Ohio’s deer hunting regulations don’t change much in 2016 but as a result of hunter input the timing of the two-day bonus gun season and the statewide muzzleloader season will be different. The majority of hunters expressed preference for the weekend before Christmas for the two-day hunt, moving it to December 17 and 18 this year, and allowing the statewide muzzleloader season to return to its previous timeslot — the first Saturday after New Year’s.
According to Deer Program Leader Dr. Mike Tonkovich, “Chief Ray Petering had asked us to hand out a short questionnaire about the timing of the bonus gun and muzzleloader seasons, and a majority of hunters wanted to see it in mid-December so the division proposed that move.”
Tonkovich’s prediction for this year’s deer hunting? “In spite of the bump in harvest last year, I’m still expecting a 4-6 percent increase in both deer population and harvest this year.”
AROUND THE STATE
While a slight increase had been predicted for last year, 2016 produced a better-than-expected deer harvest. Tonkovich attributed it to a couple main factors. “The weather was far better than the previous year, particularly during the first few days of gun season. And overall, the weather during archery season was just amazing,” he said.
He added, “The other big factor is mast crop. It wasn’t a complete failure but it was a very, very poor year. In poor mast crop years, it’s a lot easier to kill a deer. The deer are very predictable; they’re very vulnerable to bait, and very likely to come to food plots, both those planted for the deer and those planted for farm production.”
Tonkovich points out that in the counties where mast is a very important part of the deer’s diet — the southeastern oak and hickory forests, for example — that’s where the harvest was up. He says that what drives home the point about mast’s relevance is what happened in counties like Lawrence and some others in southeastern Ohio.
“We had either reduced the bag limit or took away some antlerless permits or both, but we actually had some of those counties with an increase in antlerless harvest for the simple reason that the deer are much more visible and vulnerable in years with a reduced mast crop,” he said.
A total of 188,335 deer were taken in the 2015-16 season, an increase of 7.1 percent over the 2014-15 season. Hunters took 79,176 bucks, 90,021 does, and 19,138 button bucks. Coshocton County once again led the state with 5,700 deer.
The statewide antlerless harvest was up 2 percent, and some of the southeastern counties saw an increase of more than 20 percent, which Tonkovich says may not bode well for hunters’ prospects in the immediate future. “It won’t be devastating but they may have a less satisfactory year this season,” he said.
Hunters took 73,392 deer during gun season, 12 percent up from the previous year. The best counties for gun season were Coshocton, Muskingum, Ashtabula, Tuscarawas and Guernsey. Harvest during the bonus gun season was 9,447 and the top counties were Coshocton, Ashtabula, Tuscarawas, Muskingum and Guernsey.
Bowhunters took 83,725 deer, a modest increase of 2.5 percent. Of that total, 50,734 deer were taken with crossbow, while hunters using compounds, recurves and longbows accounted for 32,991. Bowhunting accounted for 44 percent of the entire deer harvest and the archery take was larger than the traditional gun season harvest for the third year in a row.
HUNTING OHIO’S PUBLIC LAND
Hunters took 17,055 deer from public hunting lands. In Ohio, public lands account for only about 4 percent of the total land area, though the public land deer harvest was just over 9 percent of the year’s total harvest. Thirty-eight percent of the public land harvest was antlered bucks (on private land the buck kill was 41 percent of the total).
With just over 80,000 acres of public land between the Wayne National Forest, Crown City Wildlife Area, and Dean State Forest, Lawrence County once again was number one for the proportion of deer taken on public vs. private land, with 28 percent coming off public land. The other top counties were Vinton (20.5 Percent), Hocking (20.2 Percent), Morgan (19.9 Percent), and Lucas (19.6 Percent).
THE REGIONAL OUTLOOK
Wildlife District 1, Central Ohio
Wildlife Communications Specialist Karen Norris said that while Central Ohio doesn’t have as much public land as some regions of the state, it has tremendous deer hunting. Licking County produced the second-highest harvest total in the state last year with 5,365 deer taken.
Norris notes that the district contains a number of Wildlife Production Areas (WPAs), primarily in Pickaway, Madison and Ross counties. “They’re small plots of land open for public hunting and frequently don’t get much attention,” she said. “The Division’s Publication 77 is a great resource for finding public land and it lists all the WPAs.”
Once a person identifies a WPA they’re interested in, Norris said the best bet is to call the district office at (614) 644-3925 for maps.
For large public hunting areas, Norris said the best options in the district are Deer Creek and Delaware, particularly for bowhunters.
Some Metro Parks do allow hunting, notably Batelle Darby Creek Metro Park in the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Park system. Near Galloway, Darby Creek has excellent habitat and hunting opportunities. You can do a Google search on Metro Parks for more information.
Norris noted that several Central Ohio municipalities like Gahanna and New Albany have lottery systems and allow bowhunting, though it’s too late to apply for this season. The DOW administers the annual Transportation Research Center controlled hunts in Logan County and Norris says they are an excellent hunting opportunity. Again application period is closed but it’s a good one to plan to try for next year.
Wildlife District 2, Northwestern Ohio
According to Wildlife Management Supervisor Bob Ford, Northwest Ohio’s croplands provide an excellent food source for deer. The Willard Wildlife Area (1,676 acres), in Huron County, would be an excellent area to hunt as it is in an area of the state where increased cover is interspersed with high-quality food sources. Ford says that Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot and Marion Counties (9,230 acres) is also an excellent area to deer hunt.
“Although approximately 2,500 acres are in refuge, this area provides an excellent mixture of habitat types offering ample food and cover,” said Ford. “Lake La Su An Wildlife Area (2,430 acres) in far Northwestern Ohio, offers good opportunities for deer, as well. This area has a greatmixture of forest, wetland and grassland habitat which provides a lot of cover with hard mast tree species and many water sources in close proximity.”
Wildlife District 3, Northeastern/Eastern Ohio
Assistant Wildlife Management Supervisor Allen Lee says the outlook for hunters here doesn’t change much from year to year.
“The places where we have the best habitat for deer and deer hunting will still be big wildlife areas like Jockey Hollow and Brush Creek. Both have excellent woodland habitat,” said Lee.
He says that all the WAs in the district have habitat that can hold deer, so hunters who live near one shouldn’t hesitate to look close to home. Lee also points out that the DOW had recently taken title to a 21-acre parcel on the north side of Grand River WA.
“We purchased it in conjunction with the Ruffed Grouse Society, and that piece will add to the diversity of the woodlands in the area, bringing an additional young forest component,” he said.
“We recently did a 20-acre clear cut at Brush Creek which will bring about some early secession habitat; good for grouse, woodcock, deer, and turkeys,” said Lee.
Wildlife management staff in the region are also doing additional work on Highlandtown WA, removing invasive species, and Hamden Orchard WA will have some reclamation work done on old fields that were previously not much use to wildlife or to hunters.
Lee says hunters still have great opportunities at controlled hunts conducted at the Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center (used to be known as the Ravenna Arsenal) but the number of hunts have been greatly reduced. Property managers there are dealing with what they believe is a reduced herd after an outbreak of EHD two years ago. The application period for this and other controlled hunts ended earlier this year but in the future, check out wildlife.ohiodnr.gov.
Wildlife District 4,
Wildlife Management Supervisor Jim Hill said hunters would do well to check out “some of our medium-sized and ‘off the beaten path’ wildlife areas like Monroe Lake WA (1,333 acres) in Monroe County, Ale’s Run WA (2,905 acres) in Noble County, Powelson WA (2,779 acres) in Muskingum County, and Broken ARO (3,007acres) and Coalton (1,729 acres) WA’s in Jackson County.
“Monroe Lake has a good mix of oak throughout the forest stands, and farm fields and the profile of the lake create some remote areas for those willing to venture. Ale’s Run and Powelson both had been surface mined pre-law, and have many high walls which can present a challenge to deer hunters — but find the funnel areas these high walls create and you’ll find the deer,” said Hill.
He adds that Broken ARO and Coalton have been harvested for timber over the last several years, and the harvests have created some very dense deer habitat.
“Deer hunters should seek out the more open woodlots between and immediately surrounding these regrowth areas to hunt,” said Hill.
Hill says that the highest deer densities will still be in the northern portions of the district, where there are some very large tracts of public lands like Woodbury (19,202 acres), Tri-Valley (15,181 acres) and Egypt Valley (17,327 acres). Those three areas are popular with deer hunters — and for good reason. They were all surface mined at one point and have reverted to excellent deer habitat.
Hunters who want large areas to explore would do well to check out the American Electric Power (AEP) ReCreation Lands in Morgan, Muskingum and Noble counties, with about 60,000 acres. One of the AEP areas, Avondale, is closed to hunting due to a sinkhole that had closed part of the area last year. Permits are required but the permits are free and can be obtained ataep.com.
Wildlife District 5,
Wildlife Management Supervisor Brett Beatty likes the deer hunting odds at some of the smaller wildlife areas in the district.
“You can pair up some of our smaller areas for really good deer hunting opportunities,” he said. “Try Spring Valley and Caesar Creek WAs, located on the Green/Warren/Clinton County lines. It’s the vicinity around Caesar Creek Lake near Waynesville. They offer some really good deer hunting and are close to Dayton and not too far from Cincinnati.”
He adds that these areas are managed like much of western Ohio, with a good mix of agriculture, prairie fields and some good woodlots with hardwoods. Beatty said, “Caesar Creek is about 3,100 acres and Spring Valley is 842 -— they’re only separated by a couple miles so you can easily hit both. As a big plus Spring Valley has a Class A shooting range.
In Preble County, Beatty recommends Rush Run and Woodland Trails WAs. He said that both have good thick cover, with dense underbrush for good bedding areas. Neither have much agriculture on the WA, but there’s plenty nearby so they’re good places to catch deer coming and going off the area to feed in other places. The two areas are primarily managed for upland game so there are lots of prairie fields, which are excellent bedding areas.
Beatty also noted that while it’s too late to get in on this year’s hunts, several area park systems offer high quality deer hunts and are opportunities to bag your deer. Check outmetroparks.org, greatparks.org, or cincinnatiparks.com.