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December 29, 2013

MARTINO: Indiana’s deer herd — a 'tail' of two sides

“I am just not seeing the deer I used to,” Jeff Pearsall said as he pulled the cap off his muzzleloader before placing it back in the case after a recent morning hunt. “I think the state is going overboard with their reduction efforts,” he lamented.

He is not alone in his thoughts. It was a theme echoed over and over during this year’s deer hunting seasons.

But not everyone feels the same as Pearsall.

“I wish they would let hunters take even more deer,” said Pam Gibson, who recently spent thousands to repair her car after colliding with a deer on Kokomo’s new bypass around the old bypass.

Indiana’s white-tailed deer are a valuable resource. They lure thousands each year to our state parks and nature reserves. They also draw hordes of hunters to woodlots and forests throughout the state. The economic impact they provide is staggering. But controversy is brewing.

There was a period of time when deer were nearly nonexistent in the Hoosier State, meeting their demise through unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. Then, in 1934 they were reintroduced with animals taken from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. In 1951, Indiana opened selected areas to regulated hunting. Although some believe our state’s white-tailed deer herd is proof positive of a wildlife management success story, others feel it has gone somewhat awry.

The species, once gone from Indiana’s landscape, has grown to such abundance that state officials began a program to help reduce the growing population and they are using the most reliable form of game management to do it — hunters.

Some state officials believe it’s a balancing act. Each year hunters collected record numbers of deer, to the tune of more than 130,000. Yet they flourished as did the reports of crop damage, conflicts with humans and the increase of car-deer accidents. In areas throughout Indiana, biologists believe they exceed what experts call their “social carrying capacity.” Basically that means there are too many deer for what the land can support.

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