Indiana Governor Mike Pence ended a contentious 11-year debate on Tuesday when he signed into law Senate Bill 109, which officially legalized the hunting of captive deer. Known also as high-fenced hunting or “canned hunting” by its critics, the issue of captive hunting in the Hoosier State has been the subject of much controversy and a long-running court case.
According to the Journal Gazette, there are currently believed to be seven captive deer facilities in the state: in Harrison, Blackford, Decatur, Miami, Whitley, Marshall, and Kosciusko counties. In 2005, there were more than a dozen in operation, but the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ordered them to shut down, due in part to concern over the spread of infectious diseases like chronic wasting disease. The owners of the hunting preserves countered with a lawsuit, arguing that the DNR had no authority over privately-owned wild animals. Last February, a three-judge panel with the Indiana Court of Appeals ended the decade-long legal battle by siding with the high-fence hunting facilities and ruled that the DNR went beyond its authority.
The decision was widely criticized by state conservationists as well as a significant number of hunters, who say they are opposed to high-fenced hunting due to ethical reasons. Some hunters also worry that captive hunting could endanger the state’s wild deer population, which contributes roughly $200 million in economic impact each year. A number of animal rights groups also opposed captive hunting, adding that some facilities are not large enough to give the animals enough space and that deer are not treated well.
These are criticisms that the captive deer facilities fiercely deny. Supporters of the industry say that the animals have ample space, and that the hunt is a genuine fair chase experience. The industry also benefits the high number of deer breeders in the state, and opens up many new jobs. As for the big racks that traditional hunters often look down on, supporters say there is nothing wrong with it at all.
“They breed it for what the market demands,” John Newsom, regional manager for the Indiana Farm Bureau, told the South Bend Tribune. “That’s what people are wanting, a strong healthy male deer with a big set of horns on him.”
Instead of being managed by the DNR, captive deer hunting is now set to be regulated by the state Board of Animal Health, which is the same department that oversees livestock. Under the new law, which is effective immediately, new high-fence facilities must have a minimum of 100 acres with fences at least eight feet high. Current facilities will only have to meet a 80-acre requirement. There is currently no limit on how many animals can be kept within that space.