Some Indiana hunters looking forward to using their rifles in the upcoming deer season may have run up against a wall. In a recently released memo, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stated that it does not recommend approving a proposal that would allow hunters to use larger-caliber centerfire rifles, citing a lack of support among hunters and heavy opposition to the rule change. The decision ultimately rests in the hands of the state’s Natural Resources Commission, but according to the Indianapolis Star, those who have followed the controversial proposal say the 12-member board is likely to follow the DNR’s recommendation.
Indiana currently allows only muzzleloaders, shotguns, and a limited range of rifle calibers to be used to hunt deer. State regulations specifically prohibit the use of any centerfire rifle caliber bigger than .243. Large-caliber rifles are legal for harvesting small game like coyotes and groundhogs, but have long been prohibited during deer season due to worries that it could lead to over-harvest and threaten public safety.
Despite these concerns, the DNR had already previously determined that the use of centerfire rifles should not reduce the size of the deer herd, and a survey of the many states that allow similar rifles also showed that safety is not generally a concern. Instead, the agency said that the debate over the use of centerfire rifles is a social issue.
“The Division of Fish and Wildlife surmised from all of the comments that while many people are interested in using these center-fire [sic] rifles, we found out that many people are not interested and strongly oppose their use,” the DNR wrote.
Officials say that the issue has caused a rift among hunters. Some sportsmen believe that due to the flat topography of central and northern Indiana, larger-caliber centerfire rifles do pose a safety hazard. In addition, they argued that the use of centerfire rifles may further restrict hunter access, especially in towns sensitive about gun safety. On the other hand, supporters of the proposal say that these kinds of rifles are already used in many other states for hunting deer, can be more ethical due to their greater power, and are easier for new hunters to use.
One of the advocates for allowing the use of larger-caliber centerfire rifles is none other than rock star and hunter Ted Nugent.
“I think the legalization of center-fire [sic] rifles in old age shotgun-only zones is a great upgrade for the deer hunters of those states and long overdue,” Nugent posted to his Facebook page in March.
Deer hunting is popular in Indiana, and last season saw more than 260,000 hunters take to the woods in the hope of bagging some venison.