Our Finest Early-Season Bowhunts
October 05, 2010
These proven fall archery deer hotspots come highly recommended by Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists for their good numbers of deer and trophy-hunting potential. (August 2007)
Buckeye State bowhunters have a lot of good hunting to look forward to this year, according to Mike Tonkovich, the Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist who heads up the Buckeye State's deer program.
"We've averaged over 200,000 deer around the state over the last five years," said Tonkovich.
"The record harvest was 216,000 whitetails a couple of years ago, and we'll top that number in 2007. A preliminary estimate of the number of deer that will be harvested is about 235,000. We'll certainly be setting a new harvest record this year."
The ODOW's deer management strategies are working, he said. And they'll work even better as hunters continue to see the value of harvesting antlerless deer along with the state's famous record-class bucks.
Some counties are showing higher populations of deer this year. Overall, the number of deer in Ohio remains stable, Tonkovich said.
According to wildlife biologist Mark Hemming, Buckeye Big Buck Club scorers recorded 11 deer scoring over 200 points in the 2002-03 season. By comparison, only five 200-class bucks have ever been recorded in neighboring Pennsylvania.
According to Hemming, the largest deer bagged in North America in 1999 was taken by Bobby Willis in Jackson County. That buck scored 252 points. In 2000, the first- and second-highest scoring deer were taken by Ohio hunters. Mike Beatty's buck scored 304 6/8, setting a record as the largest archery-killed deer ever.
Last December, the ODOW officially announced that Jonathan Schmucker's 34-point, non-typical crossbow buck final-scored at 291 2/8 Boone and Crockett points. The odds are that bigger bucks exist!
With world-class bucks and plenty of "meat" deer available to Ohio's bowhunters, here's a look at some of our best public hunting areas for archery whitetails in 2007:
DEER CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
"The Deer Creek Wildlife Area is first on the list for early bowhunting," said ODOW biologist Gary Ludwig.
"Its density of whitetails is high, and hunting pressure is lower than on other public areas."
Deer Creek's 4,085 acres are the perfect place for early-season Columbus and Dayton hunters. They offer a nice mixture of croplands, woods and brush with plenty of grass habitat. When hunting pressure picks up in the forested areas, the whitetails retreat to these grassy sections -- and are often overlooked.
According to Ludwig, several nice bucks are taken on Deer Creek every year. Hunters need to study a map to avoid the restricted hunting in adjoining Deer Creek State Park, as well as the restricted areas west of the north end of the lake.
According to Ludwig, the best section to target with bow and arrow is the northern half of the wildlife area between the rifle range and Mt. Sterling. This vast section receives the least amount of hunting pressure. Many hunters set up along the border of the wildlife area in hopes of tagging deer that stray off the park proper, where hunting isn't allowed.
Deer Creek Wildlife Area lies on state Route 207 in Pickaway, Madison and Fayette counties.
For more information, contact the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925 or the Deer Creek State Park office at (740) 869-3124.
DELAWARE WILDLIFE AREA
Delaware WA is Ludwig's second pick for central Ohio whitetails. Early-fall bowhunting can be spectacular on Delaware, but its close proximity to Columbus means the area does get some hunting pressure.
"The north end of the area is less accessible, so there's not as much hunting pressure in that section," Ludwig pointed out.
The area has a mix of grass and crops, a combination that produces a lot of white-tailed deer. Hunters will find forested tracts on flat to rolling land where Ohio's "corn fed" deer grow fat, compliments of area farmers.
The ODOW has enhanced the whitetail habitat here by the construction of over 50 ponds and flooding over 100 acres of seasonal wetlands.
Bowhunters should go north of state Route 229 to get away from the crowds. It will take some footwork to dig into the tangle.
Delaware WA's 4,670 acres wrap around the eastern side of the 2,000-acre Delaware Reservoir. Delaware State Park borders the southern half of the area, which is 32 miles from Columbus in Delaware County. Access is on U.S. Route 23 from the north and south and state Route 229 from the east and west.
For more information, call the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925, or the Delaware State Park office at (740) 369-2761.
"Kokosing is a small area with a lot of hunting pressure," said Ludwig.
"Even so, a nice deer can be taken here, since Kokosing lies in a county that has a high-density deer population."
River bottoms, streams, marshy areas and hardwoods provide ideal habitat. The ODOW has added row crops, grasses and food plots to improve the habitat. Trees have been felled along the fencerows and in the woodlots, to allow new browse to develop.
Archers are advised to focus on the area on the south end of the lake east of the North Branch Kokosing River. The woodlot consists mainly of pin oak and hickory.
The 1,323-acre Kokosing Lake WA lies in Knox County. The area is two miles northwest of Fredericktown on county Road 6. Access is good into the area.
Call the ODOW's District One office at (614) 644-3925 for additional information.
LAKE LA SU AN WILDLIFE AREA
"The Lake La Su An Wildlife Area is always good for bowhunting," said wildlife biologist Scott Butterworth.
"The habitat on the area contains excellent deer cover and it's all open to public hunting. The fishing ponds are clustered on the west side of the area where a tornado went through several years ago. There's some pretty thick cover there as a result.
"In the center of Lake La Su An, the St. Joseph River and a few small creeks form a heavily forested river corridor. On the outskirts of the area, there's a lot of grass and fields, all of which hold deer."
Williams County harbors one of northwestern Ohio's highest populations of deer. Walking into the interior of Ohio's public lands will put archers in a better spot to score than the easy-to-access spots along the roads.
According to Butterworth, hunting pressure changes from year to year, depending on how well hunters did the year before. A nice-sized buck was taken last year, and Butterworth expects the word to have gotten out.
Call the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000 for more information.
WILLARD MARSH WILDLIFE AREA
"Willard Marsh is another good area for bowhunters," said Butterworth. "Willard Marsh is a unique marshy area. The area has little open water and is primarily forested with grassy fields and truck-farm crops nearby."
Onions, radishes and cabbage attract the area's whitetails, and they travel far to enjoy this bounty. The abundant food draws deer out of heavy cover where bowhunters can get a shot at them.
You should scout the area surrounding Willard Marsh, including the edges of forested tracts, open marsh sections and forest openings -- all good bets to set up for an archery hunt. There aren't any specific best-bet areas, said Butterworth. Just pick a parking lot and start walking into the interior where the cover is thick.
Huron County is a high-percentage whitetail destination overall, where archers can expect to have a shot at a deer. Willard Marsh is a great spot to fill an empty freezer.
For additional information, contact the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
HIGHLANDTOWN WILDLIFE AREA
"Highlandtown is a good area to start the early bow season, and it has big buck potential," said Damon Greer, assistant wildlife management supervisor.
"Early-season deer are still in their summer pattern of feeding in green fields rather than on crops. There's a lot of diverse habitat, including wildlife management food plots, that provides great opportunities during the early bow season. Once the pheasant and small game seasons come in, the area gets a lot of pressure."
Greer is a bowhunter who studies Highlandtown's whitetails both on and off the clock.
"This is a topnotch area, and all of Highlandtown is good for deer," said Greer. "I don't think any one area is better than another. The edge of the forest where it meets open fields is a good place to set up during the first few weeks of the season. Hunters should look for heavily used trails and pattern deer movements between fields. Most of the mast crops will be coming on, but the acorns won't be on the ground yet."
Highlandtown Wildlife Area consists of rolling hills, open fields, food plots and hardwoods covering 2,265 acres in Columbiana County in northeastern Ohio.
GRAND RIVER WILDLIFE AREA
The Grand River Wildlife Area is another of Greer's top early bowhunting picks.
"This area is one of the largest wildlife areas in northeastern Ohio and features sections that rarely, if ever, see a hunter," he said. "These spots are tough to get to and require either a boat or waders, so take your hip boots with you. There are areas that may never see a hunter."
ODOW management activities include food plot maintenance, and the deer definitely take advantage of them once the weather starts to get cold. The area's river-bottom habitat holds deer through the gun season, and some of its bucks have some age on them.
For more information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
"We see some big deer at the check stations around here," said Greer.
Grand River covers 7,231 acres in Trumbull County. Access is available via township and county roads.
Convenient parking lots provide pull-off space and put bowhunters close to the action.
Contact the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293 for more information.
The big news in District Four this year is the ODOW's acquisition of 2,300 acres of American Electric Power's Poston Plant lands in Athens County. This fall's bowhunters will now have free reign on some of southeastern Ohio's finest hunting terrain. The AEP Company's Re-Creation Lands now provide Buckeye State bowhunters with a total of 63,876 acres in Morgan, Muskingum, Perry, Noble, Coshocton, Athens and Guernsey counties.
According to wildlife biologist Jim Hill, the former AEP Poston lands in Athens County are now officially called the Poston Plant Lands Public Hunting Area and Consol Energy Powhatan Point Wildlife Agreement Area in Monroe County.
The sight of a big buck standing on one of the area's hundreds of ridges and hills is a common one. Bottomland and new-growth woodlands comprise much of the area, interspersed with some 300 fishing ponds. Wild rosebushes woven into the tangle make pushing through the area's brushy cover a tough proposition.
Big bucks have lots of room to roam here, and there's a good chance you won't see another hunter.
Contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930 to obtain a permit, a map and more information.
CAESAR CREEK WA
The Caesar Creek Wildlife Area is close to urban areas and receives a fair amount of pressure from local hunters. But it supports good numbers of deer, according to Heidi Devine, a wildlife biologist in District Five.
"There's a good mixture of habitat and food plots that are planted to benefit wildlife," said Devine, "and as a result, the area supports a lot of deer."
Nearby farmers are encouraged to leave a few rows of crops standing after they harvest their fields.
Corn and soybeans are the obvious front-runners as far as the deer are concerned.
Bowhunters are advised to study the area's topography on the public lands and adjoining private property, Devine said -- noting that what goes on where no-hunting signs are posted will affect deer movement on the wildlife area.
The big news in District Four this year is the ODOW's acquisition of 2,300 acres of American Electric Power's Poston Plant lands in Athens County.
"Look for travel routes and funnels leading in and out of Caesar Creek and the crop fields, small woodlots and developments surrounding it," she advised. "A hunter can find himself a trophy-clas
s buck if he's willing to do a little homework and a little scouting."
Caesar Creek covers over 10,000 acres. The southern section borders Caesar Creek State Park, where hunting is limited.
For more information, contact the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261, or the Caesar Creek State Park office at (513) 897-3055.
PAINT CREEK WILDLIFE AREA
"The Paint Creek Wildlife Area is well away from the cities," said biologist Devine. "It has a good population of deer and isn't as crowded with hunters as Caesar Creek WA. This means the bowhunting can be good."
Thanks to its mixed habitat, Paint Creek WA has high numbers of deer. Outstanding archery opportunities await hunters along the edges of cover where concealed bowmen have a good view of the open grasslands and food plots.
The hardwood stands in the higher parts of the area aren't as dense as in the lower sections, and these areas provide good early-season hunting.
Once hunters start arriving in numbers and the leaves begin to fall, the deer retreat into the densest tangles. Hiking in after them can be productive, and a map is a necessity. There's a lot of country to cover on Paint Creek WA, which covers 11,024 acres in Highland and Ross counties. The state park borders the southern part of the wildlife area.
For more information, call the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261, or the Paint Creek State Park office at (937) 365-1401.
TRANQUILITY WILDLIFE AREA
"Tranquility WA is another good District Five bowhunting hotspot," said biologist Devine. "The entire area is open to hunting, and it has plenty of whitetails."
Nearby agricultural areas attract deer, and this large tract of tough-to-access habitat demands a sturdy pair of boots. Sections of woods are scattered across the area's 4,254 acres.
Tranquility WA is the perfect place for a group of hunters to work on their driving techniques. The upper slopes are dominated by oak and hickory stands, while the river-bottom areas consist mainly of elm, maple, beech and red cedar.
Adams County has good numbers of deer on private and public lands, and hunters who opt for the public holdings will take their share of big-racked bucks.
The Little East Fork/Brush Creek drainages meet in the southeast corner of the wildlife area. This is a good spot for bowhunters who are thinking about hunting edge cover. Parking lots are on Old State Route 32.
Foot travel can be tough here, so lone bowmen should always have a compass and area map with them.
Tranquility Wildlife Area lies in Adams County, 16 miles south of Hillsboro on state Route 770.
For more information, contact the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261. For downloadable maps of public hunting areas, you can visit www.ohiodnr.com, the ODOW's Web site.
Tourist information is available from the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-282-5393, or online at www.discoverohio.com.
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