There are many valid reasons that the Indiana General Assembly should
put deer-pen hunting out to pasture, but conservation concepts dictate
that the greatest concern for all involved should be the welfare of deer,
not a few individuals who want to exploit the resource for personal gain.
Yet, even as this column is written, the House of Representatives appears
poised, and ready, to pass House Bill (HB) 1780 and send it to the Senate.
HB 1780, incidentally, is so flawed that it should never have gotten out
Opponents of HB 1780 have spent a lot of time reciting a multitude of
reason why deer-pen hunting should be shelved forever, and all of this
reasoning is sound.
But from this catbird seat the greatest fallacy of the deer-pen hunting
nightmare lies in the firm belief--perhaps even scientifically-proven fact--that
when wild animals congregate diseases are just around the corner. If one
animal of a congregation has it, in close quarters they all are susceptible.
This applies not only to deer but to many other species of wildlife.
Outbreaks of diseases in deer, and other wildlife species, have occurred
in many places--including Indiana. Diseases will occur in animals--wild
and domesticated--as surely as the sun rises.
The spotlight was turned on diseases common to deer a few years back
when chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered in several of our western
states and Canada. It has spread eastward and now is as close to Indiana
as Illinois and Wisconsin.
It may be that the Hoosier deer herd will be next, but even so, it does
not seem wise to expose our wild deer to congregated animals in deer-pen
In the early days of the CWD’s discovery in the west, the wildlife agency
of Nebraska worked with a captive deer facility to check for the presence
of this dread disease. This herd was found to be infected, and the owner
of the facility worked with the wildlife agency to determine how widespread
the disease might be.
This entailed the killing of some 200 deer of the facility because CWD
is a disease of the brain and testing requires that animals be killed.
Tests of the deer turned up an incidence of CWD of about 50 percent,
much higher than the percentage of infected wild deer.
Although CWD has not been found in Indiana deer, there is a legitimate
fear that it will eventually be found here.
Why should we be so concerned about CWD?
From the late 1800s to the early 1930s, the white-tail deer was extinct
in Indiana. The state wildlife agency of that time started importing and
stocking deer in Indiana in 1934 (35 animals). Over the years some 400
deer from other states were stocked.
The transplanted animals responded to their new home so well that the
first open season was conducted by the then Division of Fish and Game (today
the Division of Fish and Wildlife) in 1951. In that first open deer season
of modern times in Indiana roughly 12,000 licenses were sold, and 1,590
deer were reported taken, 32 by landowners hunting without a license on
their own land.
That was only the beginning of a wildlife management program that has
skyrocketed. A survey of the Division of Fish and Wildlife in 2002 indicated
that there are an estimated 169,000 Hoosiers who hunt deer. During 2004-05
seasons, records show that roughly 120,000 deer were taken.
Another DFW study indicates that deer hunters in 2001 pumped $177-million
into the Hoosier economy while 3,300 deer related jobs provided $81-million,
and that does not include the fiscal benefits derived from those who do
not hunt, but like to see deer around.
Boil the situation down and it becomes obvious that legislators who
back the concepts of HB 1780 are playing selfish political games (to bring
financial gains for a few) with a matter that is dear to a lot of Hoosier