With poaching in the news, how does Ohio set its deer hunting limits?

2017 Ohio Deer Bag Limits

With poaching in the news, how does Ohio set its deer hunting limits?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio didn’t allow open deer hunting until 1943 because deer had previously been over harvested for their hides, bones and antlers.

State officials set Ohio’s county and state deer bag limits annually, depending on changes in the deer population and surveys of hunters and farmers. During the 2016-17 season, hunters could take up to four deer from red counties, three deer from green counties and two deer from blue counties.

Hunting was only offered in three counties at first, and then on and off for several decades depending on the state’s deer population.

Today, sportsmen and women can hunt white tail deer in all 88 counties. State officials set the bag limits annually on how many deer hunters can take in each county, after reviewing changes in the deer population and surveying farmers and hunters.

Last season, hunters could take as many as six deer, including one buck. Only 1 percent of Ohio’s hunters take the full amount, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Hunting limits and poaching penalties were in the news this week after a grand jury indicted eight members of an illegal deer poaching ring in Cuyahoga County. The eight face 66 counts including racketeering, fraud and identity theft charges in addition to breaking state wildlife laws and could spend 55 years in prison.

Take a look at how Ohio reached its rules.

Deer population

Despite deer culling in Northeast Ohio and debates over deer invading suburban yards, state officials say deer population has been relatively stable and actually could stand to grow.

The state doesn’t measure actual deer population. Instead, officials examine the numbers of deer hunted, carcasses removed from roadways and live deer spotted by bowhunters to determine whether the population is increasing, decreasing or staying the same.

All three measures showed smaller populations in 2015 compared to most of the previous 10 years, according to a 2016 department report. Hunters reported harvesting 79,176 bucks, 90,021 does and 19,138 button bucks in 2015.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources deer biologist Clint McCoy said the state seeks farmers’ and hunters’ opinions because they are the two largest constituencies concerned about deer population. The goal, he said, is to strike a balance between having enough deer to satisfy hunters but not be a nuisance to farmers.

McCoy said the state’s deer population took off in the 1980s and spiked in the early 2000s. The goal then became to reduce population.

The division upped the bag limit for antlerless deer, usually does, to bring the population down.

“On a large scale, the most effective method of controlling the population is through hunting,” McCoy said.

McCoy said recent surveys show a need to stabilize the deer population in Lorain, Cuyahoga and Summit counties and grow it in the far northeast corner of the state as well as the far western edge.

Bag limits

The population and survey data is used to annually set county bag limits.

For the 2016-17 season, hunters could take up to four deer in six counties, including Cuyahoga and other counties with large cities. Two or three were allowed in the rest.

Statewide, hunters could only take six deer, and only one could have antlers. The state also utilizes controlled hunts and damage permits to target specific areas.

Ohio’s limits are fairly liberal compared to some of its neighbors but allows fewer bucks to be hunted because the focus has been on reducing population.

How Ohio stacks up

Ohio’s 2015 buck harvest was greater than in neighboring Indiana, smaller than in Michigan Pennsylvania and about the same as Kentucky and West Virginia.

Each state sets its own bag limits similar to Ohio, adjusting for population and targeting areas where deer might be a nuisance to residents. But each state varies in their regulations.

For example, Indiana allows bowhunters to bag two deer, including one antlered, plus additional antlerless deer depending on the county limit. In deer reduction zones, found in mostly urban areas, hunters can take 10 deer.

Ohio and Pennsylvania are also one-buck states. Michigan hunters can take up to two antlered deer statewide, but limits are imposed depending on the number of antler points in different parts of the state.

West Virginia limits hunters to three bucks per season.

Penalties

Illegally taking a deer, on first offense, is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500.

The state, which legally owns Ohio’s wildlife, can also collect restitution on poached animals.

State lawmakers drastically increased the money the state can collect from trophy deer in 2008 for the first time in 20 years.

What was once a flat $400 per deer fee was replaced by a calculation of various antler measurements, called a Boone and Crockett score, which reflect how much the antlers are worth when sold.

Under the law, $400 is the minimum restitution owed and it increases for deer with a gross score greater than 125.

At the time, state officials and sportsmen said the penalties were so low that poachers viewed them as the “cost of doing business,” according to a Gongwer News Service report.

“Poachers steal from all Ohioans,” Larry Mitchell, president of the League of Ohio Sportsmen, told lawmakers in 2007. “When a deer or turkey is taken illegally, it is no longer available for hunters to hunt or for wildlife watchers to see.”

Before the change, a first-time violator found guilty of illegally taking two deer, each with a gross score of 150, paid $500 for the third-degree misdemeanor and $800 restitution for both deer. Now, the violator would pay the $500 fine for the misdemeanor but also $4,125 for each deer, hiking the total fine from $1,300 to $8,750.

Trophy bucks, like some of those nabbed in the poaching ring, can cost upwards of $20,000 in restitution in Ohio. If convicted of all counts, the alleged poachers face up to $225,000 in restitution back to the state, officials said.

As for penalties, Ohio’s are in line with neighboring states. Kentucky, which also uses the Boone and Crockett gross point score, would assess the same $4,125 fine to a buck scoring 150 points.

That’s not obscene. In Michigan, restitution starts at $2,000 per antlered deer with more added for deer with 8-point antlers or greater. A 10-point buck that scored 150 would cost $7,000 in restitution there but $4,125 in Ohio.

Originally Posted on June 9, 2017 at 9:12 AM By Jackie Borchardt, cleveland.com jborchardt@cleveland.com
Photo: Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife

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