ANDERSON – Sportsmen and sportswomen across Indiana are preparing their equipment as chilly weather signals the coming of firearms season for deer hunting.
Along with their rifles, camouflage jackets and bright orange toboggans, each hunter in Indiana also packs a license and deer tag. The fees hunters pay each year for licenses help assure that others Hoosiers can enjoy the state’s natural resources.
The majority of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' revenue comes from hunting and fishing license fees, and each year between half and two thirds of that money is strictly from deer hunting, said Mitch Marcus, chief of wildlife for DNR's Division of Fish & Wildlife.
With that money, Marcus said, the DNR is “managing habitat and species and providing for opportunism for folks to view those (species)."
"The habitat work they (the DNR) do provides for better water, healthy soil; every Hoosier benefits from that.”
For every licensed hunter in Indiana, the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife receives $48 in federal funding, and for every licensed angler, the program receives $10 in federal funding.
“So a $17 license fee really stretches out to $27 or $65 in conservation funding,” Marty Benson, a DNR spokesman said. “A $25 hunt/fish combo contributes $83 in conservation funding.”
With 867,000 people hunting and fishing across the state in 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available, those dollars add up.
In the same year, hunters spent $924 million on hunting goods, equipment and travel in Indiana and paid more than $103 million in local taxes, according to a report compiled by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. With 391,700 hunters in 2011, that’s at least $10,575,900 in conservation funding, according to the report.
To put it in another perspective, the number of Hoosier hunters in 2011 could fill the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than three times.
“Indiana sportsman and women have long been contributing to the economy,” Marcus said. “People are pretty surprised when they see the size of the numbers.”
A portion of the funds, along with entrance fees and camping fees, pay for programs and upkeep at state parks.
Joe Key, a deer hunter and owner of Crack Shot Guns in Anderson, is proud to tell hikers and campers that hunters like him help to fund state parks and other conservation efforts.
“I don’t think a lot of people who strap on a pair of boots and go see the majestic beauty of nature, realize that it's hunters who funded that,” he said.
He also meets people who don’t agree with hunting, or see it as taking away from the natural world because they kill wild animals.
Key doesn’t dispute that, but for him its all about natural balance.
“Scientists have figured out how much we can take that doesn’t impact the herds,” he said.
In Indiana, hunters are restricted to hunting during certain seasons, as well as limits on the number of animals they can take, to ensure the deer population is sustainable.
“Wildlife conservation in this country is a real good example of a system for animal conservation and management,” Marcus said.
Deer hunting does more than fund wildlife conservation. It also reduces the damage done to Hoosier crops.
Though the amount of crop damage attributed to deer changes year-over-year and among localities, they can decimate areas where deer populations have grown out of control.
Although fencing or non-lethal deterrents can be effective, Marcus said controlled hunting is the most effective way to reduce deer populations to a level that keeps herds viable while reducing crop damage.
More visible to most Hoosiers is the estimated 29,000 injuries and 200 human fatalities caused each year by deer-related vehicle accidents nationally.
A 2009 survey of Indiana residents in three major cities found 39 percent of people or their immediate family members had previously been involved in a deer-vehicle accident, according to the DNR’s Urban Deer Technical Guide.
The Indiana Department of Transportation reported an average of about 16,700 deer killed by vehicles per year in Indiana between 2006 and 2010. Many accidents go unreported, and the actual number likely exceeds 30,000, according to the report.
Along with striking a natural balance, hunting and fishing is something far simpler to Key.
“For me, it’s like going to church,” he said.
He described his most recent deer hunt last year. It was unsuccessful by typical standards; he didn’t bag a deer. But it’s a day he won’t soon forget.
“I was up in a tree, snow is falling all over me, ice is forming on my hat,” he described. “Here come these little deer. I watched them play, then they settle in for a nap right there on the forest floor.
“You do connect in a primal way.”