Recent trends indicate Ohio facing another ‘great’ deer season

Deer Hunting Season

Recent trends indicate Ohio facing another ‘great’ deer season

Change is constant for deer in Ohio.

“Things are so dynamic, so fluid,” said biologist Mike Tonkovich, who leads the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s deer management project.

The whitetail population was growing when Tonkovich started his job nearly 25 years ago, and the numbers were so out of hand in some places that the Ohio Farm Bureau, among others, called for a significant reduction of the herd.

The wildlife division, tasked with managing deer for all Ohioans and not just hunters, obliged. A string of years with liberal bag limits and record kills achieved the results farmers wanted, though some hunters came to believe that fewer deer had become an obstacle to their success.

More than 261,000 whitetails were tagged in the 2009-10 season, surpassing the record set the season before. Numbers have dropped dramatically since, stabilizing at a new normal in recent years. Also, deer harvest targets are now geared more toward the county level.

Hunters checked 186,000 deer last season, 4,000 more than in the 2016-17 hunt. Individual success has remained high in part because hunters have become more skillful.

Barring unforeseen conditions such as bad weather, the numbers should be similar or higher than a year ago. “A great Ohio deer season is about to unfold,” Tonkovich said.

The archery hunt begins on Sept. 29 and runs until Feb. 3. Also upcoming is the youth gun season (Nov. 17-18); gun week (Nov. 26-Dec. 2); gun weekend (Dec. 15-16); and muzzleloader (Jan. 5-8).

The changing dynamics of deer hunting haven’t been orchestrated only by government response to public demands. An important aspect of what’s been going on with deer relates to what’s been going on with hunters, Tonkovich said.

They are fewer in number, for one thing, and they hunt differently than they did a couple of decades ago.

“Back when deer gun week was the biggest thing there used to be a deer-hunting community (when everyone) hunted deer the same way,” Tonkovich said. “Now almost everybody sits in a silo with their crossbow or longbow and hunts deer.”

Back in the mid-1990s, groups of hunters roamed the countryside during gun week and worked to get deer moving.

These days, more deer are taken with bows over four months than with guns in a single week. Bow hunters generally work alone, waiting and watching for deer to approach their well-placed platform, such as a tree stand.

Anticipating the needs of hunters who have become more atomized into groups — handgun, rifle, crossbow, longbow, traditional bow, etc. — has become difficult, particularly when hunters don’t respond to surveys, Tonkovich said.

At any rate, county bag limits remain the same this season in central Ohio. The statewide bag limit remains six, though hunters may not exceed a county limit. Only one deer may be antlered.

In moves Tonkovich said are designed to increase deer numbers on public land, only antlered deer may be taken from public areas after the weeklong gun season. Also, a single antlerless deer may be taken from public hunting areas in a license year, except where permitted during a wildlife division-authorized controlled hunt.

Originally posted at The Columbus Dispatch on Sep, 22 2018.

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