HUNTINGBURG — Jason Messmer of Pike County remembers seeing 10 deer a day on his land prior to 2008. Now, he said, he barely sees one.
Messmer, who deer hunts in both Dubois and Pike counties, attributes the population drop to the epizootic hemorrhagic disease that hit the deer herd in 2008 and to the bonus antlerless deer the Indiana Department of Natural Resources allows hunters to kill each year. Messmer and several other hunters gathered Wednesday for the first Dubois County Deer Advisory Council meeting to voice their concerns about the shrinking deer population in the area.
“These (bonus antlerless deer quotas) are in my opinion out of this world high and need to be dropped,” Messmer said.
The Dubois County Deer Advisory Council consists of stakeholders from several industries that are interested in what happens to the local deer herd. The goal for the council is to have a representative from the transportation, agriculture, forestry, insurance, law and tourism industries on the council, as well as at least three deer hunters, representatives from local hunting clubs and non-hunters. The plan is for the council to meet annually after each deer season, sometime in the first three months of the year and take stock of the deer herd. Local hunters and other stakeholders will be able to attend the meetings and share their experiences from the season: Did they see more deer than usual, less or the same number? From there, the council can discuss the best way to manage the herd and pass that input to the DNR.
“You all are stakeholders,” Rick Pflanz, a member of the council, told attendees. “We’re here to hear your voice and disseminate that info to Indianapolis.”
The council is focusing on managing the deer herd through the bonus antlerless quotas that allow additional does above regular quotas to be killed during the hunting season. Under 2016 quotas, hunters were allowed to kill one antlered deer — or buck — throughout the entire hunting season, up to two antlerless deer during archery season and one antlerless deer during muzzleloader season. Hunters could kill up to three antlerless deer total over the entire hunting season. The bonus antlerless deer quota allows each hunter to kill additional does during the season, and the quota varies county to county. In 2016, each hunter with a Dubois County license was allowed an additional four does. The majority of attendees at the Dubois County Deer Advisory Council agreed that an additional four is too many. According to an online survey the council is running and an in-person vote at the meeting last night, 141 of the 151 respondents favored lowering the bonus antlerless deer quota, with the majority of those in favor of only one bonus deer allowed.
The online survey will remain open until Wednesday, April 26 and can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/HZ2W9HV. The council will hold its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at Reflections in Huntingburg, 1408 N. Main Street.
The Dubois County Deer Advisory Council is part of the pilot program for deer advisory councils in Indiana. The idea for the program originated with Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management, a statewide group dedicated to preserving the deer herd and the sport of deer hunting for generations to come. Matt Barton of Wabash County started Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management with a Facebook group two years ago. Now the group has grown to have more than 18,700 Facebook followers and is influential with state legislators, including Jasper native and State Sen. Mark Messmer, who helped IWDHM get permission to start the county councils.
Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management got the idea for the county councils from Wisconsin. Barton said Wisconsin has had an advisory council in each county for years and has seen success. The organization got permission to set up a pilot program in Indiana this year. So far, the group has set up 10 county deer advisory councils.
Gary Walters with Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management encouraged attendees of Wednesday’s meeting to contact legislators and share their opinion on county deer advisory councils. Right now, he said, IWDHM is fighting for the councils to exist and for the DNR to take input from the councils seriously.
“Whether you like it or not,” he said, “this is a political problem.”