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Captive deer hunts may be added to Senate bill

– A move to revive legislation legalizing the hunting of white-tailed deer behind high fences in Indiana could come Monday in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.

The panel is set to hear an unrelated hunting bill, but rumors have circulated that Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Worthington, will offer an amendment to Senate Bill 487 involving so-called canned or captive hunts.

Ubelhor authored House Bill 1194 this year to allow the establishment of hunting preserves, in which deer are killed behind fences. But it did not receive a hearing in the House and died.

That bill was supported by the Indiana Deer and Elk Farmers’ Association. About 400 deer and elk farms are in Indiana.

They currently sell most of their deer to out-of-state shooting facilities because state DNR officials outlawed the practice in 2005.

Four such facilities do operate in Indiana under an injunction from an 8-year-old lawsuit.

But the deer farms want more of the preserves so they can sell additional deer in-state. They argued last year that farms and preserves are an economic development tool, bringing money from out-of-state hunters.

A political action committee supporting deer and elk farmers was created in August – after Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, stopped a bill on the topic in the Senate during the 2012 session.

The PAC gave $15,500 to about a dozen legislators during the general election cycle – four of whom sit on the House committee hearing the bill Monday.

Opponents have been circulating alerts about the possible amendment. They worry about the spread of disease in captive deer hunts, and contend hunting deer behind fences is not ethical.

Ubelhor was absent Thursday and unavailable to detail his amendment.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford – the author of the Senate bill where an amendment might be added – said from what he has seen of the amendment it is not a widespread expansion of the activity.

He believes it is focused on allowing the four existing facilities to continue to operate.

A move to legalize those operations legislatively could indicate a change in the posture of the case but Steele said he didn’t know the details.

“If the amendment is non-controversial and doesn’t damage my bill while maintaining the status quo I would probably consent to it,” he said.

Kara Brooks, press secretary for Gov. Mike Pence, said he is “concerned with an expansion of high-fence hunting, but is keeping an open mind about legislative efforts to permit existing facilities to continue to operate.”

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and said he hasn’t seen any possible amendment. He noted members of the committee – including Ubelhor – are free to offer amendments for the committee to discuss.

He was one legislator to receive $1,000 from the deer and elk PAC, as well as Ubelhor and Steele.

“We get money from a lot of different groups but we vote according to our constituent base and our personal thoughts,” Eberhart said. “Campaign contributions have no bearing on my vote.”