Call for a larger deer herd continues


HUNTINGBURG — Local deer hunters and sportsmen continued their call for an increased deer herd Thursday night at the Dubois County Deer Advisory Council meeting.

“I’d like to inform our younger hunters that the current situation with our deer population is not the norm I’m used to,” said Kevin Haas, a Dubois County resident and hunter.

Haas began hunting when he was 17 and remembers seeing 20 to 25 deer in the fields on his way to his cabin on Patoka Lake. Last deer season, he said, his trail cameras only picked up five small does and a young seven-point buck.

“Needless to say, I didn’t tag any deer,” he said.

Several other hunters echoed Haas’ comments, saying they aren’t seeing the number of deer they’re used to. Each speaker called for action to increase the deer population. That’s where the Dubois County Deer Advisory Council comes in. Council members listen to local stakeholders and communicate with the Department of Natural Resources to help manage deer herds county to county, rather than statewide. Right now, the council is focused on managing the deer herd through the bonus antlerless deer quota, which allows hunters to harvest a certain number of antlerless deer (does or young bucks who haven’t grown antlers) above the statewide limits. Antlerless deer quotas vary county to county. Last year, Dubois County had a bonus antlerless deer quota of four. To increase the herd, that quota would have to decrease. The council distributed surveys to local hunters to vote on what the bonus quota should be. Once they’ve compiled the votes, the council will forward the input to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who set the quotas. Haas pushed for a quota of zero. Not all hunters tagged the four allotted bonus deer, Haas said.

“Let’s say all hunters who filled bonus deer tags last year only tagged one or two bonus deer,” he said. “If the DNR approved the CDAC Council’s recommendation to lower the county antlerless quota to two deer, and the same hunters tag the same number of bonus deer they did last year, how many were saved from harvest? Zero.”

Haas pointed out that his numbers were only a hypothetical, as the DNR does not report how many antlerless deer were harvested using bonus tags. Still, using the statewide and county numbers available, Haas estimates that lowering Dubois County’s bonus quota to zero could save more than 750 deer. By Haas’s estimates, lowering the quota to one could save about 350 deer; lowering the quota to two could save 130; and lowering the quota to three could save 35. If his estimates are even close to correct, Haas said, Dubois County hunters would only need a couple of years at a zero bonus quota to restore the herd.

John Toy, the former president of the Dubois County Sportsmens Club, said local hunters need to put their personal preferences for the bonus quota aside and do what’s best for the herd and the future of the sport. If that means taking a few less deer a year or two, Toy said, that’s what they need to do. The deer herd will replenish if they let it.

“We’ve got to police ourselves for our kids and grandkids,” he said.

Rick Pflanz, a member of the council, reminded the crowd that the state just finished the fifth year of a statewide herd reduction effort that the state legislature pushed on the DNR. He said the DNR is aware of the low deer numbers and hunters’ unhappiness.

“They’re just now assessing what to do moving forward,” Pflanz said.

County deer advisory councils are part of that planning process. The program is modeled after Wisconsin’s county deer advisory council program and is being piloted this year. The councils are meant to give local stakeholders a say in how the state manages deer herds. The councils will also help manage the deer herds on a local level, rather than letting Indianapolis make blanket decisions for the deer herds. The idea for the program came from Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management, a statewide group dedicated to preserving the deer herd and the sport of deer hunting. Matt Barton of Wabash County started Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management with a Facebook group two years ago. Now the group has grown to have more than 18,700 Facebook followers and is influential with state legislators. So far, 10 county deer advisory councils operate in Indiana. Pflanz said all 10 of the councils are leaning toward recommending lower bonus quotas to the state.

“The DNR I can tell you hears us loud and clear,” Pflanz said.

The council doesn’t plan to meet again until after hunting season, but it will send the quota vote and survey results, as well as video tapes of its two meetings, to the DNR.

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