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High-fenced hunting bill OK'd by Senate committee

INDIANAPOLIS – A bill legalizing and regulating high-fenced hunting preserves has new momentum this year after passing the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Monday by a vote of 6-1.

Similar legislation has passed the House in recent years but was repeatedly killed in the Senate. A court ruling late last year seems to have changed the tenor of the discussion.

“Isn’t some regulation better than none?” asked Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford. “It’s the Wild West out there now.”

A Harrison County judge ruled against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources trying to shut down high-fenced hunting in the state in 2005. Specifically, the ruling said deer used by these facilities are privately owned and the DNR exceeded its authority trying to regulate them.

High-fenced hunting preserves place deer with big racks in large confined spaces, and hunters can shoot them for high prices.

In 2005, the DNR 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.

Several preserve owners sued, and remained open under an injunction. There are four currently operating in the state.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, pointed out that these preserves can now operate with no regulations if the legislature doesn’t step in.

“Right now it’s a bit of a mess for everyone involved,” he said.

So he offered Senate Bill 404, which would legalize the industry. It was amended in committee to add tight restrictions:

  • A high fenced hunting preserve would have a minimum of 160 acres, except for those existing that operate already with less acreage.
  • An initial hunting preserve license fee would be $5,000, with an annual renewal fee of $1,500.
  • The facilities must provide at least 50 percent escape cover for a deer or elk; prohibit hunting within 150 yards of an artificial feeding site; and set hunting stands at least 75 yards from the boundary fence.
  • The number of hunters on a preserve at any time can’t exceed a ratio of one per 20 acres.
  • Sets perimeter and secondary fence heights.
  • Provides for a fee of $150 per buck and $50 per doe for transportation tags. No hunting license or bag limits apply.
  • Hunting could occur Sept. 1 through March 1.
  • Requires DNR to inspect hunting preserves at least once a year, and allows additional inspections for certain reasons.
  • Restricts the sale and transferability of a high-fenced hunting license.
  • Requires hunters in a preserve to comply with safety rules, including the wearing of hunter orange.
Gary Jacobson, of the Indiana Deer and Elk Farmers’ Association, said he supports the legislation because his deer farm needs the preserves as a market to survive.

He said the cost of setting up a new hunting preserve – with buying land, providing lodging, putting in septic and wells – will likely be a significant barrier to new entities.

“This gives DNR the opportunity to remain in control,” Jacobson said. “The concept of fair chase is important and it can be controlled very well and be a good asset.”

Gene Hopkins, of the Indiana Sportsman’s Roundtable, said even with some of the amendments made to the bill, “that animal has no chance for escape.”

He pointed out that the deer are not wild – they are raised by humans.

“We don’t shoot cows or horses as a sport,” Hopkins said of other livestock.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.