By Lesley Weidenbener
INDIANAPOLIS – The House approved legislation Monday to legalize five fenced deer-hunting preserves that have been operating under a court injunction since 2005 when the state tried to shut them down.
But the leader of the Indiana Senate has already said he intends to kill the provisions.
As passed by the House 52-39, the bill puts restrictions on the hunting operations, which gives hunters who pay a fee the opportunity to shoot farm-raised deer. The legislation requires the preserves to have at least 100 contiguous acres with 8-foot fences. It also imposes fees, sets a hunting season for the preserves and requires customers to have a hunting license.
The proposal’s key advocate – Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield – said fenced hunting doesn’t appeal to all outdoorsmen but it finds an audience among busy professionals who don’t have time to scout locations or those who don’t have access to good hunting land.
But opponents argue that fenced hunting is unethical. Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, said the deer are bred in captivity, chosen for their large antlers and fed in lots that make them comfortable with humans.
“When they are large enough and their racks big enough, they’re taken to hunting preserves,” he said. “The hunter waits until the deer comes by, picks the one with the biggest rack and shoots him.”
But Ubelhor said it’s inaccurate to describe the deer as tame.
“It’s inaccurate to portray this as canned hunting, as opponents would call it,” Ubelhor said. “Is it a form of hunting I do on a regular basis? It’s certainly not.”
Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, said the state initially told hunting preserve owners that nothing in state law prohibited their operations. Only later did the Department of Natural Resources change its mind and order the preserves closed. They sued and a judge ruled they could remain open.
Lawmakers have been battling over the issue since then and the parties in the suit have agreed to drop it once the General Assembly acts.
“We told ‘em it was fine,” Wolkins said of the hunting preserve owners. “This is a situation where we’d be going back on our word.”
The bill now moves back to the Senate, which passed the legislation earlier this year when it did not include the fenced hunting provisions. Already, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has said he opposes the language and plans to remove it.
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.