Deer Season Forecast
Indiana's deer hunting season gets underway soon with the launch of archery season on Oct. 1. While deer biologists are predicting that the number of deer taken by hunters will be similar to previous years, Indiana hunting safety experts are anticipating a significant drop in the number of hunting accidents.
"Hunting doesn't have a reputation as a safe sport, but it actually is," said Capt. Michael Crider, Department of Natural Resources hunter education director.
Indiana has around 215,000 hunters collectively spending 2.5 million days pursuing deer each year.
"We have a handful of accidents annually, and rarely a fatality. Statistically, hunting is safer than riding in a car," said Crider.
Despite statistically small numbers of hunting accidents, Crider was concerned when he saw an unusual spike in the number of fatal firearms related accidents during last fall's deer hunting season. Indiana averages one fatal firearms related hunting accident a year. Last year, there were three fatal accidents.
Though there didn't seem to be any specific cause for the spike in fatalities, Crider and hundreds of volunteer hunter education instructors worked with renewed vigor this year to prevent hunting related accidents. DNR officials and volunteer instructors conducted 103 hunter education courses for nearly 20,000 attendees across the state this year.
Their 10-hour courses covered standard firearm safety rules and tips on avoiding hypothermia, but they focused more instruction time on a major cause of hunting injuries and fatalities - falls from tree stands.
"When we looked at the stats, we knew we needed to spend more time on tree stand safety. Gravity is one of our primary killers," said Terry Hatfield, a volunteer hunter education instructor from North Salem, Ind.
Tree stand-related accidents continue to be a big problem. Indiana averages 14 non-fatal tree stand falls and 1.25 tree stand fatalities each year. There were 17 tree stand related accidents in Indiana last year. One of those was fatal. This means that tree stand related accidents accounted for over 50 percent of all hunting accidents reported.
Hatfield and his fellow instructors hang students from trees to demonstrate the effectiveness of tree stand safety harnesses. Participants are first lifted off the ground in a single belt-type harness and told to signal when the discomfort becomes unbearable. The demonstration lasts just a few seconds. Those lifted in a chest harness last slightly longer. Participants lifted in a full-body harness have little discomfort and can maneuver quickly to lower themselves to the ground.
"No one who sees this presentation will ever use anything but a full-body harness again," said Hatfield.
Hatfield also demonstrates climbing safety (always stay attached to a safety line, whether climbing up, down or sitting in a stand), how to safely lift bows and firearms into a stand (always unloaded, muzzle down), and tree stand selection.
"Never buy a stand that is not TMA approved [Treestand Manufacturer's Association]. If you have a stand that is not TMA approved, throw it away. Is your life worth the cost of a new tree stand?" said Hatfield.
Crider urges hunters to focus first on safety this hunting season and then on the game they are pursuing.
"I hope to look back on last year's safety record as an unfortunate anomaly. I think we'll have a much safer season this year," said Crider.
Chronic Wasting Disease
Last deer season, DNR and Board of Animal Health (BOAH) officials collected more than 3,000 tissue samples from hunter-killed deer to test for chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is a serious neurologic disease that affects deer. The disease has been a serious concern for a number of western states for the last several years and has been found in deer in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
No signs of CWD showed up in samples tested from Indiana last year.
"The results are certainly cause for relief, but we still need to stay vigilant in our monitoring for CWD. A CWD-positive deer was found in northern Illinois, just 70 miles from our border," said Glenn Lange, DNR chief of wildlife. "We will focus more of our sampling efforts in the northwest Indiana region and around captive deer farms where deer may have been imported from other states."
Biologists will continue to collect deer tissue samples at many check stations throughout the state this deer hunting season.
For more information about CWD and Indiana's CWD surveillance program, visit http://deerhealth.IN.gov
Deer harvest forecast
Indiana deer biologist Jim Mitchell predicts this year's deer harvest will be similar to last year. There are no changes in statewide bag limits or season lengths this year.
Last year, hunters took 104,428 deer, which was 1 percent more than the previous year, just as Mitchell had predicted. What was slightly unusual, however, was that the number of bucks taken dropped 2 percent while the doe take increased 4 percent.
"This may be the result of the trial one buck bag limit that went into effect last season, though there may have been other factors involved such as the increased license cost and hunter concerns about CWD and West Nile Virus," said Mitchell. "We have seen a trend toward more bucks and a higher percentage of older bucks versus young bucks in the harvest over the past few years."