Our Finest December Shotgun Deer Hunts

Try these proven December deer-hunting hotspots for exciting gun-season action near you this month. (December 2005)

Photo by Mark Werner

Ohio's 2004 shotgun season deer hunters took 125,681 deer during the state's weeklong hunt. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), that was an 8 percent increase over the 2003 shotgun season.

If predictions hold true, hunters should have plenty of opportunities to do just as well this year. ODOW officials said the statewide deer population is estimated to be about 700,000 animals despite a long, hard winter, and numbers are stable or increasing in nearly every region.

Ohio's first modern deer-gun season opened in 1943 in just three counties, where hunters harvested 168 deer. An estimated 400,000 hunters participated during the 2004 gun season.

Fortunately, Ohio has plenty of land open to public hunting. Since the early 1900s, the ODOW, in conjunction with various conservation partners, has created 150 wildlife management areas totaling more than 170,000 acres. Hunting is also allowed in most state forests.

Here is an example of what is available during this year's shotgun season.


West Branch State Park

Covering just over 8,000 acres, West Branch State Park Wildlife Area in Portage County is adjacent to West Branch Reservoir, also known at Michael J. Kirwan Dam and Reservoir and West Branch State Park. About five miles east of Ravenna, 25 miles from Akron, 30 miles from Youngstown and 35 miles from Cleveland, it is bordered by state Route 225 to the east, Interstate Route 76 to the south, state Route 14 to the west and state Route 5 to the north. The reservoir covers 2,650 acres at full summer pool, leaving approximately 4,000 acres here open to hunting.

The terrain varies from flat crop fields, shrubby coverts and grasslands to rolling hills. There are also some sloping ridges and a considerable amount of woodland. Because of the varied habitat and size, deer populations and hunting opportunities are considered quite good.

For additional information, contact the area manager at Berlin Lake WMA, 1806 Bonner Road, Deerfield, OH 44411; or call (330) 654-2392.

West Branch State Park covers 5,379 acres within the wildlife area. All but the northeast section of the park, bound on the west by Rock Spring Road and on the south 100 yards beyond the lakeshore, is open to hunting as well. The no-hunting area includes the park office, campground, horse camp, dam area and east boat ramp. There is also a 400-foot no-hunting zone around all other developed facilities.

Hunters will find pulloffs and parking lots throughout the management area and park, and there is also a campground in the park offering nearly 200 campsites, some with electrical hookups.

For more information, contact the Park Headquarters, 5708 Esworthy Road, Ravenna, OH 44266; or call (330) 296-3239.

Highlandtown WMA

In southern Columbiana County about eight miles south of Lisbon, three miles northeast of Salineville and 37 miles from Canton, Highlandtown WMA covers 2,265 acres.

The area can easily be reached via state Route 39 from Salineville and Wellsville. ODOW started purchasing land for the area in 1956, with the final purchase made in 1966. Since then, shrubs and conifers have been planted, area woodlands have been protected and improved and some open fields have been allowed to revert to woodland as part of the game management plan.

Some of the best deer habitat and hunting will be found in the cutover timber stands and the pine and hardwood forests. In general, the area offers steep rolling hills with some flat hilltops, deep valley floors with elevations ranging from about 1,000 feet to 1,340 feet. Hunting is also allowed on over 400 acres in Yellow Creek State Forest, situated in two tracts on the west and north sides of the wildlife area.

For more information, contact the Area Manager, Highlandtown WMA, 16760 Spring Valley Road, Salineville, OH 43945; or call (330) 679-2201.

Killdeer Plains WMA

This wonderful area covers 8,627 acres about eight miles south of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot and Marion counties. State Route 115 provides access from state Route 294 about two miles west of Harpster. Access is also possible from state Route 309 approximately eight miles west of Marion. State routes 67 and 295 form the west and north borders, respectively. Parking lots and latrines are available within the WMA.

The original area, covering some 30,000 acres, was eventually drained, but today it is extensively farmed with corn and soybeans as the principal crops. Within the WMA, about two-thirds of the property is cropland, fields and meadows. The rest is about evenly divided between woodlands, shrub coverts and water. In all, about 1,000 acres are wooded.

Killdeer Plains WMA is known for its good deer population, and deer hunting there is quite popular. There is a 3,750-acre No Trespassing Waterfowl Zone within the WMA, and it is closed to public hunting except on a special permit basis.

For more information, contact the Area Manager, Killdeer Plains WMA, 19100 CH 115, Harpster, OH 43323; or call (740) 496-2254.


Delaware WMA

Situated 10 miles south of Marion and eight miles north of Delaware in Delaware, Marion and Morrow counties, this public hunting ground covers 4,670 acres. In all, there are more than 8,300 acres of public land and water here, including Delaware Reservoir and Delaware State Park, on the south side of the reservoir. Nearly all of it is licensed to the ODNR for recreational use. The park offers several boat launch sites for hunters and 211 campsites with electrical hookups.

For more information, contact the Delaware State Park Office, 5202 U.S. 23 North, Delaware, OH 43015; or call (740) 369-2761.

Much of the topography within the Delaware WMA varies from flat prairie and fields to gently rolling woodlands. About 40 percent of the area consists of second-growth hardwoods, including cottonwood, ash, elm, beech, maple, hickory, oak and black walnut. Some 350 acres are under cultivation in small grain crops, and approximately 50 percent of the area is in old fields consisting of mixed grasses, briers and small shrubs. About 10 percent of the area has been planted in prairie grass, timothy and clover.

The WMA may be reached from the east or west by state Route 229 and from the south or north by U.S. Route 2

3 and county Road 220. Parking lots are situated throughout the area, and there are several boat launch sites as well. There is also a rifle range for hunters who purchase a shooting range permit.

Contact the ODOW in Columbus at (614) 644-3925 for permit information.

For more information on Delaware WMA, contact the Area Manager, Delaware WMA, 8589 Horseshoe Road, Ashley, OH 43003; or call (740) 747-2919.

Deer Creek WMA

Located in Fayette, Madison and Pickaway counties about four miles south of Mount Sterling on state Route 207, Deer Creek WMA covers 4,085 acres. It can be reached via U.S. Route 22 and state Route 56 from the east or west, and U.S. Route 62 and state routes 3, 104 and 207 from the north or south.

The property abuts Deer Creek Lake and 3,165-acre Deer Creek State Park, which is south and east of the lake. In all, there are 7,575 acres under lease to the ODNR and ODOW where public hunting is allowed in some of the undeveloped areas of the park and on all lands managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Like much of the topography in the area, Deer Creek WMA varies from flat to gently rolling. About 1,000 acres are in row crops and small grains. About 25 percent of the area is covered with hardwoods, mostly on the east side of Deer Creek. Some of the best deer hunting is found in that area. The remaining acres consist of meadows, reverting crop fields, wildlife food plots and prairie grasses. Parking lots are available throughout the area, and there is a Class A rifle and pistol range available by paid permit only. Also, a Class C shotgun range is available without a permit.

For more information, contact the Area Supervisor, Deer Creek WMA, 12552 Post Road, Mt. Sterling, OH 43143; or call (740) 869-2365.

Deer Creek State Park offers 227 campsites as well as Deer Creek Resort, with 110 guest rooms and 25 cottages.

For more information on the park and campground, call (740) 869-3124 or (740) 869-2020 for information on the resort.

Caesar Creek Lake WMA

This 2,959-acre area is in Clinton, Green and Warren counties. From the south, state Route 73 bisects Caesar Creek Reservoir and crosses Corwin-New Burlington Road, which provides access to the wildlife area. Lumberton-New Burlington and Mound roads provide access from the southeast. Access is also possible from the north and west in Green County using the Roxanna-New Burlington road and state Route 380. Clarksville and Oregonia Road provide access from the south.

The area is about 30 miles from Cincinnati and 26 miles from Dayton.

Since the early 1900s, the ODOW, in conjunction with various conservation partners, has created 150 wildlife management areas totaling more than 170,000 acres.

About 40 percent of the wildlife area is covered with a mixture of oak, hickory, beech and maple. About 50 percent of the property consists of meadows and grain crops; the rest is reverting fields of shrubs, small trees, grasses and forbs. In general, the topography varies from flat to gently rolling slopes and ridges. Deer are found throughout the area, hunting is quite popular and the opportunities are considered quite good.

For more information, contact the ODOW District Five Office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9261.

Caesar Creek State Park covers more than 8,100 acres, borders the management area and is found on both sides of the reservoir. It offers 285 campsites with electrical hookups and other services. For information and season dates, contact the Park Headquarters, 8570 East S.R. 73, Waynesville, OH 45068; or call (513) 897-3055.

Paint Creek Lake WMA

Deer are found throughout this 5,090-acre WMA, and the hunting opportunities there are considered good. The area is in Highland and Ross counties at the south edge of Greenfield on the Paint Creek Fork and the southeast edge of Centerfield on the Rattlesnake Fork of Paint Creek Lake. State routes 138 and 753 cross Rattlesnake Fork about 15 miles east of Hillsboro and offer access.

The area also may be reached by turning north off U.S. Route 50 and using state Route 753 or Rapid Forge Road in Ross County.

About one-third of this area consists of meadows and grain crop fields, with the remainder evenly divided between woodlands and reverting fields.

The ODOW's wildlife management plan includes rotating crops and managing fields to provide food and cover, planting trees and shrubs to establish field dividers, improving existing fencerows, selective cutting and improving woodlands.

Paint Creek WMA is along the edge of Appalachian Plateau, and its topography is a mixture of rolling hills, ridges, rocky outcroppings and creek bottoms, all of which offer good habitat for deer.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District Five office in Xenia by calling (937) 372-9261.

Paint Creek Lake State Park covers 5,934 acres and is south of the wildlife management area on both sides of the reservoir. Some 195 campsites with electrical hookups and cabins are available.

For more information, contact the Park Headquarters, 14265 U.S. Route 50, Bainbridge, OH 45612; or call (937) 365-1401.

East Fork Wildlife Area

East Fork Lake was constructed in 1978. Of the 9,906 acres licensed to the ODNR, 2,705 acres are managed by the ODOW as the East Fork Wildlife Area. The rest is managed as East Fork State Park. The park is south and west of the wildlife area on both sides of the lake.

The wildlife area is on the northeast edge of the lake southeast of Williamsburg in Clermont County. Access to the wildlife area is possible from roads off state Route 133 and Old State Route 32 west of Williamsburg. It is only about 16 miles from Cincinnati.

The area varies in both topography and character. Level upland-type habitat and meadows make up about 25 percent of the property; about 30 percent is in reverting fields featuring shrubs, small trees and grasses; and wooded hills and steep hillsides of beech, maple, red and white oak and hickory make up about 40 percent of the habitat.

For more information and maps of the area, contact the ODOW's District Five office in Xenia by calling (937) 372-9261.

East Fork State Park, one of the largest in the state, offers nearly 400 campsites, all with electrical hookups and other services.

For season dates and additional information, contact the Park Headquarters, 3294 Elklick Road, Bentel, OH 45106; or call (513) 734-4323.


Waterloo Wildlife Area/Zaleski State Forest

Land purchases for this area started in 1944. Prior to that, parts of the area were cultivated and used for grazing, and the woodlands were extensively cut. Since the state took ownership, the fields have been allowed to revert back to woodlands, and today the area is heavily wooded with oak and hickory on the ridges and ridgetops and scattered stands of beech and maple in the bottoms. Hunters will also find several small openings, particularly on the ridgetops. The larger reverting fields will be found along Hewett Fork, which parallels the eastern edge of the wildlife area.

The wildlife area is about 10 miles west of Athens at the junction of state routes 56 and 356.

For more information, contact the Waterloo Wildlife Research Station, 9650 State Route 356, New Marshfield, OH 45766; or call (740) 664-2745.

Over 660 acres of this area are managed as a walk-in wild turkey management area, designed to provide a minimum of 60 percent trees of mast-producing size and limited access.

This turkey management area covers over 5,140 acres, with the rest within Zaleski State Forest, the second-largest state forest in Ohio, covering 28,000 acres.

There is also a Grouse Management Area within the WMA, and both areas are open to hunting. Hunting is prohibited within 400 feet of any building, facility or recreation area. Camping is allowed in designated areas only.

The Atkinson Ridge Hunters Camp is on the north end of township Road 5 in the Grouse Management Area. The campground offers latrines, picnic tables and fire rings. Sites are available on a first-come/first-served basis. It opens one day before the start of the squirrel season (Aug. 31) and ends one day after the close of the grouse season in March.

For more information on the forest, contact Zaleski State Forest, Zaleski, OH 45698; or call (740) 596-5781.

For more information on hunting opportunities during Ohio's deer-gun season, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 2045 Morse Road, Bldg. G, Columbus, OH 43229; call (800) 945-3543 or (614) 265-6300; or visit the agency's Web site at


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