Deer Hunting Indiana: The Midwest's Overlooked Hotspot

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deer hunting Indiana
The Hoosier State gets nowhere near the hype its neighbors do when it comes to deer hunting.

When it comes to premiere whitetail deer hunting destinations, the Midwest section of the United States is at the top of the heap. Every year, scores of deer hunters flock there in search of the region’s legendary trophy bucks. And every year, those deer hunters take home more than a few bragging-size whitetails.

Most often, the states these deer hunters head to are Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Ever look at a map of the U.S. to inspect the layout of these states? Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky form a perfect box around one state you almost never hear mentioned in discussions about deer hunting trophy bucks in the Midwest – Indiana. Well don’t look now, but this just might be the hottest trophy buck state in the nation that no one is talking about.

One Indiana family has been tilling the soil of Vigo County, just south of Terre Haute, in western Indiana for generations. In the 1960s and 1970s, spotting a whitetail deer on this family’s farm ground was about as rare as finding a five-leaf clover.

“Thirty years ago, there were no deer around here,” said one of the farm owners. “It’s only been within the past 15 or so that they’ve really taken off.”

Consider this. The first Indiana deer hunting season was held in only a handful of counties in 1951. Just two decades ago, Indiana’s total, statewide deer harvest in 1987 was a shade over 51,000. In 2006 – the last year for which figures were available – the statewide deer harvest was nearly 126,000.

 

Deer Hunting Indiana
In November, big buck sign abounds in Indiana’s forests. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

That’s a history shared by most Midwest states. Once the whitetail deer got a foothold in the U.S. heartland, it found plenty of food and lots of minerals in the rich soil — a winning combination for producing large-bodied, large-racked deer.

The soil and the food that exist in Illinois and Ohio are exactly the same as can be found in the state that separates them. That’s why nothing irritates this deer hunter, a dyed-in-the-wool Hoosier, more than picking up a deer hunting magazine and reading about the fabulous bucks that can be found in Illinois and Ohio, with no mention of his native Indiana.

“We get no respect,” he said. “That really ticks me off.”

Indiana deserves respect. According to the Boone & Crockett Club, the Hoosier State ranks ninth in all of North America for the number of typical whitetails entered in the club’s record books since 2000. It’s right there in the top 10, along with the oft-mentioned Midwest hotspots Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa and Missouri. (Saskatchewan, Kansas and Minnesota round out the top 10).

Indiana ranks sixth in North America for the number of nontypical whitetails entered in the Boone & Crockett record book since 2000. Only Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas and Ohio accounted for more entries.

Perhaps one of the reasons Indiana hasn’t achieved the fame and popularity of its neighboring states is the apparent lack of hunting outfitters operating there. Type in “Illinois deer hunting” into any Internet search engine and you’ll be deluged with links to Land of Lincoln guiding operations. Try the same search for Indiana, and you’ll be underwhelmed by the offerings. You will only be able to find less than 10 hunting outfitters, many of whom I then could not contact because the phone numbers and/or email addresses provided were no longer valid.

Indiana 10 point trophy buck
A fine Indiana 10-point trophy buck. Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

There was one outfitter that was an exception, and, after talking to this hunting outfitter for over a year, this deer hunter decided to hunt with his outfit for the first few days of Indiana’s 2007 firearms season. This hunting outfitter is just a few miles over the Indiana border in Illinois and has been hunting deer in the two states all his life. This hunting outfitter offers hunts on thousands of acres of private land in Vigo County.

One of the hunting guides, assured this deer hunter that Indiana has plenty of trophy bucks as he led him through a cornfield toward a ladder stand perched in a thin strip of woods on the back end of one of his farms. It was opening day of the Hoosier State’s firearms deer season and he was dying for daylight to arrive.

His tree stand overlooked an overgrown field that the hunting outfitter had enrolled in the federal wetlands reserve program (WRP) bordering the Wabash River, which separates Illinois from Indiana. The hunting outfitter used to till this field and plant it with soybeans or corn. But it often flooded and he lost several crops over the years to high water. So a few years back, he decided to give the field back to the deer, the turkeys and the songbirds, and he planted trees in it instead of crops. Other than that, he simply left the field alone and let Mother Nature take over.

The tall, native grasses that quickly sprouted in the field provide deer with superb escape and bedding cover. And since the rut was in full swing, he felt certain I’d catch a buck or two cruising through it in search of a hot doe.

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