(WANE) — On Oct. 1, archery season kicked off arguably the biggest deer hunting season in Indiana.
As of Thursday, nearly 9,000 deer have been harvested by hunters, and that number is expected to exceed 100,000 once the deer hunting seasons are over.
While deer may be a common sight in Indiana in 2023, that used to not be the case.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the last reported wild deer in Indiana died in 1893, leaving deer essentially extirpated in Indiana at the time.
Joe Caudell, a state deer biologist with the DNR, said the Indiana deer population became virtually nonexistent due to unregulated hunting.
“At one point, there were no limitations on how many deer a person could take,” Caudell said.
The lack of deer in Indiana became normal until the DNR purchased deer from other states to release into the wild during the 1930s and early 1940s.
By 1943, there were an estimated 900 wild deer in Indiana, according to the DNR.
“As we started recovering those populations, that’s when we really started using a lot more of the legal restrictions on what could be harvested,” Caudell said.
In 1951, the DNR held the first deer hunting season in Indiana in 58 years, and the DNR continued to release and relocate deer across the state in order to increase the natural population.
The deer population started to bloom in the 1970s and 1980s, with the annual deer harvest jumping from nearly 9,000 to over 32,000 from 1975 to 1985.
“Species like deer grow very slowly for a few years to start with, and their populations then grow a nearly-exponential rate for a short amount of time, and then they will plateau again,” Caudell said.
Due to concerns about deer vehicle collisions and crop damage from deer, the DNR worked to limit deer populations in certain counties in the early 1990s.
The DNR’s efforts combined with annual deer harvests counts that started to exceed 100,000 allowed for a stable deer population that has mostly held steady over the last 30 years.
Although state officials were able to make the deer population in Indiana recover, Caudell said people learned from previous mistakes to get where the current population is in 2023.
“Basically, that experience showed us that even though this resource was seemingly so abundant that we couldn’t overharvest it, we did,” Caudell said.
For years, the DNR has used hunting seasons and bag limits to keep the deer population steady.
Although Caudell said Indiana has a supply of deer that is “far more” than the current demand from hunters, he also stressed that there is not an overabundance of deer in Indiana, despite what some Hoosiers may think.
“Deer will only grow to the population size that they can fit within a habitat, and so people may think we have too many deer,” Caudell said.
Even though Caudell said the deer population in Indiana is currently doing well, one concern the DNR has moving forward is something called chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is an incurable disease that has been spotted in deer in Ohio and Illinois.
Caudell said the disease not only has no cure, but there are also no suitable strategies to stop the spread of CWD.
“It’s a long term problem that’s not going to go away,” Caudell said.
Caudell said CWD has not been spotted in Indiana, but officials will continue to monitor deer across the state to ensure Indiana’s deer population stays at comfortable levels.