An overabundance of deer in Indiana has prompted state wildlife officials to shut down select state parks for controlled hunting.
Twenty-one of Indiana’s 24 state parks will be involved in the annual hunts on Nov. 18-19 and Dec. 2-3.
The state administered hunts began in 1993 to reduce the deers’ over-browsing of plant-life and create a healthier ecosystem, official said.
“The habitat was ultimately suffering,” said Mike Mycroft, chief of state parks and reserves for Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources.
Some forest areas were completely void of vegetation after herds of malnourished deer would pass through, Mycroft said.
“It was pretty obvious,” he said. “Even a non-biologist could drive through many of the parks and see emaciated deer.”
Recent research conducted by parks officials has shown the habitat is recovering, Mycroft said.
He said a proper deer harvest is necessary to maintain healthy forests.
“We’ve determined the habitat will begin to recover when you harvest at a rate of about .20 deer,” Mycroft said.
This means that 20 percent of all hunters involved in the controlled hunts need to kill at least one deer for the best habitat condition. When the hunts began in 1993, hunters were killing nearly 80 deer per square mile. That number has now been reduced to 15-20 deer per square mile.
“Once you get down to about 15 deer per square mile, you need to start thinking about taking a year off,” Mycroft said.
Nearly 1,200 deer are expected to be killed during the four days of hunting this year.
Mycroft said he doesn’t expect the annual hunts to end entirely any time soon. Because of habitat fragmentation, forest separation and the dominance of agriculture in rural areas, deer populations must be monitored by people, he said.
“I don’t see, short of reintroducing historic large predators like wolves, that we’ll ever be done hunting the deer. I’m afraid that we have to step in and play that historical role ourselves,” he said.
The hunt is free for registered hunters. Most registration spots have been filled, Mycroft said, but some properties will host a daily drawing for open spaces.
Daily drawings will be at Fort Harrison, Indiana Dunes, Spring Mill and Turkey Run. To participate in the standby drawings, hunters must have a photo ID and a valid hunting license, according to the DNR website.
There will be no standby drawing for hunts at Brown County, Chain O’Lakes, Charlestown, Clifty Falls, Harmonie, Lincoln, McCormick’s Creek, Ouabache, Pokagon, Potato Creek, Prophetstown, Shades, Shakamak, Summit Lake, Tippecanoe, Versailles and Whitewater Memorial, according to the DNR website.
For more information about the hunts, visit www.in.gov/dnr.