150 Years of Indiana Wild Animal Protection and Management Practices Upset by State Court of Appeals

The Indiana Court of Appeals handed down a flawed decision on February 2, 2015, suggesting that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not have authority to regulate any privately-owned wild animals.  The case was part of the decade-long fight over whether “canned hunting” of captive whitetail deer should be legalized in Indiana.  The appeals court was to decide whether current laws prohibit high-fenced hunting, “canned hunting,” after two lower courts issued conflicting decisions.

In a surprisingly broad decision, the court ruled in a 2-1 vote that DNR has no authority to regulate captive-raised whitetail deer and further asserted that the DNR does not have authority over ANY wild animal that is privately owned.  The court’s analysis flies in the face of decades of wildlife management practice in Indiana and is counter to the wildlife-management principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that have been in practice across the United States for over 150 years.  It undermines DNR’s ability to assure ethical treatment and secure containment of privately-owned wild animals, puts the public safety at risk, threatens the environment, and hinders the preservation of Indiana’s wild animals for future generations.

What began as a case about whether current Indiana law prohibits canned hunting of captive-raised deer has ended with a court assessment that eviscerates DNR’s ability to enforce its protective regulations as to any privately-owned wild animal, including tigers and lions, bears, venomous snakes, and threatened and state endangered wild animals.  The court proposed that the DNR may not regulate how a privately-owned wild animal is treated, fed, handled, secured, or used.  Out-of-state animal buyers and traders now see Indiana as an easy source of supply since DNR’s ability to enforce its protective restrictions has been eroded.  The public can no longer be certain that DNR will protect them or prevent and prohibit unethical treatment.

The court’s opinion clearly has “unintended” consequences.  This “anything goes” approach is not what anyone in Indiana wants, regardless of where you stand on the canned hunting issue, and it needs to be addressed.  The Governor should ensure that DNR continues asserting its authority over all wildlife, including privately-owned wild animals, and the Legislature should pass clarifying language to reinforce what has always been Indiana’s wildlife management approach–conservation of all wildlife resources, both publicly and privately owned.

The State Court of Appeals wrongly decided this case.  Governor Pence and the Legislature must fix it.


Barbara Simpson, Indiana Wildlife Federation

Joe Bacon, Indiana Deer Hunters Association

Gene Hopkins, Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable

James Turpin, Indiana Quality Deer Management Association

Chuck Bauer, IN Division of the Izaak Walton League of America

Glenn Lange, IN Chapter of the Wildlife Society

Jeff Wells, IN Conservation Officer Organization

IWF Action Alert – Here it comes again!

Canned Hunting Bill HB1453 has passed out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and is headed to the floor

The bill may be heard as early as April 1st, 2015. Please call or write your Senator and give your opinion. To find your senator click here.

To read our fact sheet, click here.

IWF and the vast majority of hunters and conservationists OPPOSE canned hunting.

  • Captive deer shooting preserves violate ethical standards.
    • Not fair chase, not ethical hunting.
    • Wildlife are owned by the public for the benefit of all.
  • Captive deer shooting preserves threaten wildlife health.
    • Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease similar to mad cow disease that quickly spreads among captive herds and is transmitted by animal to animal contact or animal to soil contact.  There is no live animal test for CWD, no cure for CWD, and death is always the result.
    • Bovine tuberculosis outbreaks would jeopardize the Indiana beef producer industry.
    • The interstate transportation of deer to hunting preserves contributes to spread of disease.  Importation of captive raised deer should be banned.
  • Captive deer shooting preserves threaten Indiana’s economy and put taxpayers at risk.
    • Wild deer hunting in Indiana contributes over $300 million annually and supports >1600 jobs.
    • Taxpayers are liable for captive deer herds condemned due to disease and the cleanup of property.  Hunters and anglers license fees are spent to fund State monitoring and management of CWD.

With your help, this bill can be stopped.  It’s bad for wildlife and bad for Hoosiers.

Please share this information with others who are concerned about wildlife.

Captive whitetail deer – a threat all Hoosiers should know about.

Indianapolis Star reporter Ryan Sabalow has spent a year and over 100 interviews researching the captive deer issue.  The video link below is a promotion of the story expected to publish in the Sunday, March 30, 2014, issue of the Indianapolis Star.


All Hoosiers need to know about the captive deer “industry” including  the associated threats to wildlife health, and potentially, to human health. We are following this story and keeping you up to date.  Check back here or follow us on facebook or twitter

Photo Credit: Emily Wood

Attorney General Appeals Canned Hunting Court Decision

On October 15th Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller filed a Notice of Appeal of the Harrison County Court ruling in the case of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources vs. Whitetail Bluff, LCC.  This is good news for hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts.  The Indiana Wildlife Federation is following this closely and will update this website as the appeal process moves ahead.

The IWF press release supporting an appeal may be found here.

To read the Harrison County Court Decision that is being appealed click here.

To read the earlier Owen County Court Decision from November 29, 2012 click here.

Judge Nardi Should Rule on High-Fence “Canned” Hunting

Indianapolis, Ind. (Aug. 1, 2012) – On Monday, August 6th, at 1:00 PM, Circuit Court Judge Frank M. Nardi will again be given the opportunity to serve the people of Indiana.  His courtroom in the Owen County courthouse will be the setting for yet another battle on high-fence “canned” hunting:  a hearing to grant or deny a summary judgment, filed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.  Judge Nardi’s court originally set the hearing for April 1, moved it to June 1, then to July 5, and now has it placed on Monday’s docket.

Most Hoosiers are aware of the debate created by high-fence hunting preserves:  the ethics of hunting animals confined in high fence enclosures, whether these animals are wildlife or livestock, and the danger to Indiana’s wild deer herd from chronic wasting disease, a mad-cow like illness that can be carried by animals raised for, and transported to, high-fence hunting preserves. There is no cure for chronic wasting disease.  It has spread to 18 states that are spending millions of tax payers’ dollars to combat the disease.

The law is clear: high-fence hunting is illegal in Indiana.  Judge Nardi should rule so.  Further delays are a disservice to the people of Indiana.

Barbara Simpson, Executive Director, Indiana Wildlife Federation
Gene Hopkins, President, Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable

Photo Credit: Emily Wood

Indiana Wildlife Federation Comments HB1265 Hunting Preserves

Indianapolis, Ind. (Jan 26, 2012) – This year in the Indiana State Legislature, HB1265 has been introduced to legalize hunting deer in fenced enclosures.  This is not a new story in Indiana. Hoosiers have joined together in the past to soundly and vocally reject “canned hunting.”

We are once again asking all citizens to join the Indiana Wildlife Federation (IWF), the Indiana Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, Indiana Sportsmen’s Round Table (ISR), Indiana Deer Hunters Association, and many other conservation organizations that make up IWF and ISR to express their opposition to “canned hunting” in Indiana by calling or emailing their state Representative or state Senator, asking them to vote “no” on HB1265.

Canned hunting violates important ethical standards, impairs wildlife health, and threatens Indiana’s economy:

  • Hunting captive deer that cannot escape from enclosed pens is a violation of fair chase.  Allowing the hunting of captive deer undermines the long held wildlife management philosophy in Indiana that all wildlife are held in public trust and managed by the state for all citizens.
  • The health of Indiana’s wild deer herd is threatened when deer are held in high density populations.  Once disease occurs, it is transmitted more rapidly in confined areas than in the wild. In particular, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a contagious neurological disease that infects deer and other cervids, quickly spreads among captive herds.  CWD is transmitted by animal to animal contact or animal to soil contact.  Soil contaminated with CWD carries the disease vector, called prions, for years, and deer must be excluded from the area to avoid spreading the disease.  There is no cure for CWD.  Death is always the result.  Healthy deer densities are 10-20 deer per square mile.  Indiana’s deer density in some areas exceeds this target.  If CWD were to occur in Indiana, it would likely spread quickly through our dense deer population. Bovine tuberculosis is also a disease of concern.  Despite best efforts of state agencies, Indiana has had outbreaks of bovine TB in deer and cattle in recent years.  Further bovine TB outbreaks could jeopardize the Indiana beef producer industry.

The transportation of deer to hunting preserves also contributes to health concerns. Hunting preserves often import deer from out of state to meet the demand for trophy bucks.   If the deer carries CWD, the disease can jump to the receiving state. It only takes one diseased animal to eventually affect a whole state.  We do not want CWD to do to the Indiana deer herd what the emerald ash borer is doing to our ash trees.

  • Anything threatening Indiana’s wild deer population would have a significant negative economic impact. 
    • Deer hunting in Indiana contributes over $400 million annually and supports >2300 jobs.  Over a quarter of that money is direct retail income to businesses.
    • Additionally, CWD would cost the state a lot of money. Surveillance programs that are in place must be dramatically increased.  New disease management steps must be taken, including mandatory quarantining, whole herd depopulation and carcass disposal, and fencing of contaminated land to exclude all cervids.
    • In the past, federal funds have been available to assist with costs.  However, the 2012 federal budget for both CWD surveillance activities and the study of prion disease were cut.  The federal government views CWD as a local and regional disease-spread issue and financial responsibility.  The Indiana Board of Animal Health has already experienced a reduction of federal funding to assist with CWD surveillance.
  • CWD is spreading around the countryIf CWD infects Indiana’s wild deer population, eradication is impossible and control is the best hope.
    • Seventeen (17) states now have CWD in wild deer and 11 states in captive populations, with the states of Missouri and Maryland being added to the list in 2011; North Dakota and Virginia were added in 2010.  All of these states believed they had the proper regulations in place to prevent CWD from affecting their herds.
    • The 17 states that now have CWD in captive or wild herds have spent literally millions of dollars of their state’s natural resources budget to combat CWD. Wisconsin has now spent more than 50 million dollars, and CWD is spreading into additional counties every few years. Wisconsin predicts that eventually CWD will affect 40% of all adult deer in that state.
    • The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission predicts that if their state gets CWD, it will lose from 35 to 54 million dollars in recreational economic activity each year.

Indiana cannot afford to gamble on a risky venture like canned hunting.

There are significant biological and economic issues at stake. There is also something more fundamental at stake and worthy of re-emphasis.  Fair chase and wildlife held in trust for all citizens are long held tenets of our Indiana hunting tradition and wildlife management approach.  Now is not the time to step away from those values and traditions.

In a 2007 survey conducted by the Indiana DNR Fish and Wildlife Division, when deer hunters were asked their views on canned hunting, 73% responded they were extremely concerned or very concerned compared to only 27% not concerned.  The vast majority of sportsmen and women in Indiana do not support canned deer hunting.

We ask that once again the citizens of Indiana reject “canned hunting” and ask their legislators to vote “NO” on HB1265.

The Indiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation organization dedicated to the wise use of Indiana’s natural resources.  We have stood for “common sense conservation” for over 70 years, since our founding in 1938.  We focus our actions on what’s good for Indiana’s wildlife and wildlife habitat.