Brandon Butler: High-Power Rifles Legalized for Deer Hunting

high-power rifles
Photo: National Shooting Sports Foundation

Indiana deer hunters can now use high-power rifles. The General Assembly recently passed House Bill 1231, which expands the calibers legal for deer hunting. Some of those include .243 Winchester, .30-30 Winchester, .300 AAC Blackout, and .30-06 Springfield. Public sentiment has been mixed.

Growing up my deer gun was a 20-gauge shotgun with a smoothbore barrel. It threw knuckleballs at best, and I was lucky to hit a paper plate at 50 yards. It took me four years to kill my first deer. At age 14 I finally took down a doe. It remains one of the proudest moments of my life.

Over time, my hunting firearms evolved with technology. First, I added a rifled barrel to my shotgun. Then, I moved to an inline muzzleloader. Lastly, I added a .44 caliber pistol-cartridge rifle to my mix. Each offered improved accuracy, with the muzzleloader providing the greatest advantage by extending my range to 200 yards. These high power rifles take accuracy and range to a whole new level.

Deer hunters are a passionate bunch. Some are very much in favor of this change, while others are vehemently against it. I fall somewhere in the realm of indifferent. My biggest concern was the legislature messing around with hunting regulations. After all, they did just vote to allow for the expansion of canned hunting, which is in my opinion the equivalent of flipping the bird to everyone who considers himself or herself a conservationist.

I needed to know why the legislature felt the need to take up an issue that is so squarely the business of the DNR. To find the answer, I called the bill sponsor, Representative Lloyd Arnold of the 74th District and asked him. His reasoning was fairly simple: inaction.

“I’m in my fourth year as a state representative, and this was an issue I was interested in when elected,” Rep. Arnold said. “My first year, I went to the DNR and told them I was considering filing this bill. Well, the DNR told me they were going to look at this administratively and asked I allow them to do so. I agreed. A couple of years went by, and the DNR had not made a decision.”

Representative Lloyd told me that he’s a big deer hunter, and that while waiting for the DNR to make the their decision, the overwhelming majority of the people he spoke with about the issue were in favor of using rifles for deer hunting. When the DNR came to him and told him they were not going to expand the list of legal rifles for deer hunting, he told them that he was going to move forward with his bill.

“This bill was voted on unanimously by the House, and that’s because there was no opposition to it as it moved through the process. No one testified against the version of the bill that passed. One guy testified against the Senate version, because he didn’t want to have to be 10 feet up a tree to hunt. Otherwise, there was no opposition.” Rep. Arnold said.

There is a growing contingent of deer hunters who are upset with the management of the state’s deer herd. They feel the population is crashing. There has been a rather steep decline in harvest in recent history, and we are still waiting on the official total of last year’s harvest. Some feel these rifles will cause the trend to continue.

The decline in deer population is complex. First and foremost, you have the liberal bonus doe tags. Go back in time 75 years; Indiana’s deer population was decimated. It took a long time to restore the herd. But once the population reached the correct carrying capacity for the landscape, the deer kept reproducing and the herd kept growing. In parts of the state, overpopulation became a major problem. To bring the number back down, the DNR began allowing the liberal harvest of does.

Then enter EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) into the equation. This devastating disease significantly affected the DNR deer management plan with severe outbreaks in 2012 and again in 2013 that led to a massive number of deer dying. This happened all over the Midwest.

EHD is primarily spread by a biting midge. These midges are found around water sources. They lay their eggs in muddy, marshy areas and spend their larva stage in water. The life cycle of these midges is approximately 4–5 weeks, so in years of intense hatches, the midge population becomes overly abundant. EHD outbreaks cause significant mortality.

Hunters were subtly seeing the results of the planned deer number reductions in certain areas, but when the most horrific outbreak of EHD in recorded history occurred, the reductions quickly went too far. Certain areas of the state lost a significant percentage of their herds. There was nothing that could be done to stop it. The good news is, EHD comes and goes. This isn’t a chronic disease, like CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) that infiltrates a herd and slowly spreads, always leading to mortality. EHD is more like a plague. It hits hard and the results are devastating, but then it’s over. And hopefully conditions won’t lead to another severe outbreak in the near future.

In my opinion, Indiana needs to reduce the number of does hunters may harvest, and hunters need to take it upon themselves to not fill every available tag. And, all Hoosier deer enthusiasts need to cross their fingers and hope EHD doesn’t rear its ugly head again anytime soon. I personally don’t foresee allowing rifles to cause a dramatic impact on the deer population. Hunters can choose how many deer they kill.

While there is no denying that agriculture organizations and insurance companies are usually supportive of reducing deer populations, Representative Llyod said neither had any influence on his bill.

“Some people out there try to claim it had something to do with insurance lobbyists influencing legislators. I never spoke to a single insurance company lobbyist about this,” he said. “I filed this bill because hunters told me they wanted it.”

This fall, I’ll be in the woods with a wooden bow in my hand. If I don’t tag my buck during archery season, I’ll likely take to the field with my grandpa’s old Remington. Either way, I hope to fill my one buck tag.

For more information about the new rifle regulations, visit http:
www.in.gov/dnr/

Brandon Butler
Long-time outdoor writer and native Hoosier Brandon Butler lives in Missouri and serves as the Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. Previously, he worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as Governor Mitch Daniels’ liaison to the department, Director of Sales and Marketing for Dominator365 and as the Marketing Manager Battenfeld Technologies, Inc.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Did you ask him why rifles are not allowed on public lands? If in your opinion it will not substantially increase harvest, why the distinction? I cannot think of any other weapon restrictions that are placed on public land hunting vs private land.

  2. I did not ask him that, but that is a good question. I assume, since public lands are open to multi-use, he’ll say safety. I’ll try to get his answer and post it here.

  3. With this new regulation on firearms. When does it take affect? I had a feeling this was going to happen I just didn’t think this soon. This past December I purchased a Thompson .308 to use in Tennesse for deer hunting. They have such a long season. Do you see DNR in Indiana extending our season?

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