By J SWYGART
The annual, two-week shotgun portion of Indiana’s deer hunting season came to a close on December 2. While this year’s official total harvest will not be calculated until next year, following the completion of muzzleloader and special antlerless seasons in January, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday did reveal some interesting facts about this year’s hunting season.
According to DNR Communications Director Phil Bloom, as of November 28, 11 Indiana Hoosiers have been injured by firearms while in the field this year. One hunter died after being mistaken for wild game; the other injuries were self-inflicted, accidental shootings. Another 25 hunters suffered injuries in the field which did not involve firearms, Bloom said, and nearly all involved falling from a tree stand.
Similarly, no numbers have yet been assembled by DNR as to the number of citations issued to deer hunters who chose not to follow the rules.
I myself, a non-hunter who nonetheless considers himself an outdoorsman, have personally never been inflicted with “buck fever,” but it’s a known affliction that annually causes otherwise law-abidding citizens to get a little goofy and do things like hunting on properties without permission or shooting from the roadway. I’ve seen it happen. Those kinds of actions, to be generous, do not exactly portray hunters in a particularly sparkling light.
Bloom, however, stressed that it indeed takes only a few bad apples to spoil the barrel, as the saying goes, and said that statistics gathered over the past three years show that only .03 percent of the estimated 250,000 hunters who practice their sport in Indiana are ever found to violate wildlife laws.
On the other hand, there is little reason for Adams County sportsmen .. or, more accurately, those who fall somewhat shy of that label ... to follow the rules. The county has been without a conservation officer, off and on, for the better part of five years or more. The last officer assigned by DNR to Adams County didn’t last long before putting in for a transfer, and it was pretty much assumed (on my part, at least) that placing a wildlife officer in each of the state’s 92 counties was not part of the state’s master plan.
But Bloom said that is not at all the case.
“We have been short of full force for a couple of years now, but the plan is to have a conservation officer in each county,” said the DNR spokesman.
He said a “sizeable” number of retirements — courtesy of a state early-retirement/buyout program — a few years back cost the state some 25 field officers “all at one time, and we’ve been trying to get back to full force ever since.”
Bloom said two classes of future conservation officers have completed their training, and another half-dozen are due to graduate on Friday. He said the training program is a rigorous one, and includes a DNR “boot-camp-type” school, followed by up to three months in the field with veteran DNR conservation officers. To learn the law enforcement side of the businesses, those candidates then must complete the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy training. “That takes three or four months, and then they (candidates) get their assignments.”
But even with the latest crop of graduates, approximately a dozen Indiana counties — including Adams — remain without full-time officers, he said.
And that’s a shame. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on those so-called county sportsmen who can’t seem to police themselves, a conservation officer’s presence in Adams County would be a benefit on a variety of other levels.
Visits to county schools would be a great addition, where DNR officers could instill in youngsters at an early age the vast benefits of the great outdoors and all the mysteries and rewards it holds. Granted, their are other area conservation groups that can, and have, helped fill that void, but area hunters and fishermen do help fund the DNR — through the purchase of licenses and excise taxes on sporting goods — and it would be nice to see a return on that investment.
It was pleasing to learn that the wait for a full-time conservation officer here may be shorter than expected.
In the meantime, Bloom urged citizens to take advantage of the state’s Turn-in-a-Poacher hotline by reporting wildlife violations at 1-800-TIP-IDNR. To date this year, he said, 301 tips have resulted in 21 arrests and 12 cash rewards to tipsters.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.