The Indiana Deer Rifle Controversy

As a Hoosier deer hunter, depending on your particular viewpoint and degree of self-interest, the sky is either falling or blue as the sapphire sparkle of a kitten’s eye.

Last week governor Mike Pence signed HB1231 which legalized several common high-power rifle cartridges for deer hunting on private land during the 2016 deer firearms season. On the face of it, we’ll admit that it’s pretty exciting news that puts Indiana on par with many other states that have a “traditional” rifle deer season. But, as with most things, the devil is in the details.

We’re not officially on record -yet- as opposing this law but there are some issues that need to be resolved before we can feel better about this latest political overreach into game laws.

Therein lays problem #1: the legislature ignored the findings of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The DNR concluded last year after many public meetings that deer rifles weren’t a pressing need for this state. A sizable minority with loud voices did want rifles approved but the Natural Resources Commission decided there was no compelling reason or overwhelming demand to make the change.

Apparently some voices are well-connected because they just walked down the hall and spoke to State Rep. Lloyd Arnold from southern Indiana. The request resulted in HB1231.

The second problem is the biggest: no one knows what effect this will have on deer numbers. Common sense would suggest that the deer harvest will increase substantially due to increased hunter interest and the use of longer-range weapons.

As DNR numbers prove, and most hunters have noticed, Indiana’s deer herd is down in recent years. Most believe this is by design as the powerful Indiana insurance and farming lobbies regard deer as nothing but vermin that eat crops and cause automobile accidents. Liberalized bag limits and a reduced deer herd are the result of pressure on law makers.

If you doubt such a conspiracy theory, ask any state game official about it point blank and then call us if you get a straight answer.

I have and you won’t. It’s not their fault because, naturally, they’d like to hold onto their (thankless and low-paying) jobs for another year.

So, once again, the legislature has helped out special interests and all deer hunters may suffer in the long run.

One issue that opponents raise is safety. There is concern, especially in the flat topography of northern Indiana, there will be an increase in hunting accidents due to the greatly increased range of rifles.

We’re inclined to disagree on this. Of course, one accident is too much but wherever there is hunting, there will be bad luck compounded by human stupidity. We predict there will be more media coverage of hunting accidents but that overall numbers will remain steady or climb only slightly.

Another problem is that the law isn’t written very well. There are five “cartridges” that are legal: .243, .30-30, .300, .30-06, .308. Technically speaking, the “.300” isn’t a cartridge per se. We assume the lawmakers mean the .300 Winchester Magnum, a common long-distance hunting and target round but the number could theoretically include literally dozens of other cartridges with “300” in the title. It’s not a trivial distinction when dealing with law.

Moreover, the bill also leaves out some very popular cartridges such as the .270 Winchester, one of the most popular deer rounds in the country. If we’re allowing the somewhat overpowered .300 WM, why not permit the 7mm Remington Magnum? We could go on and on but again it’s not trivial if your favorite (or only) hunting rifle is a .25-06 or a grandpa’s trusty lever gun in .35 Remington.

Finally and personally, our biggest concern is the wounding factor. We have railed for years about the rotten state of marksmanship as witnessed by the carnage at the butcher shop and deer check stations.

As rifles are effective at longer distances, hunters will be tempted to take shots that they are not capable of making. This means those 400-yard shots that wouldn’t be taken with a shotgun will probably be attempted with a rifle and it is a fairly rare shooter who can actually make a one-shot kill at such distance. Speaking as a former precision rifle instructor, the limiting accuracy factor of most rifles is the operator rather than the equipment.

That makes it imperative that the many Indiana deer hunters who have never hunted with a centerfire rifle must make a commitment to spend this summer on the firing range with their new gun.

Ultimately, like many other folks, we’ll probably start hunting with a rifle during the 2016 deer season. Yet, in spite of the enjoyment of the day, we will continue to wonder what the future will bring.

As always, be careful what you wish for.

LINK: Read HB1231 for yourself