INDIANAPOLIS – A Harrison County judge has ruled that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources exceeded its authority when it tried to shut down high-fenced hunting in the state in 2005.
The ruling is the latest wrinkle in an eight-year-old legal battle that still might not be over.
High-fenced hunting preserves place deer with big racks in large confined spaces that hunters can shoot at for high prices.
Former DNR Director Kyle Hupfer in 2005 determined that about a dozen facilities were operating such preserves with permits for possession, breeding and sale of white-tailed deer – not permits for hunting.
Then the state Natural Resources Commission in 2006 passed an administrative rule officially banning the practice.
Several preserve owners sued, and a few preserves have remained open under an injunction. Those currently operating are in Kosciusko, Clark, Blackford, Marshall and Harrison counties.
Harrison Circuit Court Judge John Evans ruled Friday that the deer bought by Whitetail Bluff and other hunting operations are privately owned and not the property of the people of the state of Indiana.
He said the DNRs actions to try to regulate these hunting activities constitute an improper exercise by an executive agency of the authority of the Indiana legislature.
Evans granted a permanent injunction in favor of the hunting preserves.
DNR spokesman Phil Bloom said the ruling conflicts with one issued in Owen County last year in favor of the state.
The DNR obviously is disappointed in the Harrison court decision, and were currently in the process of evaluating that ruling, he said.
The Indiana legislature could step in and decide the situation – either by legalizing or banning the practice in statute. Efforts over the years on both sides have failed.
During the last two sessions, a bill to open up high-fenced hunting passed the House before being blocked in the Senate by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.