Fish & Wildlife Proposed Rule Changes
The Natural Resources Commission gave preliminary adoption to rule amendments governing deer hunting and river otter trapping at its meeting on Jan. 23, 2024.
The proposed deer rule amendments can be found online.
Comments on the proposed deer hunting rule amendments can be submitted online, at the public hearings, and by regular mail no later than March 20. The initial public hearing will be held on March 20 between 4 and 8 p.m. ET at the Garrison at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis; you can attend in person or online anytime during that timeframe. To attend the public hearing starting at 4 p.m. on March 20, go to Microsoft Teams and enter Meeting ID: 296 491 887 327, Passcode: xTCuyW
The proposed river otter rule amendments can be found online.
Comments on the proposed river otter trapping rule amendments can be submitted online, at the public hearings, and by regular mail no later than April 11. The public hearing will be held on April 11 between 4 and 8 p.m. ET at the Fort Harrison State Park Inn, Roosevelt Room, located at 5830 North Post Road. in Indianapolis; you can attend in person or online anytime during that timeframe. To attend the public hearing starting at 4 p.m. on April 11, go to Microsoft Teams and enter Meeting ID: Meeting ID: 225 955 437 243, Passcode: xGYyKo
Comments can also be sent by regular mail to:
Natural Resources Commission – Division of Hearings
Indiana Government Center North
100 North Senate Avenue – Room N103
Indianapolis, IN 46204
All public comments are part of the official record and will be included in the hearing officer’s report for review and consideration by the NRC. Once the public comment period has ended and public hearings have been conducted, the NRC will vote on final adoption of any proposed rule changes. The changes must also be approved by the Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s Office before taking effect.
- More Information about the proposed deer hunting rule changes
312 IAC 9-3-2: Creating a single license for archery and crossbow equipment
The DNR proposes to eliminate the crossbow license by allowing individuals who use either a bow and arrow or a crossbow and bolt to purchase an archery license and use either equipment. This change will help reduce confusion and give deer hunters an additional equipment option with the one (1) license. Both licenses are currently allowed during the entire deer archery season, so there is no change to the timeframe in which the licenses can be used. A recent survey of hunters found they were supportive of this change, although some do not consider crossbows to be “traditional” archery equipment. The change should not impact revenue for the DNR because an individual is still required to purchase a license, and most individuals use either a bow and an arrow or a crossbow to hunt, but not both. Since legalizing the use of a crossbow in 2012, less than 1% of resident and nonresident hunters have purchased both a crossbow and an archery license or used both equipment types in the same license year. As for hunters who use the deer license bundle, since 2016 there has never been more than 93 individuals check in a deer under both equipment types in a given year. Given these metrics, it is unlikely that eliminating the crossbow license and allowing crossbow use under an archery license would contribute to a significant revenue effect either from a decrease in archery or crossbow license sales or disincentivizing deer license bundle purchases. It is also unlikely to result in a change in harvest. Currently, individuals who hunt using archery equipment can take an antlered or antlerless deer with an archery or a crossbow license as long as they do not take more than one antlered deer in the regular deer seasons combined; however, the small percentage of individuals who purchase both an archery and a crossbow license could potentially save the cost of one license because a license holder could use either type of equipment on the one archery license.
A question in the 2022 Deer Management Survey asked about combining the archery and crossbow licenses into one license. We received 16,462 responses to this question. Of those, 73% supported this rule proposal (61% strongly supporting; 12% somewhat supporting), 12% were neutral, and 19% opposed (11% strongly opposing; 7% somewhat opposing).
In a 2021 survey, there were 894 archery-only respondents out of 16,462 total respondents (5.4%). Of those, 44% supported this proposal (31% strongly supporting; 13% somewhat supporting), 18% were neutral, and 38% opposed (30% strongly opposing; 8% somewhat opposing).
The DNR recognizes the desire of hunters to keep seasons specific to a type of equipment and to place certain limitations on others who hunt that season. However, the deer program aims to simplify the rules that govern deer hunting so that hunters desiring to enter the sport are less confused by the regulations.
312 IAC 9-3-2: Change the bundle license to one antlered deer and two antlerless deer
The DNR is proposing to change the bundle license to allow hunters to take one buck and two antlerless deer and removing the option of harvesting three antlerless deer. This is being proposed to further simplify regulations for hunters. Landowners and tenants of farmland who are exempt from needing a license to hunt deer on their own farmland would not be affected by this change and neither would resident youth and lifetime license holders. With only a small fraction of hunters using the bundle to harvest three antlerless deer, this will also reflect how the vast majority of hunters use this license.
The DNR asked a question about changing the bundle to allow hunters to only harvest one buck and two does in the 2022 Deer Management Survey. There were 16,374 responses to this question. Of those, 62% of hunters supported the proposed rule (40% strongly supporting), 19% were neutral, 18% opposed (11% strongly opposing).
312 IAC 9-3-2: Creation of the multiple season antlerless deer license
This license will replace the bonus antlerless deer hunting license and allow an individual to take one antlerless deer per license using equipment authorized during the season in which they are hunting.
312 IAC 9-3-2: Creation of a statewide antlerless bag limit
The DNR proposes to create a statewide antlerless bag limit to go along with the current statewide antlered bag limit. This change is being proposed because the current county bonus antlerless quota (CBAQ) system allows individuals to shoot perceived excessive numbers of antlerless deer across multiple counties, if individuals in each county were to take the maximum number of bonus antlerless deer available in each county. The proposed changes to the rules governing deer hunting will allow an individual to still take no more than one antlered deer during the regular deer seasons combined, as is allowed now, but it will also allow them to purchase up to six additional multiple season antlerless deer licenses to take antlerless deer in any of the regular deer seasons (e.g., archery, firearms, and muzzleloader). This is not expected to create a significant change in revenue for the department since there are fewer than 70 individuals that currently take more than seven deer during a regular deer season each year. There are very few, if any, individuals who take the permitted six antlerless deer under the current rules.
Currently, an emergency rule is authorized each year to establish the bonus antlerless deer bag limits per county and other limitations on properties where a bonus antlerless deer may not be taken. The proposed change would not affect military hunts, deer reduction zones, or other special licenses, so hunters will still be able to harvest additional deer if they desire.
The DNR asked a question about limiting the total number of antlerless deer that each hunter can harvest in Indiana to six antlerless deer in the 2022 Deer Management Survey, and there were 17,195 responses. Of those, 74% supported this to some degree (48% of those strongly supporting), 12% were neutral, and 14% opposed (7% opposing; 7% strongly opposing) this proposal.
312 IAC 9-3-2: Changing to the County Bonus Antlerless Quota to a County Antlerless Bag Limit
The DNR’s current bonus antlerless quota (CBAQ) structure is confusing for hunters. Currently, the number of antlerless deer a hunter can harvest in a county includes bag limits for the season types as well as the county bonus antlerless limit. Because there are also individual bag limits for these seasons, hunters often struggle to determine how many antlerless deer they can harvest. Hunters can also make mistakes when purchasing licenses because they may be unaware of the bag limits for the seasons. Therefore, DNR proposes to change the CBAQ to a county antlerless bag limit that will provide a single number for how many antlerless deer can be harvested in a county, regardless of the equipment used to harvest the antlerless deer.
The DNR also asked a question about removing the “bonus” deer designation from rules in the 2022 Deer Management Survey, and there were 16,691 responses to this question. Of those, 64% of hunters supported this rule proposal (37% strongly supporting; 27% somewhat supporting), 24% were neutral, and 12% were opposed (6% opposing; 6% strongly opposing).
312 IAC 9-3-2: Prohibit hunters from harvesting antlerless deer on certain DNR properties with a firearm
Currently, hunters cannot use a bonus antlerless license or take a bonus antlerless deer on Fish & Wildlife areas as well as a few other properties (Mississinewa Lake, Salamonie Lake, Patoka Lake), which are authorized by emergency rule each year when the CBAQ is set. Because of HEA 1623, the DNR can no longer have an emergency rule to establish these county quotas or property limits. In a survey of deer hunters in 2022, hunters were asked their opinion of not allowing antlerless deer to be taken on Fish & Wildlife areas (FWAs) with a firearm. There were 16,478 responses to this question with 54% of hunters supporting this rule proposal (33% strongly supporting; 21% somewhat supporting), 29% were neutral, and 17% opposed this rule (9% strongly opposing; 8% somewhat opposing).
312 IAC 9-3-2: Replacement deer for deer harvested and determined to be unfit for consumption
The DNR proposes a rule that would allow a replacement deer to be taken if a deer that was legally taken and has meat that is unfit for human consumption under 312 IAC 9-3-2(bb). An individual taking a deer that is unfit for human consumption occurs often during deer season, with a peak during firearms season. Currently, department staff examines photographs, evaluates the meat condition based on observations by biologists and conservation officers, or both. A decision is made whether to allow a person to take another deer if the staff determines the deer is inedible based on department guidelines. If an individual is concerned with the condition of an antlerless deer, and there is evidence of systemic infection, department staff allow the individual to take another antlerless deer on the current license used to hunt a deer. The only issue determined by the department is the usability of the meat to the individual. However, when an individual calls regarding the condition of a buck (antlered deer), there is often an issue regarding the desirability of the antlers to that individual. Department staff have found that some individuals who are dissatisfied with the antlers on their buck will call asking to be able to take another buck on their license if they can find something wrong with the carcass. Additionally, some individuals see this as another opportunity to take a second buck if the meat of the first buck is not edible and believe they will get two sets of antlers for the year. If department staff determines that a buck is unfit for human consumption, they are required to make arrangements to collect the antlers. The process is lengthened because the individual must decide if they are willing to live with the antlers, but not have meat from the deer. The willingness of an individual to give up antlers often helps department staff to determine whether the individual is trying to get another opportunity to shoot a second buck, or whether the individual has an honest concern about the condition of the meat. Currently, department staff does not allow individuals who have shot a deer that is unfit for human consumption to keep the antlers. The change would allow DNR staff to offer to replace the meat with an antlerless deer privilege, making the response more uniform for the individual. This approach would replace the meat portion of the deer without needing to take away the antlers on the buck that was taken. If the department suspects a disease, such as bovine tuberculosis, department staff confiscate the whole deer and allow the individual to take another deer on that same license. This process is different from that described previously and will remain in place for a deer the department confiscates for disease reasons.
312 IAC 9-3-3: Allowing .40 caliber muzzleloaders during muzzleloader season
The DNR proposes allowing the use of a .40 caliber muzzleloader, which will allow more individuals to use equipment they currently use to hunt a deer. The deer program has received requests from hunters for this change. The DNR examined the muzzle velocity and energy and found than an example of a .40 caliber muzzleloader (CVA Paramount HTR) loaded to the recommended powder specifications with a 225 grain bullet is capable of a muzzle velocity of greater than 2,600 ft. per second with an energy of greater than 3,500 ft. lbs. At 200 yards, the velocity is still greater than 2,200 ft. per second with approximately 2,300 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy remaining. This is more than enough velocity and energy to kill a deer effectively at over 200 yards with an expanding bullet.
312 IAC 9-3-3: Clarifying two pistol calibers for deer hunting
The DNR proposes to change the language in 312 IAC 9-3-3 to correct the terminology for a .25-20 Winchester and a .32-20 Winchester. This ammunition is currently allowed, but the terms need to accurately reflect the names of the cartridges used by the manufacturers.
312 IAC 9-3-3: Changing the dates for tree stands on public land in Deer Reduction Zones
The current rule that governs when tree stands can be placed and removed on public land does not account for areas where the deer season starts earlier and ends later on public land that is contained within a deer reduction zone. Therefore, the proposed rule change is to allow portable tree stands and ground blinds to be placed on DNR properties between noon on Sept. 1 and Feb. 8. Allowing an individual to set up a stand on Sept. 1 gives the individual time to set up the deer stand prior to the start of the reduction zone season on Sept. 15 and allows the individual to leave it in place on the property until after the season ends Jan. 31. Therefore, these additional dates are proposed to be added in subsection (g) for properties that are in a deer reduction zone.
312 IAC 9-3-3: Allow hunters to retrieve deer using thermal or infrared detectors
Over the past several years, hunters have asked if DNR would allow the use of thermal and infrared detectors to locate and retrieve dead deer. DNR examined this issue and found the current language is inconsistent in that it is the only state law or rule that places a prohibition on equipment or methods used to retrieve a dead deer. 312 IAC 9-3-3 allows methods such as dogs and horses to be used to track or trail a dead deer. This is also consistent with IC 14-22-6-16, which prohibits the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to aid in hunting but allows their use to retrieve a dead wild animal. Therefore, DNR proposes to change this rule to allow the use of this thermal or infrared detectors to retrieve dead deer (but not be used when hunting deer).
312 IAC 9-3-4: Allow youth hunters to take no more than one deer on specific public land
Currently, youth hunters are limited to taking only one antlerless deer on certain department properties during the youth deer season. This rule language has been established by emergency rule in recent years, but HEA 1623 prohibits the use of emergency rules for this purpose, and the DNR proposes to add this to the permanent rule language.
312 IAC 9-3-4: Removal of the ‘A’ designation for County Bonus Antlerless Quotas
The ‘A’ designation was historically used in counties to limit the harvest of bonus antlerless deer to the last half of firearms season. Recent deer population data has shown this is not necessary, especially with the switch from the CBAQ system to using a total antlerless bag limit to each county. All counties are proposed to have a normal antlerless bag limit of at least one deer, and this is not expected to change in the near future.
312 IAC 9-3-4: Adding the Deer Reduction Zones to rule language
Deer reduction zones (DRZs) target areas that have high deer populations and high human density or use, resulting in concerns about deer and vehicle collisions and personal property damage. A DRZ has traditionally been established by an emergency rule to allow for changes as needed annually, but because of HEA 1623-2023, the department may no longer use emergency rules for this purpose. The department designates an area as a DRZ to manage deer conflicts through sport hunting. A DRZ provides individuals with additional opportunities to take a deer in that area. The goal is to reduce conflict between deer and humans, not to eliminate the deer population. Incorporating or increasing hunting helps manage deer populations and increases deer wariness of humans, which can also reduce conflicts.
The smallest deer management unit in the state has traditionally been the county; however, a DRZ allows the department to target areas within a county for management. This should allow a deer population in one part of a county to remain stable or increase while decreasing populations in another part of the same county. The approach coincides with the DNR’s current deer management plan to strategically manage the state’s deer herds. Therefore, in some areas of the state, there should be a larger deer population, while in others the population should be maintained or reduced. A DRZ allows managers to target such areas without reducing deer populations throughout an entire county.
Researchers identified potential areas with high conflict between humans and deer, high deer use by mapping areas with high human density, or high rates of deer and vehicle collisions. Conflicts may include reports of deer damage by landowners, requests for deer damage permits, requests by community leaders, or calls for assistance through our district and urban biologists. The designation process results in two types of DRZs, traditional and corridors. Traditional DRZs are established near or around urban areas and encompass a community. DRZ corridors are created along portions of major roadways to specifically address high rates of deer and vehicle collisions.
The increased allowable antlerless take and lengthened deer reduction zone season means that the individuals who hunt deer can help address problem areas and potentially reduce the need for other measures, such as the use of deer damage permits. DRZs can increase hunting opportunities for deer in urban environments and help alleviate conflicts between humans and deer. The Indiana DNR Deer Program staff recently conducted an analysis to determine the effectiveness of DRZs in reducing deer and vehicle collisions. Department staff found a decrease of deer and vehicle collisions within DRZs of approximately 15% after allowing individuals to take additional deer within DRZs. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of using targeted recreational hunting as a management tool to reduce deer and vehicle collisions.
312 IAC 9-3-4: Removing the bag limits for archery and muzzleloader licenses
The DNR proposes a rule change that would remove the season bag limits for deer taken with muzzleloader and archery license. Individuals would be able to take the number of antlerless deer allowed per county within the proposed new statewide antlerless bag limit using archery and muzzleloader licenses. Allowing an individual to take more than two antlerless deer on archery licenses and more than one antlerless deer on a muzzleloader license would reduce confusion over which license an individual is required to purchase, and how to check in a deer that is taken during a hunt. Much staff time and resources are taken up trying to explain the requirements of a license to an individual, and correcting an accidental mistake made when checking in a deer. This change will result in improved individual service, reduced staff time, and increased understanding the rules without making a change to the harvest.
312 IAC 9-3-2 and 312 IAC 9-3-4: Switching to an Antlerless Bag Limit for each county
Since 2017, county bonus antlerless quotas have been set on an annual basis by emergency rule to allow for changes each year. This is no longer an option under HEA 1623-2023; therefore, the county antlerless bag limits have been added to this rule. These county bag limits are established using the following: information on individual’s desires for the deer population to change from the Annual Deer Management Survey; trends in various deer population indices including deer vehicle collisions, the Archer’s Index, changes in effort to take deer, deer damage permits, and others; professional opinions of wildlife biologists and conservation officers; the effects of disease; and the effects of changes on individuals and the deer population. Most recently, the department has added data about deer density from the Northeastern, East Central, and Southern Deer Management Units (DMUs) from the Purdue Integrated Deer Management Project. Because the county antlerless bag limit will now be a combination of the various equipment bag limits and the county bonus bag limit, department staff used the following method to create the proposed antlerless bag limit for inclusion in the rule:
- Because prior county bonus antlerless quota decisions were based on the data gathered each year, using data from the county data available online.
- Department staff selected “normal” years (i.e., not a COVID year and not an epizootic hemorrhagic disease [EHD] recovery year). Most often, data from 2022 was selected unless a county was still in a recovery period from EHD. In those cases, 2018 was selected as the next best alternative.
- Department staff examined the number of affected individuals and the number of deer that would not be taken at a proposed county bag limit (or the increase the take at a proposed county bag limit).
- Department staff selected a bag limit under which very few hunters (fewer than 10) would be affected by this new bag limit, and a number with which individuals were using the available bag limit. For example, Steuben County could have a higher bag limit based on population data, but staff have observed from experience that individuals will not use additional antlerless deer bag limits even if it is available. The DNR has seen instances in the past where individuals will decrease their personal take if they believe the county bag limit is too high. Therefore, the DNR will keep a designated a county bag limit of three for Steuben rather than a four or five, even though the population would support a higher bag limit.
- Minor changes were made to try to keep the counties similar within Deer Management Units.
- Currently, Franklin County and Fayette County have a low county bag limit to offset the effects of EHD. The department proposes that the county bag limit be one beginning in 2024, and two beginning in 2025. The department will continue to review the data for these counties over time and make changes to get them to their target county bag limit of three for Fayette County and four for Franklin County.
312 IAC 9-3-4 (h): Removing the Late Antlerless Firearm Season
Indiana currently has a firearms season for antlerless deer from Dec. 26 through the first Sunday in January of the next year in counties with a bonus antlerless quota of four or more deer. This rule was initially proposed to try to significantly increase the harvest of antlerless deer, but research on that season found that hunters harvested antlerless deer later in the season in counties where that season is in place. A survey of deer hunters in 2021 found that only 24% of hunters used the season in the previous year and 38% of hunters reported hunting that season in the previous five-year period (see the 2020 Deer Report). When asked what the general level of opposition or support was for that season, the DNR found that 43% of hunters were supportive to some degree, and 27% were opposed to some degree. Therefore, because of the split interest by hunters for this season, the low use by hunters, and its ineffectiveness at changing the deer harvest, the DNR proposes to remove this season.
- More information about the proposed river otter trapping season changes
The proposed changes to the river otter trapping season are as follows: (1) allows river otters to be trapped statewide, rather than by county; and (2) establishes a statewide quota of 750 river otters for the season. There is no change to the number of otters that an individual may trap per season or any other requirements governing river otter trapping in Indiana.
Currently, the river otter trapping season is open in the counties established by emergency rule (i.e., LSA #23-524). Because of the changes made to the Indiana Code under HEA 1623-2023, the department is proposing to allow river otter trapping statewide as well as set forth a statewide quota in permanent rule. The river otter population is estimated based on teeth collected from trapped river otters, which is why maintaining carcass collection is critical, and that component of the current rule has not been proposed to be changed. The DNR closely monitors the river otter population that the citizens of Indiana and the department has worked hard to restore, and the population model is a critical component of that monitoring.
River otter populations have grown since the first river otter trapping season in 2015. The 2021 river otter population estimate was 8,197. A statewide quota of 750 river otters for the trapping season was implemented during the 2021-2022 river otter trapping season and has been maintained for the last several years. DNR staff regularly monitor the population model and other data to assess whether any changes to the bag limit or statewide quota are needed.
Opening the river otter trapping season statewide would provide opportunities for licensed trappers in new areas and allow an opportunity to address emerging river otter damage issues during the season without requiring a permit from the DNR. The statewide quota and individual bag limit will ensure that there will be no negative impacts to the river otter population. Allowing river otters to be trapped statewide will also simplify the rule by making it easier for trappers to understand where they can legally trap river otters during the river otter trapping season.