INDIANAPOLIS – A move to legalize and regulate high-fenced hunting preserves failed in the Senate Tuesday when it didn't receive enough votes to either be defeated or approved.
The 25-23 vote was a bit of a surprise because there was no debate on the bill and it appeared to have momentum out of committee.
It was moving in the Senate for the first time after leadership killed the measure in recent years.
"This is a bill that is needed. If we don't pass this bill, deer will be hunted in ways we can't regulate or control," said Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, who authored Senate Bill 404.
A Harrison County judge ruled late last year against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which in 2005 tried to shut down high-fenced hunting in the state. Specifically, the ruling said deer used by these facilities are privately owned and the DNR exceeded its authority trying to regulate them.
But that ruling is being appealed by the state attorney general. And another judge ruled previously in favor of the DNR.
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.
Yoder and other supporters said the most recent court ruling would allow the existing preserves to operate in any way they want without oversight.
But he noted the operators want regulations so "bad actors don't give them a bad name."
The bill would have required 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.
Other regulations would have prohibited hunting within 150 yards of an artificial feeding site; limited the number of hunters on a preserve at any one time; set hunting dates and hours; required annual inspections by DNR; restricted the sale of preserve licenses; and required hunters to comply with safety rules. Doug Allman, of the Indiana Deer Hunters Association, has fought against high-fenced hunting for years and said the vote was incredible.
"I'm ecstatic. I thought it was going to pass. I really did. It's a bill that not everyone understands completely," he said.
He noted that the Board of Animal Health still has the right to regulate the health of the deer themselves. As for the hunting, he said no regulations would make the practice ethical.
"All we are doing is legitimizing it and making it look good," Allman said. "It's still what it is – shooting penned and farm-raised deer tame to humans. It's not hunting."
Locally, Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City; Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange; Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle; and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, voted yes.
Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, voted no.
The bill cannot be called for another vote in the Senate due to deadlines.