Ohio's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Deer Hunting

With another record harvest behind us, a booming deer herd and more opportunities than ever, Buckeye State whitetail hunters can't help but be excited about the coming season. Our expert has the story. (October 2007)

Photo by Mark Werner.

Once again, Ohio hunters crushed 2006's deer-harvest record with a total kill exceeding 237,000 deer. With an estimated pre-hunt population of 650,000 deer, Ohio is on track for another record-breaking harvest.

Read on to learn how each part of state looks this year and get predictions from the Ohio Division of Wildlife's leading biologists.

No one can argue that Ohio's deer herd and the upcoming 2007 deer season will provide more opportunity to harvest deer than ever before. During the 2006-07 season, hunters took a record 237,316 deer.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife, the harvest surpassed 200,000 for the third year in a row. The total number of deer taken was 13 percent above last year's season total of 209,513.

"We are very satisfied with this year's record harvest," said Steven A. Gray, recent retired chief of the Division of Wildlife. "Ohio's deer management program is a model for the country. The challenge now becomes maintaining a healthy deer herd into the future."

The various opportunities available to hunters will provide Ohioans with one of the best deer seasons in history. The state's three deer-hunting zones remain in place, with the deer zones remaining identical to last year.

A three-deer limit (Zone C) will cover 38 central, south, southeastern and southwestern counties. The 30 mid-state counties of Zone B will have a two-deer limit, and the 20 northwestern counties of Zone A will have a one-deer limit.

A hunter may take only one buck in Ohio, regardless of zone, hunting method or season. Several programs are also returning to promote increased deer harvest, which the Division of Wildlife clearly supports. The Division estimates the deer herd at 650,000, slightly higher than last year's figure of 600,000 deer.

Initially, the bow season will open early on September 29th. Not only will this give archers more time afield, but will allow some to take advantage of late-summer feeding patterns. The southern Ohio monster "Schmucker Buck" was caught in a late-evening bean field that was still green before possibly changing his feeding pattern once the beans ripened to yellow.

Besides the early start to bow season, the division is promoting a key facet of quality deer management (QDM) -- the early harvesting of does. "Archery hunters can take additional antlerless deer September 29 to November 25 by purchasing additional antlerless deer permits," reports the wildlife staff. "Under the new regulation, hunters can take one additional antlerless deer in Zone A, up to two additional in Zone B and up to three additional in Zone C.

"Archery hunters will still be required to buy a regular deer permit before purchasing any antlerless deer permits. The antlerless permits -- formerly known as urban deer permits -- will also be valid for controlled deer hunts and for hunting deer in an urban unit. Antlerless deer permits will cost $15 each."

Last year's controversial two-day gun season in December, about which many had concerns, proved successful and will continue again this winter. Gun hunters will have the opportunity to fill their tags with the traditional deer-gun season opening Monday, Nov. 26 and running through Sunday, Dec. 2. And for the second year, hunters will have an additional weekend to hunt whitetails with a gun, Dec. 15 through 16.

If hunting with a muzzleloader is your passion, Ohio's statewide muzzleloader season will open on Thursday, Dec. 27, and run through Sunday, Dec. 30. Many of you take advantage of the early muzzleloader hunts that opens Monday, Oct. 22 through Saturday, Oct. 27 at Salt Fork, Shawnee and Wildcat Hollow.

These muzzleloader hunts are by special permit only, with a random drawing held prior to the season for a limited number of antlered and an unlimited number of antlerless permits. If you like being able to hunt without heavy pressure, look at the vastness of Shawnee State Forest. But be prepared for a physically challenging experience in the rugged hills of southern Ohio.

Listen to the advice from seasoned wildlife area managers and district wildlife management supervisors, as they recommend several prime areas to start your venture for an enjoyable hunt in Ohio.

DISTRICT ONE

Ohio's central district surrounding Columbus and its urban creep can yield some phenomenal deer hunting. You can not only benefit from the urban tags, but also take advantage of hunting the district's easternmost counties such as Knox and Licking that produce the highest yields annually in Central Ohio. Last year, Licking County topped 7,000 deer harvested, with most of them on private property. Opportunities to hunt public land are slim in District One, but a few areas come highly recommended.

Delaware Wildlife Area

Delaware Wildlife Area is District One's largest public hunting area, providing both gun and bowhunters a nearby outlet for deer hunting in the Greater Columbus region.

The 6,800-acre area is relatively flat ground, with multiple ways to access hunting ground from all directions. Publication 107 is a detailed map of the area that can provide hunters this information.

Delaware is only half an hour north of Columbus, adjacent to U.S. Route 23 on the west side of I-71 North. It rests at the junction of Delaware, Marion and Morrow Counties. Delaware and Morrow are three-deer counties, and Marion is part of the 30 two-deer counties.

Kokosing Lake Wildlife Area

Another area worth mentioning is Kokosing Lake Wildlife Area northwest of Fredericktown, Ohio. This 1,200-acre area sits in northern Knox County, which is known for high deer densities and great hunting.

Last season, Knox County was ranked in the top 10 for total deer harvest, with over 6,700 deer. Any time you can hunt public ground in Knox County, you'll stand a great chance at getting a deer.

Big Island Wildlife Area

A final area that is relatively new to Ohio is Big Island Wildlife Area. This 5,000-acre parcel provides Marion County hunters a little more space to maneuver. One drawback to the area is the limited amount of standing timber, however, a good hunter can use this to their advantage.

Concentrating to t

he south along the Scioto River and in the center of the area, you will find a mixture of whitetail habitat. The combination of woodland, brushland and the swamp is ideal habitat, but a location that most hunters are reluctant to access.

Access to Big Island is very simple, as you can reach most of the area via State Route 95 west of Marion.

For more information about all the public hunting areas in central Ohio, contact the District One office at (614) 644-3925.

DISTRICT TWO

Northwest Ohio may be one of easier districts to hunt, since the landscape is relatively flat and deer are concentrated in limited pockets of habitat. Despite being the district with the lowest total harvest, it still produces decent numbers of healthy-sized deer. With the predominately agricultural landscape, these deer are not deprived of nutrition.

"Northwest Ohio's one giant food plot," said District Manager John Daugherty, and he's correct. A few key public areas provide the cover needed to hold deer that use agriculture as their main staple for survival.

Lake La Su An Wildlife Area

Several counties in District Two provide great deer hunting. Once of these is Williams County, which borders Indiana and contains Lake La Su An Wildlife Area. This 2,430-acre area can be reached by Williams County Road 7 from U.S. Route 20.

The area contains beech, white ash, white oak, red oak, and sugar maple and several lowland areas that are poorly drained, forming wooded wetlands. This combination provides ideal whitetail habitat.

Further information can be obtained from the Area Manager, Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, 09-455 Road R, Pioneer, OH 43554. Phone the Division of Wildlife at (419) 485-9092, or visit their Web site at www.ohiodnr.com/wildlife.

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area

Whenever you can hunt adjacent to a wildlife refuge, you'll ultimately see your success rate improve, thanks to a deer population that isn't over-hunted. Killdeer Plains provides hunters this opportunity. This 8,627-acre wildlife area lies in the grain farming country of north-central Ohio, eight miles south of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County.

Approximately two-thirds of the area is in cropland and meadows, with the other third divided almost equally between woods and shrubby coverts and water.

Killdeer lies half way between Columbus and Toledo and is worth a scouting trip for all of Ohio's deer seasons. To obtain further information, contact:

'¢ The Area Manager, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, 19100 CH 115, Harpster, OH 43323. Phone (740) 496-2254.

'¢ Wildlife District Two Office, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH 45840. Call (419) 424-5000.

DISTRICT THREE

Northeastern Ohio continues to get better for deer hunters. Not only are the deer numbers high, so are the public-land opportunities to hunt.

Hats off to the Division of Wildlife for continuing to pursue the purchase of land for public hunting. District Three has over 25 wildlife areas they manage, and of course, white-tailed deer is the primary focus for all.

Brush Creek Wildlife Area

District Three Manager Jeff Herrick's favorite area is the rugged, 4,131-acre Brush Creek Wildlife Area positioned in northern Jefferson County. All of Jefferson County gave up more than 5,700 total deer last year, and biologists predict another great year. Quick access to the area is provided from County Road 55, reached from State Route 164 at Monroeville. Several township roads provide direct access to the area from County Road 55.

The southern counties of District Three are composed of broad ridges with steep slopes that descend to the narrow valley floors. The second-growth hardwoods occupying 80 percent of the area provide great bedding and browse for deer. Oak and hickory trees dominate the ridgetops and upper slopes. During a good fall mast, they can attract deer from anywhere. Bedding areas are found in the open fields and shrubby coverts on the flatter ridgetops and on valley floors.

County and township roads provide good access to most of the wildlife area. Several parking lots are situated throughout the area. For more information, you can contact:

'¢ Area Manager, Highlandtown Wildlife Area, 16760 Spring Valley Road, Salineville, OH 43945. Call (330) 679-2201.

'¢ Wildlife District Three Office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319. Telephone (330) 644-2293.

DISTRICT FOUR

Southeast Ohio is the mecca for deer hunters. With over 30 areas managed by the Division of Wildlife, three large sections of Wayne National Forests, and several state forests including the infamous Hocking State Forest, you can find a great local spot to hunt deer in any of these areas. Next year's District Four predictions all point to another record year.

State deer biologist Dr. Mike Tonkovich says, "I would expect a harvest similar to last year and venture to say somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 additional deer. I would expect the total harvest to fall around 235,000 to 245,000 deer," he claims.

Most of the deer in Ohio are harvested in District Four, with record counties such as Coshocton harvesting 8,600 and adjacent County with 7,300. You can't go wrong looking at Woodbury Wildlife Area in Coshocton or Tri-Valley Wildlife Area in Muskingum County.

Both areas are within an hour and a half drive from Columbus and collectively contain over 35,000 acres of prime deer habitat.

Woodbury lies in east-central Ohio approximately five miles west of Coshocton. Access to the area may be gained from a number of state routes including 16, 36, 60 and 541.

State Route 541, running east to west through the center of the area, provides good access to a series of county and township roads.

Information about Woodbury can obtained by contacting the Woodbury Wildlife Area Manager, 23371 SR 60 South, Warsaw, OH 43844; or phone (740) 824-3211.

Tri-Valley Area headquarters is located at 5960 Memory Lane, Zanesville, OH 43701, adjacent to the ODNR, Division of Forestry Nursery. You can reach the area manager by calling (740) 454-8296.

Due to the number of public hunting areas in District Four, I highly recommend you contact the District Four office at 360 E. State Street Athens, OH 45701, or call (740) 589-9930, for detailed information about the public area nearest your home of record.

DISTRICT FIVE

The two recent Boone and Crockett bucks emerging from District Five's Adams County reflect only a small portion of this area's potential. The district is producing numerous deer, and this year is no different. With over 15 managed areas and the enormous Shawnee State Forest, hunters from the Cincinnati and Dayton areas can find some of Ohio's best

within an hour's drive of the city.

Caesar Creek Wildlife Area

One of the largest tracts of land in District Five is Caesar Creek Wildlife Area, located in southern Clinton, Greene and eastern Warren counties. Encompassing over 10,000 acres, Caesar Creek WA provides the deer hunter with ample opportunities during all of the deer seasons. The adjacent state park serves as a sanctuary and a refuge for deer, keeping the local population abundant.

Due to a busy lake system that stretches throughout the area, deer are used to human activity year 'round. Hunters can access prime hunting ground via road, trail and shore while minimizing the impact of encounters with deer.

The area's northern portion provides the largest piece of contiguous ground. State Route 380 dissects the northern area with several perpendicular country roads, providing the internal portions with convenient access. The southern boundary of the wildlife area borders a no-hunting zone where you may find deer heading during the first day or two of the gun and muzzleloader seasons.

Biologists recommend this area for those in the Cincinnati/Dayton area who would prefer less than an hour's commute to wonderful deer hunting. It is convenient to the I-71 corridor, and ample loading can be found at most exits off the interstate.

For more information regarding the Caesar Creek Wildlife Area, call the area manager at (937) 488-3115, or the Caesar Creek State Park at (513) 897-3055.

In conclusion, Mike Tonkovich sums it up best: "There is no reason to expect anything but the best for this coming season. Hunting conditions were nearly ideal for the entire four-month season last year.

"If we see the same thing this year, I'd expect nothing less than an excellent season."

You can search the Division's Web site at www.ohiodnr.com/wildlife. Or for phone assistance, contact a representative at 1-800-WILDLIFE on finding your regional deer-hunting opportunities.

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