For baby boomers, their parents and their grandparents, growing up in Indiana presented few opportunities to hunt or even see a wild deer. Hunting was dominated by hunters with hunting dogs that sniffed out rabbits, quail and coons, and some even bragged about dogs that would point out squirrels.
A good hunting dog was the source of great pride among hunters. The sound of beagles howling and coon dogs baying or the sight of a setter pointing out a covey of quail were ingrained in the memories of hunters from that time. The occasional deer track was an oddity that was inspected with great interest. A coon dog that went off the scent of a raccoon and chased the exotic scent of a deer was reason for great concern.
“When I was a youngster, there were no deer in the area,” local naturalist Harold Allison said. “Now, they come up in my backyard.”
Allison explained that the loss of habitat, along with over hunting for food and for commercial selling of the meat decimated the deer population, along with a lot of other wildlife.
Fast forward to 2018 and Hoosier baby boomers through youngsters have their sights set on hunting deer, and many of them will be fortunate enough to not only see one, but to bag one too. This change in hunting dynamics is the direct result of the State of Indiana’s historic efforts to reintroduce deer back into their native habitat of Indiana.
Eight-year-old Olivia Coleman bagged her first deer recently. She was hunting with her papaw Kurt Coleman from Washington.
“When I shot the deer, Papaw was so happy he was about to cry,” said Olivia, adding that this was her first time hunting, but that she had been practicing with her crossbow every time they came to their cabin.
Olivia’s dad, Kory Coleman, explained that he got her the crossbow last Christmas, and that their cabin is in Stendal in Pike County.
“My heart was pounding. Dad is going to mount it too,” she said, adding that her dad had a special t-shirt made that said ‘Olivia’s first deer.’
“When I told my friends at school they went, ‘Woa! So cool! Wow!.’” Olivia, who is in the third grade at Brownsburg and is the granddaughter of Kurt and Donna Coleman and the daughter of Kory and Erin Coleman.
Kory Coleman said that the deer are plentiful down around Stendal, but he hasn’t got one yet, explaining that he is pretty particular about what he shoots at and he is hoping for a big buck.
“Hunting has been a big part of our lives,” said Coleman, adding that it is about the camaraderie and about the memories we are making.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, before the modern day deer hunts, the reported last wild white tail deer kill was made in Indiana in Knox County in 1893, about 85 years after the last of the buffalo were seen in Indiana. Between 1934 and 1942 deer were purchased from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina and released in south central Indiana. A total of 296 deer were purchased for release during that time. By 1943 the number of deer in Indiana was estimated at 900. In 1951 Indiana held its first deer hunt in 58 years, a three day event in November of that year. In the mid-50s another 111 deer were released in Sullivan and Ripley counties. In 1975 there were 9000 deer harvested in Indiana. By contrast, in 2017 there were 113,595 deer harvested by hunters in Indiana. Locally in 2017 there were 957 harvested in Daviess County, 907 in Knox, 1429 in Pike and 1776 in Martin County.
Local hunter Ethen Wagler, from Washington, has been bow hunting this season on private property and has yet to bag a deer.
“I am not shooting at any does this year,” he explained, adding that he feels like the deer populations are down, at least in the area where he is hunting. “I have trail cameras out and have seen a lot of deer moving, but not so much in the daytime.”
Wagler started hunting about 18 years ago.
“I was about 10 years old when I got interested in deer hunting, I picked it up from my friends,” Wagler said, adding that his wife, Macie, now hunts too. “She has bagged two bucks in years past.”
According to Deer Research Biologist for the State of Indiana, Joe Caudell, this year promises to be another good year for deer hunting. Bow hunters have already been in the field since October 1, and as of the 1st week of November, 188 deer have been harvested in Daviess County by archers. This is almost identical to last season when 185 were harvested during the same time period. Firearm season starts today, and these hunters should expect the same success as the archers.
“Indiana has a thriving and healthy deer population in most areas,” said Caudell adding that hunters should not be concerned about over hunting deer as more need to harvested to maintain a healthy population. He also stated that no cases of chronic wasting disease has ever been found in wild deer in Indiana, and that EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) has not infested Indiana wild deer since 2012.
Reintroduction programs like that of the deer have now resulted in wild turkeys being plentiful in Indiana, and one can boat up and down the White River in Daviess County and see eagles quite often now.
“I almost cried the first time I saw a deer,” said local naturalist Harold Allison, adding that he saw that first deer in the Hoosier National Forest along the Ohio River many years ago.