Zoning In on Indiana Whitetails

Indiana is known for many things. Auto racing, covered bridges and Amish craftsmanship are just a few notables that make the Midwestern state stand out. Indiana also sets on top of one of the largest concentrations of limestone on the planet, producing rich, quality soil needed for growing agriculture crops. The Hoosier State annually ranks in the top five for soybean production, helping fill the bellies of more than a half-million whitetails and adding impressive inches of bone to bucks' antlers.

Jody Marsteller Davies shot this giant buck on Nov. 7, 2015, in Putnam County.

But not all big ones are found in the limestone areas. There's great trophy potential all over the state. Since the Pope & Young Club (P&Y) began recording North American big-game trophies taken by vertical bow, archers in Steuben County have registered the most qualifying whitetails (101), followed by Parke (97), Kosciusko (83), Ripley (79) and Vigo counties (78). More recently, bowhunters in Martin, Switzerland, Lake and Pulaski counties have been filling the record book.

In terms of being a trophy bowhunting destination, Indiana never has had the acclaim of some surrounding states, especially Illinois or Ohio. But that's quickly changing — if not entirely because of bow kills. In 2012, Huntington County shotgun hunter Tim Beck bagged a 305 78-inch non-typical that shattered the overall state record and became the world's No. 2 hunter-taken whitetail of all time. It's safe to say that buck's demise marked the end of Indiana being a "sleeper" state for big deer.

Bowhunters are downing their share of monsters, especially during the late part of the pre-rut phase. That's just what Jody Marsteller Davies was trying to take advantage of on Nov. 7, 2015, even though she was running late for an afternoon hunt in Putnam County.

The wind direction dictated Jody hunt from a tree she'd named "Titled Cherry." Just moments after ascending it with her climber, she encountered a buck that would put the cherry on top of her 2015 hunting season.

"He was only 30 yards away, but I wasn't ready," she recalls. "I grabbed my bow, nocked an arrow and got my release out of my backpack. Luckily, he'd come into a scrape and didn't seem to notice me."

Once Jody had everything ready, she waited for an ideal shot opportunity. When it finally came, her arrow traveled only 20 yards before toppling the buck she'd nicknamed Goliath. The huge deer scored 195 typical and weighed 270 pounds on the hoof!

Today, Indiana has about 29,000 archery hunters putting deer into the freezer. In 2015, hunters harvested 32,753 deer in archery season, representing 26 percent of the state's overall harvest. That number was about 5 percent below the 34,600 taken in 2014. These totals include crossbow kills; hunters using traditional or compound bows bagged 20,227 deer. Antlerless deer made up 65 percent of the total archery harvest, with 10 percent of the total being button bucks (male fawns).

One likely reason the Hoosier State is growing so many trophy deer is the state's 1-buck annual limit. If you bag an antlered deer in archery season, you're done hunting them for the rest of the year. The one notable exception is that hunters in Reduction Zones (primarily urban areas) can bag an additional buck after shooting an antlerless deer. It's a form of "earn-a-buck" program. The Reduction Zone season also is six weeks longer than the state's regular bow season, opening Sept. 15 and ending Jan. 31.

Statewide, archery hunters pursuing whitetails during the firearms or muzzleloader season must wear fluorescent orange. And all hunters must register their harvested deer within 48 hours of the kill by visiting a check station, by calling 800-419-1326 (a $3 fee is charged) or by self-reporting online at: CheckINGame.dnr.IN.gov.

For more information on bowhunting in Indiana, go to: in.gov/dnr/fishwild. If you want to learn more about P&Y's record listings for all North American big game, visit: pope-young.org.

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