The big Hoosier outdoor story of the week was the announcement that Indiana's 2016 deer harvest was down four percent from the 2015 total. This information came from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources via the 2016 Indiana White-Tailed Deer Summary that was released April 13.
Four percent isn't that big a deal statistically but when you consider that the annual harvest has dropped four times in the last five years, some hunters are getting a little hot under the collar. However, we should conduct an examination of the harvest numbers over the past decades before the orange-clad masses start storming the state legislature to demand changes in the hunting seasons.
Last season 119,477 deer were taken, down from the all-time high in 2012 when 136,248 deer were taken. Since that time harvest numbers have been on a decline but only by a few percentage points relative to the previous year, a statistically insignificant amount when you take into account weather and other factors. If you look at a graph of the harvest since 1951 when deer hunting became legal, it seems to indicate that the deer herd and total hunting effort has reached some kind of equilibrium in the last four years.
Also, if you look at the big picture, we are truly living in the "good old days," as the deer harvest has been at record levels since hitting a sharp peak in 1993. Since that time, the deer harvest has remained on a plateau.
We know many deer hunters are convinced that the herd has dropped drastically in their areas. Our own hazy memory seems to remember days when masses of deer would casually saunter through our hunting spot like so many Guernsey cattle yet the same fields have been virtually deserted in the last decade. Now it all seems like a good dream.
And, in fact, it might be. We know that many hunters are complaining but the data doesn't seem to show that deer are becoming especially rare. As a hunter, I want 10,000 deer per acre but when you look at this year's deer report, things perhaps aren't as bad as we think.
Another big fear last year was that the new, more liberal deer rifle laws would result in significant herd damage and dozens of gunshot wounds to innocent bystanders. Fortunately, it didn't happen.
In 2016, the DNR had zero reports of personal injury or property damage due to a rifle being used for deer hunting. As the overall harvest declined a little bit, it would also appear that wholesale wanton slaughter of deer never occurred, either.
Indiana is now has one rifle season under its collective belt and there were no growing pains. Now we need to find something else to worry about!
Last week we talked about mushroom hunting and the fact that mushroom hunters, Your Humble Correspondent included, have as much dedication to the telling the truth as your average Congressman.
That column elicited an overwhelming number of responses- one- and everyone has agreed that mushroom season is in full swing here in central Indiana. With the recent warm and wet weather, scores of big "yellow" mushrooms are being found in our email box almost daily. So, if last week's humorous diatribe about the fun and folly of mushroom hunting didn't raise your interest to feverish levels, take this as our final warning shot that probably only another week or so remains for the annual morel mushroom madness.
MUSKIE EGGS OK
There had been widespread angler concern that due to a declining muskie population in Lake Webster in northern Indiana, DNR personnel might not harvest enough eggs to fully supply hatcheries in Indiana for the 2017 stocking season.
Fortunately, DNR biologists were able to capture 88 ripe females in nets from the lake earlier this spring and obtained nearly a half-million eggs from the fish. The eggs were shipped to the East Fork Hatchery in southwest Indiana where they will hatch and eventually grow into the 20,000 muskie fingerlings needed to stock lakes across the state.
One of those lakes is in our backyard: Eagle Creek Reservoir on the west side of Indianapolis. Since 2011, the DNR has been planting muskie in the lake at a rate of around one fish per acre.
We haven't heard much about the fish since that time but any that survived the initial stocking should be catching-sized by now. Unfortunately muskie survival rates are pretty low in Eagle Creek according to Ball State research from 2014. That year 40 juvenile muskies were implanted with radio tags and by October at least 32 of them were missing and presumed dead.
So, if you've caught a muskie in Eagle Creek, or captured a Bigfoot near Avon, send us a picture!
Brent T. Wheat is an award-winning columnist, and publisher of WildIndiana.com. His column appears weekly in The Times.