(UNDATED) - Hunters harvested fewer deer in the 2013 season than in each of the previous five seasons. That might be sobering news to some deer hunters, but it wasn't unexpected.
"Going into the year, I knew it was going to be down," said Chad Stewart, deer management biologist with the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. "It's what we thought it would be."
The reported harvest of 125,635 deer was about 10,600 fewer deer than the record harvest of 136,248 in 2012, a decline of 7.8 percent. It still ranks eighth best since regulated deer hunting began in Indiana in 1951. The full harvest report is at wildlife.IN.gov, under Featured Topics.
"Down about 8 percent is very similar to what we're seeing in a lot of other Midwest states, so we're par for the course," Stewart said. "We're still harvesting a lot of deer. The 125,635 shows we're down but not collapsing."
At least two and possibly three factors contributed to the lower harvest - carryover from a widespread outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in 2012 and more in 2013, a record antlerless harvest in 2012, and the second season of new hunting regulations aimed at lowering deer densities in some areas of the state.
EHD, a viral disease transmitted by biting flies, was confirmed or suspected in 67 counties in 2012. It was reported in 23 counties in 2013, with 20 of them taking a hit for the second straight year. EHD is often fatal to deer.
"We had a record antlerless harvest in 2012 on top of a major disease outbreak, which tells us there were a lot less deer going into the season," Stewart said. "It was pretty easy to predict the harvest would be down."
It's less certain how much of a role the new hunting regulations played.
"It really complicates things as far as interpretation," Stewart said. "It's not clear if deer numbers were down because of EHD or our management efforts or a combination of both."
Harrison County had the highest harvest with 3,454 deer. Washington, Switzerland, Franklin, Steuben, Noble, Parke, Jefferson, Lawrence and Orange counties rounded out the top 10.
Harrison County's total made it one of 10 counties with unofficial record harvests, compared to 35 record-setting counties in 2012.
Steuben, which had been the perennial top county until 2012, reported its lowest harvest total (2,652) since 1997 but still ranked fifth in the state.
Tipton had the lowest reported harvest with 91 deer, followed by Benton, Blackford, Hancock, Rush, Clinton, Wells, Howard, Shelby and Marion.
The firearms season accounted for 57 percent of the total, followed by archery at 27 percent. The muzzleloader (8 percent), late antlerless (5 percent), and youth season (2 percent) made up the rest.
Hunters had three options to report their harvest - traditional in-person check stations, online or by phone. It was nearly an even split between check stations (64,740) and the online/phone method (60,895). Last year, just over 60 percent were reported at check stations.
Have a question or comment about a news story? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org