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Hunting Ohio Whitetail

Ohio’s 2007 Deer Outlook — Part 2: Where To Find Our Biggest Bucks

by Dan Long   |  October 5th, 2010 0

Ohio continues to lead the world in record-class bucks, with new state records and all-time contenders being taken each year. Here’s where to focus your efforts this season. (November 2007)


Photo by Mike Lambeth.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife continues to manage a quality deer herd, and big, mature whitetail bucks are some of the expected byproducts.

Last year, for example, Ohio shocked the hunting world once again when farmer John Schmucker of Adams County downed an incredible 291 2/8 trophy with a crossbow.

According to biologists, opportunities for trophy-class bucks look solid again for 2007.

Ohio’s top trophy-producing counties and public lands haven’t changed drastically over the past 10 years.

The “big four” counties of Knox (with 16), Licking (26), Coshocton (11) and Muskingum (15) once again led the state in Buckeye Big Buck Club (BBBC) entries — with a total of 68.

But to the east, Tuscarawas, Guernsey, Belmont, Harrison, and Carroll counties also produced high numbers with a total of 61 trophy-sized deer.

Licking County led the state with 26 and Tuscarawas came in a close second with 22 BBBC qualifiers.

Tuscarawas, Knox, Licking and Coshocton counties are developing a strong grassroots following the work of quality deer managers (QDMs), who are making a tremendous impact in harvesting more does and allowing bucks to mature.

Leading proponents in this QDM movement are the state’s Amish residents, who are also dedicated deer managers. That may explain why Tuscarawas County had the third-highest total deer harvest statewide, with 7,478 of which 3,681 — almost half — were does.

After the 2006 season, the Buckeye Big Buck Club entered 534 qualifiers, with 442 of them being typicals with a score of 140 net inches or better, and 92 non-typicals with a net score of 160 inches or better.

Seventeen of the 442 typicals made 170 inches and qualified for the Boone and Crockett Club. A crossbow hunter in Greene County harvested the top typical buck, which deer scored 180 3/8.

Ohio’s 2005-06 top non-typical was grown in Carroll County and fell to another crossbow hunter. Its score topped out at 247 1/8.

Of the nine non-typical bucks that made Boone and Crockett’s 195-or-better benchmark, five exceeded the 200-inch mark, including the notable Mike Rex Buck — a 218 6/8 brute downed on the first day of the 2005 bow season.

Dr. Mike Tonkovich, Ohio’s top deer biologist, is looking forward to another tremendous deer season.

“A combination of voluntary hunter restraint and significantly more deer has resulted in an older buck age-structure in the region,” Tonkovich reported. “A greater proportion of the bucks being harvested today are adult deer, at least 3.5 years old. Yearlings averaged 64 percent and 52 percent of the adult buck harvest for the period 1977-79 and 2004-06, respectively.”

Bottom line: The 12 percent difference in buck numbers represents older bucks — thus increasing the odds of seeing and possibly harvesting them.

The key to locating trophy bucks on public land is to hunt in a consistent trophy-yielding area and to evaluate the adjacent private property boundaries for travel patterns and food-source opportunities.

Every district in Ohio has a few special public-land opportunities that, if scouted and hunted properly, can produce a new record-class buck.

Tuscarawas, Knox, Licking and Coshocton Counties are developing a strong following of quality-deer managers who are making a tremendous impact by harvesting more does and allowing more bucks to mature.

DISTRICT ONE
District One provides great hunting for local residents, but poses more of a challenge for hunters looking for public ground.

To find a trophy buck, traveling hunters need to do their homework. That includes looking for big bucks as well as access to private land.

According to the stats, Fairfield, Licking and Knox are always putting their fair share of trophies in the book. With urban sprawl starting to form high deer densities, isolated farmers are feeling the results of deer damage. With the mindset of helping farmers shoot more pests, you may be able to help them while harvesting does and seeking out record bucks.

The District One office provides a list of deer-damage complainants to the public, and this can be a source of opportunities to find good private lands. To acquire the list, log onto ohiodnr.com/wildlife.

Every district in Ohio has a few special public-land opportunities that, if scouted and hunted properly, can produce a new record-class buck.

Are you looking for a few public land choices? Gary Ludwig, District One Wildlife Management Supervisor, recommended the following:

“Our biggest public hunting areas (in order of deer hunting potential) are Deer Creek Wildlife Area (at 3,700 acres), Delaware Wildlife Area (3,600 acres) and Kokosing Lake Wildlife Area (1,200 acres). These areas are small and are mostly upland habitat, but deer-hunting opportunities are plentiful, especially for early season archery hunters.

Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County (5,500 acres) holds deer, reports Ludwig, but it’s mostly upland and wetland habitat, with woodlands concentrated mainly along the Scioto River and near the town of New Bloomington.

All of these areas are cooperatively farmed and full of buck sign.

Ludwig also likes your chances in the urban zones.

“Don’t sell the urban counties such as Franklin and Delaware short,” he said. “While hunting opportunities are limited, hunters lucky enough to find an urban hunting spot will see some tremendous bucks and lots of antlerless deer.”

DISTRICT TWO
Ohio’s most fertile lands abound in the northwest region. The better the food, the bigger the bucks, and this region’s genetics and food sources are tremendous.

Northwestern Ohio lacks the cover to keep bucks old enough to grow an abundance of trophy racks. However, recent trends are changin
g along the riparian corridors of the Sandusky and Blanchard rivers and their tributaries that flow through Seneca, Hancock, Hardin and Wyandot counties.

Thirty-one BBBC entries came from this area, which is awesome. Much of this is due to these counties having a two-deer limit, which allows more hunters to hunt near home instead of traveling to southern Ohio. Because they can harvest two deer in most of northwest Ohio, many are taking a doe for meat and spending the rest of the season trophy hunting.

In this district, public land is hard to come by. Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area does afford deer hunters great deer habitat, but it’s not the easiest area to hunt. Half of this 8,000-acre wildlife area is a refuge where no hunting is allowed.

That may sound negative, but it can actually benefit the avid trophy hunter. Look for trails leading to and from the sanctuary to set up stand sites or blinds, especially during the rut when the big deer are on the move.

In overlooked areas like Killdeer, you may find low hunting pressure — and your next trophy.

DISTRICT THREE
District Three continues to hold its own, and recently surpassed many southern counties in total BBBC entries. With an abundant deer herd and options to harvest multiple deer per county, hunters are staying home to seek their trophies.

Several northeast region counties that produced tremendous results included Tuscarawas County, which came in second in the state with 22 club entries. Columbia and Harrison counties, with nine qualifiers each, closely followed Carroll and Ashland counties, yielding 11 entries each.

The southern part of the district contains excellent habitat, and this is the region where most of the record-class bucks are falling. But according to District Three biologists, you can find three notable wildlife areas to hunt trophy bucks.

“I highly recommend Grand River Wildlife Area, due to its extensive bottomland hardwoods, swamps, beaver ponds,” said Dan Kramer, a District Three Wildlife Management supervisor. “It is mostly overlooked by deer hunters, but potentially very productive. Brush Creek is my second choice due to its steep, wooded slopes and good deer density.

“Lastly, I like Highlandtown Wildlife Area with its mixed upland cover, high deer numbers and low hunter pressure.”

Kramer also supports the new antlerless bowhunter’s tag: “We hope bowhunters utilize the new antlerless deer permits this season (prior to shotgun season). This will produce the desired management effect and reduce the deer herd where needed.”

The desired affect significantly impacts trophy deer hunting, since bucks will not be tending as many does. They’ll be on the move, checking scrapes and defending their territory, thus allowing hunters more sightings.

DISTRICT FOUR
District Four has by far the most deer in the state, and the most opportunities for public hunting.

With over 30 wildlife areas, three large sections of Wayne National Forest and multiple state forest holdings, the greatest chance for a trophy buck is in southeast Ohio.

The questions to ask are, first, what is your definition of trophy? And where can you find a buck that will make the record book?

Over the past two decades, antler beam diameter measurements in District Four have shown a slight decline in size. Tonkovich said this is due to a decline in nutrition, plus higher deer densities. Other factors contribute to the reduction, but those are the main reasons.

Tonkovich believes that hunters don’t necessarily understand this, due to their perception of seeing more trophy bucks.

Looking at the statistics, the northern District Four counties are producing the most trophies, so this is where you should start your quest for that mature buck.

For public land options, follow the Interstate Route 70 corridor east from Columbus to find the best trophy-buck areas. About an hour east of Columbus lie the Woodbury and Tri-Valley wildlife areas.

Between the two, they provide 36,000 acres of great hunting opportunities in Coshocton and Muskingum counties, which led the district with a total 26 Buckeye Big Bucks entered.

Many hunters take advantage of another viable option in the southern portion of the state — the American Electric Power (AEP) lands that are open to public hunting.

AEP has 63,876 acres of land in cooperative agreements with the Division of Wildlife in Athens, Noble, Coshocton, Guernsey, Muskingum, Morgan and Perry counties, all of which are premier trophy buck counties in District Four.

This final stop on the I-70 corridor is Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in Belmont County. This vast area provides over 14,300 acres of prime whitetail habitat on the Guernsey County line.

Both counties combined produced 21 entries into the BBBC last 2006 season.

DISTRICT FIVE
When trophy hunters think of District Five, they visualize the three largest whitetails of all time — the Jerman, Beatty and Schmucker bucks. John Schmucker took his record-setting whitetail (291 2/8 inches) with a crossbow in the late afternoon hours on opening day of archery season.

“I had been watching him over the course of three years,” Schmucker said. “On opening day, I went out to my tree stand at 3 p.m. and tagged the deer by 6 p.m.”

According to Ohio Division of Wildlife archives, the Beatty Buck, harvested in Greene County in 2000, holds the record for non-typical bucks at 304 6/8. It currently ranks as the No. 1 non-typical buck taken in Ohio, and the largest non-typical whitetail deer ever taken by a bowhunter.

A typical whitetail killed in 2004 in Warren County, known as the Jerman Buck, became an Ohio record with a score of 201 1/8.

Said Todd Haines, the ODOW’s District Five manager, “Ohio’s trophy deer hunting is world-class because of our excellent deer-management program. We have a very conservative antlered deer rule and allow for an ample doe harvest.

“This allows the population to remain balanced while also putting in place the conditions necessary to produce record-setting deer.”

District Five is unique because of its mixture of farmland, rolling terrain, and miles of urban habitat. This combination provides bucks with the opportunity to grow old and grow big antlers.

You have two simple choices: Seek out farmers who need herd management assistance, or spend your time on a variety of District Five’s public lands.

Two areas to consider are Brush Cre
ek State Forest in Adams County, and Caesar Creek Wildlife Area at the junction of Warren, Greene and Clinton Counties. All have proven their trophy-producing potential.

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
All of the wildlife areas listed above may be accessed via the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Web site at www.ohiodnr.com or by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3543).

You can find AEP land maps and permit information by calling 1-800- 277-2177, or at www.aepohio.com.

Keep in mind that hundreds of trophies taken each year miss the minimum 140-inch typical or 160-inch non-typical minimum requirements by mere fractions of an inch. And some trophies are never reported for various reasons.

But statistical trends don’t lie. Start your search for a trophy right now — and good luck!

Find more about Ohio fishing and hunting at: www.ohiogameandfish.com

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