Newly Legal Indiana Deer Hunting Cartridges

A factory empty .45-70 casing next to a loaded “wildcat” .45-70, along with the cut-off brass.

If you want a headache, consider Indiana’s deer hunting regulations.  If you want a serious migraine, try to figure out which cartridges are legal for deer hunting..

In case you haven’t heard, there will be a number of regulatory changes for the upcoming deer season.  For purposes of our discussion, one of the most insignificant yet misunderstood differences involve ammunition.  For the 2012 deer season the maximum cartridge case length has been expanded to 1.8 inches, an increase from 1.625 inches.  None of the other requirements, such as minimum bullet diameter of .357 inches, have changed.

The changes are actually rather inconsequential unless you’re a hard-core ballistics buff or rifle raconteur but these new new rules have spawned a considerable amount of misinformation.  In fact, I’d say this one simple change has generated an entire wagonload of male-bovine-produced organic fertilizer.

Before getting to the particulars, lets discuss the rules in general.  To say that Hoosier deer regulations are in flux is a dramatic understatement.  There are many reasons for this state of affairs, for example: the science of wildlife management becoming more nuanced every year, deer populations ebb and flow with various environmental factors and, oh yes, are there are humans involved in the equation.

Never forget that wildlife managers don’t have the final word when it comes to hunting rules.  The will of the people, along with the considerable cash donations of special interest lobbies such as the insurance industry, usually hold trumps over trivial matters such the opinion of professional biologists.  It’s just a fact of life.

Our semi-educated guess is that Indiana is slowly headed toward legalizing at least some of the “mainstream” centerfire rifles for deer hunting.  However,  as we noted that everything related to deer hunting is highly politicized, it is unlikely that anyone within state government would (right now) openly propose such a change.

Can you image the negative career implications for an Indiana Department of Natural Resources employee or elected official who had the temerity to openly promote the idea of centerfire rifles in our deer woods? Given this reality, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll continue to make steady, albeit slow, progress towards the day when can carry your trusty Remington 700 into the tree stand.

A factory empty .45-70 casing compared to an “Indiana legal” wildcat round

When talking about legal deer weapons and cartridges, there there is also the pistol versus rifle issue that further complicates matters.   A Thomson-Center Contender multi-purpose weapon system with a pistol grip and short barrel can be used in Indiana with any rifle cartridge (larger than .243 caliber) you dare to fire.  However, attach a shoulder stock and it becomes a Short-Barreled Rifle subject to National Firearms Act restrictions such a tax stamp, BATF registration and other fun. It’s also illegal to hunt deer in Indiana since it is now a rifle.

Now, moving directly into our current aggravation: the fine weapon from TC aside, you can’t use your .308 or any other well-known rifle to hunt deer.  Contrary to what the nimrod loitering at the gun store says, the new regulations don’t really open up many new possibilities unless you happen to be a handloader with a love for wildcat cartridges.

Let’s say it again, one more time: NO, you can’t use any of the “standard” deer rifles or cartridges this year.  Was that plain enough?

If you are willing to do a little searching or roll your own ammunition, there are a few new possibilities.  Finding a gun to fire that ammo will also present a problem because it it will likely be a custom job but if you enjoy such things, go right ahead.

I would respectfully note that if you simply want to put holes in deer this fall without added expense and headache, just stick with your muzzle-loader or pull out the trusty shotgun/slug combination.  They’ll prove just as lethal as anything currently allowable and you can save your money for the day when, in ten years, we believe the .30-06 will finally become legal.

So, caveats aside, what are the some of the newly-allowable cartridges?

The incomplete list isn’t long: 50 Beowulf, 450 Bushmaster and a couple of other wildcat rounds that only the guys down at the Handloaders Club will love.

One “semi-wildcat” round that has generated fair interest is the long-in-the-tooth but still-venerable .45-70.

The .45-70 factory ammunition is too long to meet the new regulations but if you trim the case down to the required 1.8 inches, you can still seat the bullet in the shortened brass.  As it is a straight-walled case, there are no worries about head space.

Yesterday I spent some time on the range with a friend who purchased a level-action Marlin 1895G “Guide Gun” along with the handloading tools to make the “legal” rounds.  From our tests, the recoil is a bit daunting and the trajectory resembles a rainbow past 200 yards but it would certainly put a very large, raggedy and lethal hole in a whitetail.

For my money, if I were going to purchase a repeating rifle to hunt Indiana whitetail, I’d stick with a tried-and-true .44 magnum lever-action carbine.  Many deer have fallen to the round and it is quite serviceable out to 100 yards, a realistic range for most Hoosier hunters.

However, don’t let me rain on your parade if you want to hunt deer with an WSM-RSVP .223-505-LMOP Mark-V wildcat cartridge.

Just watch your brass…for length.