INDIANAPOLIS — Several private game preserves where hunters pay for a chance to shoot deer kept inside high fences would be legalized under a proposal being considered by state legislators.
Owners of the preserves and some outdoorsmen organizations disagree on whether hunting the farm-raised deer should be allowed. Preserve supporters told an Indiana House committee Monday that legislation is needed to resolve an eight-year-old lawsuit over whether five existing preserves can stay in business.
Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield, said the proposal would protect hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments by the preserve owners who started opening the sites in 1999. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources ruled in 2005 that fenced hunting was illegal.
Those existing preserves have remained open under a court injunction, and Ubelhor's proposal would only allow permit sites that have operated continuously since 2005.
"This is in no way an expansion of the program," Ubelhor said. "It's simply protecting the operators that are there today."
Leaders of the Indiana Deer Hunters Association, Indiana Bowhunter Association and Indiana Wildlife Federation told the House Natural Resources Committee they were concerned about deer at the preserves spreading other illnesses to the state's wild deer population.
Some preserve owners and farmers who raise deer sold to those sites said Monday they closely monitored their animals for signs of diseases.
Sen. Michael Crider, who was the DNR's law enforcement director when the fenced-hunting ban policy was adopted, said the agency wanted to ensure a healthy wildlife population and that the policy was reasonable. He said he also shared the concerns about the hunting of captive deer.
"The people that run pens are interested in somebody coming there and killing an animal," said Crider, R-Greenfield. "They don't get paid unless someone harvests that deer."