New Programs and Changes to Deer Season Geared Toward Helping Landowners Manage Deer
By Chad Stewart
There are some changes to Indiana’s deer hunting season that should provide landowners with added flexibility in helping manage deer and deer hunters on their property. They provide hunters more time, equipment choices, and opportunities to harvest additional deer throughout the season. You could even make the argument that one program is even geared toward helping get non-hunters a deer too!
The archery seasons will now be joined into one continuous season, eliminating the traditional 5-day break between the early and late archery season that previously existed. Crossbows will also be allowed throughout the archery season for the first time without restrictions, which should increase the number of hunters hunting during the early portion of the season. Both changes give landowners and woodland managers greater opportunities to recruit hunters and hunting efforts, which could result in an increased deer harvest in October and early November, a critical period for controlling the browsing of tree seedlings in the agricultural Midwest.
Increased herbivory on tree seedlings has proven to coincide with crop harvest, which is typically done in early October. During the growing season, agricultural crops provide a nearly unlimited food source for deer, and growing corn and soybeans provide dense cover for fawning, allowing deer to disperse throughout much of the landscape. However, from a deer’s standpoint, cover disappears dramatically within a 2- to 3-week period due to the fall agricultural harvest. The seasonal influx of deer into forested cover following crop harvest concentrates deer, making tree seedlings more susceptible to herbivory.
Herbivory can remove valuable nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous from the tree prior to leaf senescence, preventing reabsorption of nutrients and negatively impacting plant fitness. Prolonged exposure to herbivory under high deer densities may ultimately limit recruitment by preventing some seedlings from growing to reproductive status. Putting more hunters in the woods during the archery season and emphasizing earlier deer hunting may benefit landowners experiencing intense seedling damage.
In urban deer zones, hunters will now be required to take an antlerless deer prior to taking an urban zone buck, which is commonly referred to as an Earn-A-Buck restriction. The urban deer zone season will also be extended from September 15 through January 31 instead of ending on the first Sunday in January as in the past. This is one of the most intensive methods for reducing deer herds, and is strictly geared toward lowering deer densities. Though this is not a restriction that applies to all hunters (only those who hunt in an urban deer zone with an urban deer zone license), it focuses hunting pressure on removing more does and limits the number of hunters taking a second buck, which does not contribute to population control. If you are a landowner experiencing deer problems, you may want to consider implementing this restriction on your property regardless of whether you reside in an urban deer zone or not.
If you don’t feel enough deer have been removed off your property during the traditional archery, firearms, or muzzleloader seasons this year, landowners will now have an additional chance to have hunters take even more antlerless deer before the end of the hunting season. A special antlerless firearms season, beginning after Christmas (December 26) and continuing through the first Sunday in January, allows hunters an opportunity to go out and try one more time to get an antlerless deer. This season will be available in most, but not all, counties. Only counties with a bonus antlerless designation of 4 or more will be allowed to participate in the special antlerless firearms season.
We are anticipating significant participation with our new bundle license. Indiana deer hunters will have the opportunity to purchase a deer bundle license which allows them to take up to three deer throughout any season under this new bundle license. The bundle license will allow hunters to take up to 2 antlerless deer and 1 antlered deer in any deer season. This is a tremendous advantage to hunters who hunt in multiple seasons, and gives them an easy way to purchase one license that is good for all seasons. We are hoping it provides an impetus for hunters to harvest deer early, as they will now have 3 licenses in their hand from day one, rather than systematically buying licenses throughout the season. If hunters don’t have a need for 3 deer, they can always donate one of their deer using our new game matching program.
GiveIN Game (http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/7240.htm), the DNR’s game matching program, has been set up to help non-hunters, or even unsuccessful deer hunters, an opportunity to get a deer from successful hunters. Previously, most venison donation programs are designed to provide venison to food shelters. Though this is a notable and charitable cause, the act of donation can be inconvenient to many hunters since participating deer processors are scattered throughout the landscape, and in some cases, hunters are required to pay for some or all of the processing costs. In reality, there are people throughout the state who are interested in obtaining and consuming venison, but are otherwise unable to obtain it. GiveIN Game attempts to match up successful deer hunters with people who want a deer by providing individuals a forum to contact each other and meet up in exchange of venison. Hunters and recipients can search each other by county and can make contact by phone or email. Donated deer can be in any form, from a field dressed animal, to processed and packaged meat. This program allows hunters to get back to the meaning of hunting, providing food for fellow members in the community who are interested or dependent upon getting free, nutritious protein.
These changes, if employed on your property, should increase the deer harvest during the early season and relieve the browsing pressure experienced by tree seedlings during the autumn months. Hunters will have the opportunity to participate earlier in the hunting season, have their hunting season extended, and have the opportunity to share the benefits of their successful hunt with a broader audience in Indiana. Promoting hunting on your property and having hunters take advantage of these new rules can directly benefit all woodland owners and their neighbors.
Chad Stewart is a deer research biologist with the Indiana DNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife.