rifle hunter compressedFrom indystar.com: A controversial proposal that would have allowed Indiana deer hunters to use high-powered rifles is likely dead. Wildlife officials at the Department of Natural Resources are recommending against the proposal, saying the deep rift it caused among hunters has proven too contentious.

While it’s possible the Indiana Natural Resources Commission could buck the agency’s recommendation next week, longtime followers of the 12-person board say it’s very rare for that to happen.

The proposal would have allowed the use of centerfire rifles larger than .243 in Indiana’s firearms deer season. Currently, only muzzleloaders and slug guns are allowed, along with a few pistol calibers.

The DNR says Indiana’s nearly 266,500 deer hunters were split on the issue.

But officials say that based on their research, the use of rifles wouldn’t greatly increase the number of deer killed each season , nor would it reduce the size of the herd. And I say the safety issue is a non-starter; most states allow centerfire rifles for deer hunting without problems.

So why is the Indiana DNR now recommending against rifles? Officials say it has become a “social issue,” and the strong opposition to rifles prompted them to recommend against the change.

While I do not believe that wildlife management and hunting decisions should be driven by  “social issues”—these decisions should be based on science, practicality and common sense—I actually get it here.

Last year, after decades of controversy, my home state of Virginia finally allowed hunting on Sundays (until then, Sunday had been a day of rest for wildlife and hunters). There was never really a good reason for not allowing people to hunt on Sundays. But for those of us who grew up here decades ago, you just never hunted on a Sunday. That was just the way it is. It had become a social issue. Right or wrong, old traditions die hard. (BTW, I have still never hunted on Sunday in Virginia, and I doubt I ever will.)

It is no different than the proposal to allow rifles in Indiana. For all these years, hunters have been restricted to shotguns and muzzleloaders, and the hunting has been just fine. So many hunters say, why change? I get that. I don’t necessarily agree, but I get it.

Two more observations about the proposed rifle law in Indiana. If it were to pass, more mature top-end bucks would be killed each year. Bucks at 200-300 yards that hunters let walk with slug guns and muzzleloaders would fall to a .270 or .30-06. Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, this is either a good or bad thing. How many more big bucks would be killed, and how would that factor in to the herd management and age structure of bucks in the state? Hard to say, but it looks to be a moot point.

Also, proponents say the use of rifles would allow more people, especially women and kids, to get into deer hunting. I agree. Rifles like a 7mm-08 are easier to shoot, learn with and kill deer with than a muzzleloader or slug gun (and have less recoil). More people would try them for sure.