Deer-gun harvest totals continue to decline
Though his forecast overshot the mark substantially, wildlife biologist Mike Tonkovich didn’t seem too surprised by Ohio’s gun-week harvest of 66,759 deer.
Tonkovich, a deer management specialist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, had anticipated a kill of perhaps 80,000 whitetails from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4. Instead, the number of deer checked fell 6,580 from the 73,399 reported during the 2015 gun week.
This year’s total topped the 2014 mark, the 21st-century low, by fewer than 1,300. Except for the uptick a year ago, the erosion of the gun week harvest has been steady and spectacular.
The numbers strongly indicate a trend rather than anomalies caused by weather, a diminished deer population or lack of hunter access, though each might play a part. Tonkovich suggested as much in an email response to questions about gun season.
“The key message is that the days of treating the archery, gun, bonus gun and muzzleloader seasons as separate are over,” he wrote. “What happens in the early archery season bleeds over into gun, and that into the rest of archery season and the late firearms season.”
The decline in less than a decade has been dramatic, a drop of more than 40 percent.
The wildlife division has acknowledged an effort to cut the deer herd in some counties in response to complaints by farmers and orchard growers, backed by the Ohio Farm Bureau. The bureau in December 2006 called for reducing by half the whitetail population from an estimated 500,000.
That effort, which translated into liberal limits and the introduction of reduced-price antlerless permits that could be used from the start of bow season until just before gun week, was met with skepticism and hostility from some hunters.
Still, many hunters went along with the program. The consequence was not restricted to cutting the deer populations to levels deemed acceptable by the wildlife division and tolerable to the farm bureau constituency. The effort to eradicate more deer early in the season may have changed the habits of hunters.
The wildlife division began curtailing the sale of antlerless permits in 2013. The number of permits sold fell from 163,383 in the 2012 season to 15,514 last year. This year, the use of antlerless permits was restricted to a handful of metropolitan counties, including Delaware and Franklin.
“Beginning in 2013, we started to ‘soften’ regulations to reduce antlerless harvest,” Tonkovich wrote. “Each year since, we’ve made changes designed to grow the herd in a very ‘contained’ manner.”
Meanwhile, the sale of either-sex permits has held steady at around 400,000 per year. The numbers suggest many of those permits are being used before gun week.
As Tonkovich noted, the buck harvest is off less than 3 percent from a year ago. Thus, he wrote, this year’s “9 percent drop in the gun harvest does nothing to inform deer management decisions” going forward.
The division awaits results of the buck kill for the remaining deer seasons. The bonus gun weekend is Dec. 17-18, followed by the statewide muzzleloader season, Jan. 7-10. The bow season continues through Feb. 5.
The forecast for the 2016-17 season was for a harvest of about 200,000, an increase of some 12,000 from last year. However, hunters will have to go some to match the 2015-16 kill of 188,329. The harvest through Monday was 143,602, almost 10,000 fewer whitetails than were checked through the same period a year ago.
For the record, Licking led central Ohio counties during gun week with 1,609 deer checked, followed by Fairfield (681), Delaware (411), Union (271), Pickaway (270), Madison (158) and Franklin (157).Click here to return to our blog