The decision of an Indiana judge may soon allow hunters in the Hoosier state to hunt at fenced deer preserves. According to the Indianapolis Star, Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Evans ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) went beyond its authority in 2005 when it banned the operations. The judge reasoned that since deer at these facilities are privately owned, they cannot be regulated by the DNR. The issue is a controversial one in Indiana and many other states, but plaintiff Rodney Bruce says it is a major victory after years of legal battles.
“There were only four (high-fence preserves) active in the state until yesterday,” Bruce said earlier this week. “With this ruling, others can open now.”
Bruce, who owns the 116-acre Whitetail Bluff in Harrison County, has already sunk over $100,000 into legal fees since 2005. His hopes are that the DNR will evaluate the judge’s ruling and not file for appeal. Supporting him is the National Federation of Independent Business, which advocated for a high-fence hunting bill earlier this year.
The issue of preserve hunting has split opinions among hunters. While many sportsmen see high-fence facilities as an opportunity for quality hunts, others are concerned that these operations could spread illnesses such as chronic wasting disease (CWD). Opponents of hunting preserves say that these facilities often move animals between states, which could put Indiana’s native herds at risk. Other hunters believe that hunting within a preserve brings up certain ethical issues.
Preserve owners counter these points, saying that their facilities are large enough to constitute fair chase and security measures prevent captive deer from escaping. Currently more than 380 licensed game breeders operate inside the state, producing roughly 6,000 deer per year.
A DNR spokesperson has said that the department is disappointed in the decision and the agency will be reviewing its options.
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service