Updated: February 22, 2013 11:12PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana hunters, aided by an extended season and changes in equipment rules, killed a record number of deer last year, the state Department of Natural Resources reported.
The DNR said hunters harvested 136,248 deer in 2012, breaking the record of 134,004 set in 2010.
Switzerland County had the highest harvest, at 3,506 deer. Steuben County, which had led the state for seven years, fell to fifth-highest, with 3,076 deer killed.
Mitch Marcus, a spokesman for the DNR’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, said the state made changes last year to make it easier to kill antlerless deer. Those included making crossbows legal for all licensed hunters during archery season and adding more hunting dates in some areas.
Marcus said the changes were designed to reduce the deer population to “balance the ecological, recreational, and economic needs” of Indiana residents. He said the harvest numbers, which represent a 6 percent increase over 2011, indicate the new regulations are working.
Much of the increase occurred among crossbow users and youth hunters.
Despite the record harvest, Marcus said deer numbers are down across the state. He said the number of antlered deer in the harvest was the lowest since 2000.
Chad Stewart, a deer management biologist for the DNR, said that indicates a smaller herd.
“Year-to-year hunter efforts don’t change much, so people aren’t all of a sudden taking three bucks or eight bucks; they’re locked into one buck,” he said, noting that Indiana limits hunters to one buck. “If there are fewer bucks to kill with the same amount of hunter effort, not as many bucks get killed, which tells us the overall population is down.”
The DNR said the deer population also may have been affected by an outbreak of a disease transmitted by flies that is often fatal to deer.