Hunting season

Deer hunters to take over
Clifty Falls State Park
in annual deer reduction

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (November 2004) – Most days of the year, Clifty Falls State Park is open for the public to take a drive or a stroll through and view the natural beauty and wildlife. The ecological balance between plants and animals that makes the park so enjoyable, however, is something that requires maintenance. This is why the park, which normally does not allow hunters, closes its gates to the public on four days of the year for a controlled deer hunt.
The hunt is not recreational but takes place in order to help reduce or maintain the deer population in the park that could double in size in as little as two years if not regulated.
“Every parcel of land has a carrying capacity and when an animal exceeds that capacity the population cannot sustain itself,” said Dick Davis, the park’s naturalist. “With no natural predators, the animal eats itself out of house and home.”
This year’s statewide deer reduction is scheduled for Nov. 15-16 and Nov. 29-30, and Clifty Falls is among the 17 state parks that will participate. On these days, there is no public access to the park.
Indiana state parks first began deer population reduction in 1993 with a one-day reduction at Brown County State Park. In 1994 the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation requiring the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to order a hunt when a species of animal, when left unregulated, would severely damage the ecosystem of the park.
The DNR has since adopted the scientific research model of Dr. George Parker, a Purdue University professor of forest ecology, to measure the damage to a parks ecosystem due to overpopulation of deer and to determine a schedule for deer herd reductions. These reductions are designed to allow for restoration to the natural balance to the park.
“This hunt is a management action and the hunters are considered volunteers to the state of Indiana who are making a contribution toward sound resource management,” Davis said.
Each year, the DNR takes applications from qualified hunters in Indiana to participate in the herd reduction. Applications were collected through September and placed into a lottery drawing held in October by the DNR to determine which hunters would be among the 130 selected to hunt Clifty Falls. Applicants are required to be Indiana residents and be at least 18 years of age. After a deer is killed, the hunter must take the animal to the check station at the park office so its age, weight, and sex can be recorded. The hunter must hold a valid resident hunting license to take deer.
Safety is a top priority for the DNR, and because of this Clifty Falls is one of the two state parks restricted to archery hunting due to its urban location. It is also required that all shots be taken from an elevated position, so that the hunter is shooting toward the ground to avoid stray shots. In addition, archers who have completed the International Bow-hunter Educations Program receive preference over those who have not. These precautions seem to be effective; no injuries have ever resulted from a hunt at Clifty Falls.
What has resulted is restoration of the vegetation throughout the grounds, and in turn, a positive impact on every animal that makes the park its home. According to Davis, the park is seeing the return of many spring wildflowers and the trees and new growth that had become food in past years are now able to live and grow.
The park itself is not the only area affected when the deer herds are overpopulated. According to Andy Crozier, Conservation Officer with the Indiana DNR, residents living near the boundaries of the park could not even grow shrubs or flowers in their yards before the population reduction began.
“I would receive numerous calls from residents complaining about the deer coming out into their yards and eating their gardens and bushes,” he said. “I don’t receive any complaints anymore. It benefits both the park and the community.”

• For information visit: www.state.in.us/dnr. For information about dates and times of park closings, call the Clifty Falls State Park office at (812) 273-8885.

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge

Big Oaks is a deer hunter’s dream
in annual hunting season

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (November 2004) – Deer hunting helps maintain the population and control the destruction of ecosystems due to overpopulation, however, it is also a popular sport. In the 1980s, when the U.S. Army operated the Jefferson Proving Ground, where what is now Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, nobody hunted the land, and the deer population soared. There is only so much vegetation that can grow in one area, and if there are more deer than there is food, the deer, the vegetation and the entire ecosystem within the park will suffer.


Photo by Don Ward

Hunters weighing in on their big kill.

“One way of monitoring deer is by looking at their weight. At that time the deer were small, some were the size of a collie,” said Joe Robb, refuge manager at the 58,000-acre Big Oaks.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began managing the wildlife resources of the land in 1996. In 2000, the service established the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, making it a part of the nation’s Wildlife Refuge System, a set of lands and water set aside to be protected and managed for wildlife.
Part of protecting and managing the wildlife means controlling the population of animals so that no one species becomes detrimental to the other living things in the park. Big Oaks is one local wildlife area that accommodates sportsman while at the same time accommodating its own need of maintaining the deer population.
Each year, refuge officials coordinate with Indiana state officials to establish how much hunting is necessary to maintain a healthy deer population. There are state-drawn hunts and local-drawn lotteries that determine who will be invited to hunt at Big Oaks. This year, the refuge is holding 15 hunting days in October and November, including a “youth hunt” on Nov. 5-6. The youth hunt at Big Oaks is a unique opportunity because the Indiana State Parks’ deer reduction hunts (such as the one at Clifty Falls State Park in Madison) do allow anyone under age 18 to participate. The youth must have completed all of the state-required safety regulations to be eligible and must have an adult guide. The youth is the only one permitted to hunt on these days, however, both the youth and the guide must attend a refuge safety briefing. Each hunting day the refuge hosts up to 420 hunters, Robb said. Getting that number of hunters is not a problem.
“This is a wonderful place to hunt,” Robb said. “People come from 20 states to hunt here, and the hotels in Madison fill up as a result of the hunts.”
One thing that attracts hunters to the Big Oaks is its issuing of the Military Refuge Tag. This tag is issued in addition to the regular state tags (each deer shot must be tagged as a way for state wildlife officials to be able to regulate how many deer each hunter is allowed to shoot and keep).


Photo by Don Ward

Hunters packing in their deer
for the ride home.

Using the Military Refuge Tag at the refuge to allows hunters an extra deer not regularly permitted by the state. In addition, while hunting at the refuge, hunters can shoot one buck (male deer) that does not count against the single buck allowed by the state. Currently, refuge officials are working on increasing the doe (female deer) population in the park so that the population of does and bucks will be about even. Right now, Robb said that the refuge holds about 60 percent bucks. Allowing hunters an extra buck will help to even the population.
All of these special regulations are in place to aid the refuge in keeping the deer population under control. Hunters harvest about 600-800 deer each season, according to Robb, who said that the ecosystem in the refuge benefits greatly as a result.
“When there are too many deer, it degrades the habitat. The hunting we allow has a positive impact on everything in the park, including birds, reptiles, other amphibians, mammals and plants.”
He added that there is no browse line (a visible line where the deer have fed) anymore, and plants previously eaten back each year by the deer now flourish and grow.

• For more information about visiting or hunting at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, visit: http://midwest.fws.gov/bigoaks/index.htm or call (812) 273-0783.

Back to November 2004 Articles.



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