Judge overrules DNR's ban on deer hunting farms
CORYDON, Ind. (WDRB) -- A southern Indiana judge throws out a state ban on enclosed deer hunting farms. Harrison County Circuit Judge John Evans ruled that the Department of Natural Resources didn't have the authority to ban the operation of private hunting farms.
The ruling followed a 2005 ban of such operations by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Rodney Bruce, owner of Whitetail Bluff deer farm in Corydon fought the ban from the beginning, filing suit against the DNR. Evans sided with Bruce, saying that the DNR didn't have the authority to rule over private property.
The fence at Whitetail Bluff holds in about 50 to 60 deer on 120 acres, but the eight feet tall fence is exactly what the DNR is opposed to.
"People have this perception that you are hunting in something the size of a football field," said Bruce. "We don't use the fence as a tool to kill an animal, we use it as a management tool."
Bruce started the deer preserve nearly fifteen years ago. At that time, he received approval of his business plan from the Indiana DNR. "They responded in writing and said, you're on legal grounds with the state, continue with your dreams."
In 2005, the DNR got a new director. One of his first orders of business was issuing an emergency order banning enclosed deer farms like Bruce's.
Opponents of hunting enclosures say the practice is cruel and not natural, and goes against the notion that deer are a public resource.
Bruce, however, says he uses the most ethical and sustainable practices possible. "Nobody is a bigger animal lover than myself, nobody has more ethical standards than I do," he said. Bruce buys deer at a hefty price from farms in Indiana and hopes that they naturally breed within the confines of his property. He also touts his high standards for hunting, and the high quality prize his customers expect to bring home. "My hunter has to do the same thing any hunter has to do, he has to sit and wait patiently and we wait and we hope that a deer comes by," said the man who accompanies every hunting group.
He says the DNR's ban has put a damper on business growth because he hasn't been able to plan ahead. "We've operated year by year not knowing at the end of the year whether we were going to be in business the next year," he said. "We've had no long term business plans and we haven't been able to promote our business like our competitors have. And now we can."
The Indiana DNR expressed disappointment in the judge's ruling Thursday. In a statement to WDRB Director of Communications Phil Bloom said, "The DNR obviously is disappointed with the Harrison Circuit Court decision and we are currently in the process of evaluating that ruling."
Opponents to deer farms say the ruling could harm the ability of state wildlife officials to enforce state hunting laws on private land.
Now that the ban has been lifted, Bruce says he expects state legislators to come together by the end of this legislative session and come up with rules and regulations for deer hunting farms.
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