest and their flip flop on rifles in any of their prepared statements. In fact, the DNR says the continued deer decline is by design, and the change of direction on rifles is only because no one understands the issue.
I have a different opinion about why deer are declining and why the DNR now opposes the use of rifles for deer hunting. I also believe the two issues are linked, not only because they both affect deer hunting, but also because they both illustrate how little respect the current DNR has for outdoorsmen and women.
None of the real reasoning behind the deer decline or rifles has anything to do with the best interest of deer, deer hunting or even biology.
As part of their statement explaining why they are now opposed to rifles, the DNR said the following:
“Several years ago, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, along with conservation partners, developed an Indiana Deer Management Strategy that focused deer herd reduction in a strategically targeted manner to more adequately balance ecological, recreational and economic needs of the citizens of Indiana.”
One of many problems with this statement is that the DNR continually defends the downward spiral of deer herd with the notion that they planned to mismanage the deer herd for quite some time.
Telling us they planned to fail shouldn’t let them off the hook.
The larger problem with the statement is that no one knows the identity of the “conservation partners” with whom they supposedly collaborated to beat back the deer herd and make hunting worse.
In my conversations with several organized conservation and hunting groups in Indiana, none said they were ever part of a deer management plan to reduce the herd.
The herd reduction plan was, and has always been about exploiting the deer population for revenue in the form of license sales.
In the same statement, the DNR also said there are no safety concerns regarding the use of rifles here and that “the Division of Fish and Wildlife believes this to be a social issue.”
That is their way of saying we are all a bunch of frightened, uninformed fools who don’t know what we are talking about when it comes to rifles and where we live, but that they will begrudgingly appease us, nonetheless.
The frustrating question for most of us is why would the DNR back peddle on rifles but not on deer herd reduction plans when they got similar push back from the majority of hunters?
They did it because people besides outdoorsmen and women complained about the rifle proposal.
The DNR director works for a recently embattled governor who doesn’t care about us any more than the DNR, but does care when city leaders and farmers are screaming at him about rifles being used around their homes.
The DNR tried to slip rifles past the opposing majority of the hunting public like they did the deer reduction plan, but this time we had an ally in the non-hunting public.
If the NRC approves the use of rifles, they too will probably feel the wrath of the non-hunting majority and be forced to abandon private agendas for majority rule.
Both the DNR and NRC are on record claiming they value public input on these and other issues, but their handling of another recent issue exposes a pattern of the opposite.
While the DNR runs for cover on deer management and rifles, they are also taking heat for the same sort of heavy-handed tactics with their plan to partner with a private company to build a conference center in the Indiana Dunes State Park.
Multiple attendees at open meetings are claiming their opinions were not heard and ignored by DNR officials. Sound familiar?
As of this week, The Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana chapter of the Sierra Club and the Citizens Action Coalition have lined up against the deal in the dunes, joining early opponents Save the Dunes and the Izaak Walton League.
The pattern is alarming and reveals this administration answers to no one, whether they are making rules for the Indiana Dunes, deer management or the use of high-powered rifles.
Hunters just need to remember to engage a battle-weary governor and non-hunters the next time we want to be heard.
Don Mulligan writes Outdoors with Don for this newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.