Ohio's Top Five December Deer Hunts

Ohio's Top Five December Deer Hunts

For odds-on gun hunting success, these five trips are your best bets this month. Study your maps, do your scouting and get ready for opening day!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Brian Ruzzo

The white-tailed deer population in Ohio continues to be healthy and strong. In 1995, deer populations hovered near the 550,000 mark. Then populations slipped slightly to a recent low of approximately 400,000 in 1998. Since then the Buckeye State whitetail herd has slowly climbed to an estimated 681,000 deer (in 2003). During last year's gun season, Ohio's hunters harvested 133,163 whitetails.

This season, whitetail seekers can expect similar population and harvest totals. More than 450,000 hunters are expected to take to the fields and woods in search of whitetails. Approximately one out of three will make the trip to the check station. If you want to be one of those successful hunters, read on, because most of the time it's not luck that produces results, it's hard work and knowing where to hunt.

Our top spots for 2004 are based on local populations, Division of Wildlife recommendations, and available public acreage. Destinations in districts Two, Three, and Five. District one hunters should consider a short trip south to District Four where both central- and southeastern-Ohio hunters will find the best deer hunting in the state.

Here's a closer look at Ohio's top five gun hunts for 2004:

DISTRICT TWO

The Lake La Su An Wildlife Area is our District Two pick for December. Lake La Su An is in Williams County, which yielded 917 whitetails last season. Ranking third among 20 District Two counties, Williams County produced 851 gun season deer in 2002.

Encompassing 2,100 acres, the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area is rectangular shaped stretching four miles east to west and one mile north to south. Much of the area is covered with upland habitat. However, a stretch of woods runs east to west through the center of the property.

According to Travis Kruse, who works on the property, the local deer population frequents the edge cover along the woods.

Kruse also points out that the ODOW plants corn and sunflower fields for doves, but deer are also attracted to these areas.

Kruse recommends exploring the area in the late afternoon hours if you want to avoid hunting pressure, which can be heavy during the gun season on any of Ohio's public grounds.

Access to the area is provided by County roads R and 7, which are north of U. S. Route 20.

For a map or more information, contact the District Two office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, OH 45840; or call (419) 424-5000. The Lake La Su An Wildlife Area office, at (419) 485-9092 is another good resource.

DISTRICT THREE

Jockey Hollow Wildlife Area, which was opened in 2003, stretches across Harrison (District Three) and Belmont counties (District Four). Harrison County, which produced an impressive 3,637 deer during the 2003 gun season, ranked second among all District Three counties. Belmont added another 2,451 deer to the 2003 state totals.

With 3,500 acres of rolling hills along the border of these two counties, hunters can be confident that good numbers of deer are using the region. The area is primarily comprised of forested lands mixed with open grassy areas. The open grassy areas are tracts of reclaimed mining lands. The combination of open ground with forests creates an abundance of edges to explore.

Mark Hemming, an ODOW assistant wildlife management supervisor, recommends the hard-to-reach areas of Jockey Hollow. These remote stretches are especially attractive to whitetails when the shooting starts. The area is new and there are not many access roads or area parking lots. In fact, hunters will have to use township and county roads to access the area.

U. S. Route 22 skirts the northwestern edge of the area. From U. S. Route 22, hunters may follow township roads south and east into the heart of the Jockey Hollow.

While the area is shared by districts Three and Four, the District Four office has general management responsibilities for the area.

For a map or more information, contact the District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701; or call (740) 589-9930. Hunters may also want to call the Salt Fork Wildlife Area manager, who manages daily activities at Jockey Hollow, at (740) 489-5021.

DISTRICT FOUR

District Four, or southwestern Ohio, is home to the state's best deer hunting. Four of the top five deer- producing counties statewide (in 2003) were within this district.

Selecting just one whitetail hunt in District Four is a difficult task. In fact, just about any public hunting area is worth targeting.

The district's vast national and state forest holdings are good bets, but the Ohio Division of Wildlife's latest report suggests that the Crown City and Waterloo wildlife areas might be a better choice this season.

Though specific statistics are not available, it's a good bet that the Crown City Wildlife Area in Gallia County produced its share of the county's 2,402 whitetails last December.

The 11,136-acre area contains approximately 4,000 acres of reclaimed openings with the remainder of the property dominated by mixed growth forests.

The old mining operations at Crown City WA targeted exposed high ground such as ridge tops. The area's ravines, ditches and draws were untouched. These low-lying reaches are now forested, while the reclaimed lands are still open ground. As a result, edge habitat is abundant.

Hunters may access the Crown City Wildlife Area via Rocky Fork Road, which is off state Route 218 approximately four miles north of Crown City.

For maps or more information, contact the District Four office or the Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area manager at (740) 682-7524.

Waterloo Wildlife Area

The 1,522-acre Waterloo Wildlife Area is in one of District Four's top five deer counties - Athens County. Last year during gun season Athens County hunters bagged an impressive 3,513 whitetails. That was good enough to outpace 14 other District Four counties.

Much like Jockey Hollow and Crown Ci

ty, Hemming describes the terrain at Waterloo as hilly. But, unlike those other wildlife areas, Waterloo is primarily forested land.

The Division of Wildlife has conducted some cutting to promote edge habitat. Hemming recommends hunters focus on cuttings with younger growth. These areas not only provide good cover but also plenty of forage for deer in December.

The Waterloo Wildlife Area is 10 miles west of Athens at the junction of state routes 56 and 356.

For a map or more information, contact the District Four office of the Division of Wildlife or the Waterloo Research Station at (740) 664-2745).

DISTRICT FIVE

The East Fork Wildlife Area always seems to show up on District Five lists of "best bets." East Forks' home, Clermont County, ranked fourth among 17 District Five counties, with 1,288 deer taken during the gun season.

East Fork is not as steep as some of the District Four destinations, but it does feature some rolling hills. Flat terrain can also be found on the area. According to Rick Jasper, District Five assistant wildlife management supervisor, East Fork has a good mix of forest, brush land and open grassy areas. Crops are also planted throughout the area to help maintain open ground.

Edge habitat is a good place to start, but Jasper recommends scouting the area before the gun season. Look for natural funnels or other areas that whitetails may cross when pressured.

Remote patches of thick escape cover are also good places to find pressured deer. The wildlife area covers 2,248 acres and the park adds almost another 5,700 acres, so there is plenty of ground to scout.

Access to the area is provided by state Route 222 approximately four miles southeast of Batavia.

For a map and more information, contact the District Five office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9261.



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