While it won’t help matters much, many of you just earned the opportunity to look an Indiana Department of Natural Resources official in the eye and say, “I told you so!”
The IDNR just released harvest numbers for 2011, and, what a surprise, it was down 3.7 percent. Indiana hunters took 129,018 deer, compared to 134,004 in 2010.
More than 1,000 of you have written me over the past year predicting the fall, but the IDNR didn’t listen.
The title and subtitle on the press release was the first signal it would be full of spin: “Deer harvest down in 2011, but still fourth best. Warm, wet November possible factor; 14 counties set records,” it reads.
Anyone who has spent time in the field in the past decade knows the weather excuse is an old one, unsupported by the facts and nothing short of desperate. What everyone except the IDNR seems to understand is that fewer deer were killed because there are fewer deer to kill.
We have 34 days of combined gun seasons in Indiana. To say the weather was bad for more than a month is outrageous.
But even if it was unseasonably warm and wet, deer still move, and hunters still hunt. I have seen hunters hunt in the worst imaginable weather in 30 states. Indiana hunters are just as hearty.
For the record, according to Purdue University climate records, opening weekend of regular firearms season this year saw near perfect conditions. Most of Indiana started all of the first three days in the lower 40s, calm and precipitation free.
Most of Indiana’s deer are killed during regular gun season, and during regular gun season, the first three days are the most productive.
The weather theory is further debunked by a quick look at Illinois’ deer harvest last year. While they always harvest more deer than us, hunting conditions there are nearly the same. Their habitat, crops and weather mirror ours.
In 2011, Illinois' deer harvest dropped roughly .5 percent. Weather didn’t seem to bother them too much, and they only get 11 days to hunt with guns.
Remove the 21 days in November the IDNR press release said we had above normal temperature, and Hoosier hunters still had more days than their Illinois counterparts to get the job done in weather that was at or below normal temperatures.
The drop in our harvest is even more alarming once another important statistic is factored in. There was a 3 percent increase in deer hunting license sales from 2010 to 2011.
The pertinent spin Chad Stewart, IDNR deer biologist, failed to mention in his press release was that our gun season opened on Nov. 12 last year. That was almost as early as our system allows, and gave gun hunters 16 prime days.
Combine the 3 percent increase in hunters, a 3.7 percent decrease in harvest and the early gun season, and last year is starting to look pretty bad.
The IDNR, along with the help of the Natural Resources Commission, just liberalized what was already the most liberal deer seasons in the Midwest for next fall. The new rules increase gun seasons, add 100-yard crossbows to all of archery season and allow new center-fire rifles. They are designed to kill more deer and will work.
But despite evidence of a decline, it is unlikely the IDNR will do what any other state game agency would do in this case. They should stop the rules they just passed from being implemented, and come up with new rules that are scientifically based.
Don Mulligan writes Outdoors with Don for this newspaper. He can be reached at outdoor