INDIANAPOLIS – It’s the first white-tailed deer season for Indiana’s high-fenced facilities since lawmakers legalized them this year.
And the new paperwork, inspections and regulations have begun without a hitch.
"It’s been a very smooth transition," said Dr. Shelly Chavis, field veterinarian for the Indiana Board of Animal Health. "Just knowing it’s legal has put everyone at ease. They know we aren’t going to shut them down tomorrow."
So far, nine entities have been licensed by the board as a "Captive Cervidae Hunting Preserve." They are in Whitley, Huntington, Boone, Marshall, Harrison, Kosciusko, Blackford, Miami and Decatur counties.
Several have existed for years under a longtime lawsuit. Others are new to the business.
Legislators in March passed the bill making legal the practice of shooting does or high-priced bucks with large racks behind a fence. That bill put an end to the unknown that had dogged the industry since 2005 when the Department of Natural Resources tried to shut the entities down, saying they never had legal grounds.
As part of the new law, the DNR is no longer involved. Instead, the Board of Animal Health handles the facilities.
"They are really informative and work with you. You can call them and they make things easier," said Ken McIntosh, who owns South Ranch Hunting Preserve in Pierceton. "BOAH is the best entity to work with in terms of the government."
He said everyone is working together to make sure the industry is safe, and it will help both small businesses and taxpayers.
Each preserve had to pay a $300 licensing fee, and the hunting season runs from Sept. 1 to March 1.
The location must have at least 100 acres if it is a new facility or 80 acres if it existed in 2015. Each preserve must have a fence at least 8 feet high and not more than 6 inches above the ground. Animals may not be hunted within 24 hours of sedation or within 150 yards of an artificial feeding site.
The nine preserves range between 80 acres and 800 acres. A few of the newer facilities have no deer yet – wild deer must be cleared out and then privately raised deer are purchased from state deer farms.
Other preserves have between 10 and 195 deer.
A special hunting permit costs $120.75 for a buck and $60.75 for a doe, sheep or goat. But hunters don’t have to buy the permit unless they successfully kill an animal. This is unlike cheaper state permits hunters use in the wild that are purchased ahead of time.
Chavis said the agency inspected each preserve when issuing a license. Each preserve will have an annual inspection but others might occur if there is a complaint or other concern.
The biggest job for the board is to ensure there is no spread of disease among the deer. The agency has been testing deer on the existing preserves while the legalities were up in the air.
Veterinarians are largely looking for chronic-wasting disease – a fatal disease that has not yet come to Indiana but could decimate herds. Chavis said the preserves take samples from every animal harvested on the facility that is more than 1 year old, as well as any animal that dies naturally.
The disease cannot be found in a live animal.
The other big concern is bovine tuberculosis, which was recently found for the first time in Indiana in a wild white-tailed deer in Franklin County. That finding has kicked into gear testing of local cattle herds to try to stop any spread.
Chavis said all deer are tested for TB before being added to a herd because TB can be detected in live deer.
There have been no positive tests from the preserves though some results are still at the lab. That includes two escaped does from Blackford County. A logger on adjacent land left a gate open and the two deer were captured and killed for testing.
So far only three preserves have reported hunting though Chavis said at least two others have had hunts and haven’t filed paperwork yet.
In September and October, 24 animals were taken collectively. Ten of those were on McIntosh’s land.
Rodney Bruce has been at the forefront of the fight for more than a decade and feels that "we finally achieved a win-win for everybody involved."
He said the season is busiest in late November and December when it’s mating season and animals are moving. His Harrison County preserve should have between 70 or 80 hunts this season and up to 100 next year.
That’s partly because he can advertise and "with absolute certainty know that we are going to be in business."
Bruce says that means lots of income for the state and the businesses.