April 22, 2016
Rifles are now legal for deer hunting in Indiana. Scratch that. Some rifle cartridges are now legal for deer hunting in Indiana. Strike that, too. Rifles chambered in .243 and .30-caliber and that have a case length of at least 1.16 inches and that have barrels longer than 16 inches are now legal for deer hunting in Indiana.
Everything else, including (but not limited to) .270 Winchester, .35, .257 Roberts and .7mm Mag, remain illegal. Yes, you read that right. Thanks to a new law signed by Governor Mike Pence in March, some hunters will have to make a trip to their local gun shop if they want to use a rifle next deer season.
The new law was introduced near the end of the 2016 legislative session by Representative Lloyd Arnold (R-Leavenworth) and garnered unanimous support in the House (91-0). It passed with a one-vote majority (26-24) in the Senate.
Few people in the state's deer hunting community seem to know why he introduced this bill or who was pushing for it. One hunter who asked not to be identified says the bill just "came out of nowhere," adding, "A lot of people do not want rifles in deer season." Arnold, however, says it was nothing more than the result of conversations with friends and others who are deer hunters.
"It didn't make sense that we were limited to a shotgun during deer season, but the day after the season closes, we can pick up a rifle and hunt coyotes and other game," says Arnold, an avid deer hunter. "There were no special interest groups pushing for this and no insurance companies lobbied me on behalf of this bill. It was just one of those things that had been a part of the discussion for a long time."
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources floated the idea of legalizing rifles for deer hunting in 2014. The agency allowed sportsmen to comment on it through the agency's web site, and DNR spokesman Phil Bloom says most of the 400 comments regarding rifles for deer hunting were in favor. However, when the DNR held public hearings and hunters had the opportunity to address the topic in front of the board, there was little consensus.
"We didn't see sufficient support and those who spoke in favor were all over the place," says Bloom. "Some people wanted it on private land only. Others wanted it in certain counties. That's why we asked the commission to remove the proposal from the list of regulation changes."
Arnold says he informed the DNR of his plan to introduce a bill and received no opposition from the agency. HEA 1231 originally included language that would have allowed any caliber larger than and including .243, but that got changed to just five specific cartridges (.243, .30-30, .30-06, .308 and .300) as the bill worked its way through committees. Arnold didn't like the change, but he says the legislative process often involves amendments and other changes, so he did not withdraw his bill.
"You have to take little steps when you want to make a pretty big change," he says.
Big or small, many hunters see the addition of any rifle as an unwelcome change. Internet hunting forums were busy as word of the rifle bill circulated throughout the state. Opposition was fierce. Many hunters fear an increased deer kill and an even lower deer population. Indiana's whitetail herd has been decreasing for years, something that has alarmed the state's hunters.
"We aren't increasing the season and we aren't increasing the number of deer you can take. A rifle is just another tool. The DNR will do a good job of monitoring the impact of this and making any changes if they are needed," says Arnold.
The first change will be to clarify acceptable cartridges. Bloom says his agency has been flooded with hunters asking about the new bill, with most questions relating to legal calibers.
"We are at this minute working up a yes or no list of specific cartridges that will be legal and illegal under the new law," says Bloom.