Deer hunting public land opportunities abound in Ohio’s early deer seasons. Here’s where to go to get your deer early this year.
By Dan Armitage
With four decades of Ohio deer hunting under his belt, and a Buckeye Big Buck Club-qualifying 14 pointer to his credit, Joe Mancuso has learned a thing or two about fooling Buckeye State whitetails.
The contractor sales rep for the 84 Lumber Company starting chasing deer at age 9 and pursues them with a passion, with bow and gun, on public and private land, from his home in LaGrange.
“They’re a challenge,” Mancuso answered when asked, “Why deer?”
“Whitetails are fascinating,” he added. “And you gotta outthink a mature deer to kill it.”
And there’s no better time, he says, for getting the drop on a respectable buck than early in the hunting season.
“The advantage in the early season is that the deer aren’t on high alert yet. And they haven’t started to change their summer movement patterns,” he explained. “Other than maybe during the rut, in the early season a hunter has his best chance at tagging a big buck that may have slipped up.”
Whether scouting private or public ground, Mancuso says that he looks for areas with a good food source and bedding areas nearby, and plants a tree stand between the two. He’ll study the trails and try to locate those that bottleneck a deer’s path to a narrow corridor within range of his bow. When on private land, he prefers permanent stands but will use a self-climber when needed — or as required on public ground.
Early in the season he doesn’t call or rattle as he will closer to the rut, but does use cover scents season-long that are matched to the habitat when possible.
“I’ll use apple (scent) when hunting an orchard and pine (scent) when hunting the conifers,” he explained. “But most of the time I stick with an earth cover scent.”
Even so, Mancuso’s a stickler for odor control, washing his clothes and self in scent-free soap and donning rubber boots before taking to the woods.
Those woods are often included in his favorite public hunting destination: Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in southeastern Ohio.
“I think public land in Ohio is overlooked by deer hunters,” he said. “Everyone thinks you have to have private land to manage and hunt for trophy deer, but that’s not the case.”
To Mancuso’s point, here are some areas open to the public for deer hunting in each part of the state that you may want to consider this fall.
PUBLIC DEER HUNTING GROUNDS IN CENTRAL OHIO
Because they are adjacent to the state’s largest city, the greater Columbus area is surrounded by public hunting areas that hold deer but often get overlooked by central Ohio hunters. One of the most productive for deer numbers is due north of the Capital City, sprawled across Delaware, Morrow and Marion counties.
4,670-acre Delaware Wildlife Area is located eight miles north of Delaware, 10 miles south of Marion, and between US routes 42 and 23. The wildlife area is adjacent to the Delaware Reservoir and Delaware State Park and can be reached from the east and west by State route 229 and from the south and north by US route 23 and County road 220.
The area’s topography ranges from flat to slightly rolling, and approximately 350 acres are under cultivation in row and small grain crops annually. Also of interest to deer hunters, some 50 percent of the wildlife area is in old field habitat consisting of mixed grasses, briers and small shrubs and 10 percent has been planted to prairie grasses, timothy and clover to provide grassland wildlife habitat. Almost half of Delaware Wildlife Area consists of second-growth hardwoods and brush in advanced stages of succession, with timber stands consisting of cottonwood, ash, elm, beech, maple, hickory, oak, and black walnut.
More information about hunting deer at Delaware Wildlife Area is available from the area office (740-747-2919), from the Wildlife District One Office (614-644-392), or online: wildohio.gov.
To the southwest of Columbus in Wildlife District One, Deer Creek Wildlife Area offers 4,220 acres of deer hunting ground that is open to the public. The wildlife area is located four miles south of Mount Sterling on State route 207 and adjacent to the 1,277-acre Deer Creek Lake. It can be reached from the east and west by US route 22 and State route 56, and from the north and south by US route 62 and State routes 3, 104, and 207.
The area’s topography is flat to slightly rolling and includes some 1,000 acres of row crops and small grains are under cultivation annually — food sources that are popular with deer. About 25 percent of the wildlife area consists of second-growth hardwoods and brush in advanced stages of succession. The timber stand is mainly on the east side of Deer Creek Lake and includes oak, hickory, elm, black walnut, ash, maple, locust, sycamore, and cottonwood.The remainder of the acreage that is not in row-crops consists of permanent meadow, reverting fields, wildlife food plots, and prairie grasses.
More information on the wildlife area may be obtained from the Area Supervisor, Deer Creek Wildlife Area at 740-869-2365, from the Wildlife District One offices at 614-644-3925 or by going to wildohio.gov.
PUBLIC DEER HUNTING GROUNDS IN SOUTHWEST OHIO
In Southwest Ohio, PSE Archery pro-staffer and southwest Ohio resident Bill Epeards directs much of his early season deer hunting efforts on public property, including two state parks in Clermont County known to produce large whitetails.
One of the state’s largest state parks, 4,870-acre East Fork, is about 25 miles east of Cincinnati. The park’s terrain includes both rugged hills and open meadows and plenty of prime deer habitat. For more information, contact East Fork State Park, 3294 Elklick Road, Bethel,45106.
The same holds true for another of Epeards’ local whitetail hotspots: Clermont County’s Stonelick State Park, located just east of Milford and south of Edenton on State route 133. Epeards claims that Stonelick’s 1,058 acres hold trophy whitetails that hunters never see but should be on the lookout for this season.
For deer hunting information at Stonelick State Park, contact the park offices at 2895 Lake Dr., Pleasant Plain, OH 45162.
PUBLIC DEER HUNTING GROUNDS IN SOUTHEAST OHIO
Wildlife District Four, in southeastern Ohio, offers the most public land available open for deer hunting of any part of the state, by a long shot. Arguably these are the best opportunities in terms of both numbers and size of whitetails in the Ohio. Southeastern Ohio is also where the most acres have been added to those places where the general public can go hunt deer.
For example, American Electric Power (AEP) offers more than 60,000 acres of land to the public for hunting and fishing in cooperative agreements with the Division of Wildlife in nine counties, including Athens, Coshocton, Gallia, Guernsey, Meigs, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble & Perry counties. Much of it is excellent for deer hunting. Recreational users of any AEP ReCreation agreement lands must obtain a free permit before entering the property.Permits may be obtained by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE or online at www.aep.com/environmental/recreation/recland/permit.aspx.
Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area, with 5,421 acres located 12 miles southeast of Jackson off US route 35 in Jackson County, is another good early season deer hunting bet. Scattered oak/hickory groves offer abundant mast and the public hunting area is dissected by Symmes Creek, a small, low-gradient stream, and several of its tributaries. These waterways can concentrate deer in early season, particularly in warm years.
More than half of Cooper Hollow is wooded, and while oak and hickory are the most common upland trees, elm, ash, and silver maple grow along the streams. Twenty percent of Cooper Hollow consists of reverting old fields with a mixture of shrubby coverts and native grasses — a combination which is excellent deer habitat.
For deer hunting information on Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area, contact the area office at 740-682-7524. You can also get maps and more info at wildohio.gov.
Then there’s Mancuso’s favorite deer hunting destination: Egypt Valley Wildlife Area, located in Belmont and Guernsey counties, the unglaciated region of southeastern Ohio in the low hills leading to the Allegheny Plateau. The primary access to the area is Interstate 70 and State Route 800, west of Morristown.
Ohio acquired Egypt Valley Wildlife Area beginning in 1995 with 14,300 acres being purchased from The Conservation Fund. Ducks Unlimited, The National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Ruffed Grouse Society have since partnered with the Division of Wildlife in the purchase to date of approximately 18,011 acres.
Piedmont Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake managed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, is in the middle of the two land parcels that make up the wildlife area.
Maps and more information on all the public hunting areas in southeastern Ohio are available by calling the Wildlife District Four offices in Athens at 740-589-9930 or at wildifeohio.gov.
PUBLIC DEER HUNTING GROUNDS IN NORTHEASTERN OHIO
“When it comes to early archery season, all the wildlife areas in northeast Ohio are under-utilized by deer hunters,” according to the former assistant wildlife management supervisor for Wildlife District Three regarding more than 30 public hunting areas in his jurisdiction.
One of the best is Grand River WLA. Offering hunters some 7,000-acres in Trumbull County, much of it following the Grand River corridor, the wildlife area offers variety of high and low ground and tree species. The lower areas also offer water, which is important to early season deer and the hunters who pursue them. The bonus of row-crops grown on the area offers an easy food source to support the thriving whitetail population found at Grand River.
Highlandtown Wildlife Area is the other public hunting destination recommended for early season archery hunters. With more than 2,200 acres of land, much of it relatively ‘high country’ compared to the surrounding landscape, the Columbiana-county area gets a fair amount of pressure from deer hunters — but year-in and year-out Highlandtown also produces impressive harvest rates.
To learn more about both Grand River and Highlandtown wildlife areas, wildohio.gov and follow the links for maps and deer hunting information.
PUBLIC DEER HUNTING DESTINATIONS IN NORTHWEST OHIO
District Two’s flat landscape holds several public wildlife areas that can be productive for early season deer hunters. At the top of the list is Lake La Su An. The 2,430-acre area is in Bridgewater and Northwest townships in the northwest corner of Williams County and is a famous place to fish for trophy panfish.
What’s more, the La Su An property is accessible by physically challenged anglers and hunters, who may operate a motor vehicle and park in certain areas of Lake La Su An as long as they carry a licensed physician’s statement listing the illness which prohibits the individual from walking.
Williams County Road R provides access to the area from State Route 576, and the area can also be reached by Williams County Road 7 from U.S. Route 20. The wildlife area is gently sloping with natural drainage to the West Branch of the St. Joseph River, which cuts through it center. About two-thirds of the wildlife area is in woods and brush land; the other balance is divided between cropland and meadow. The water areas include 14 lakes and ponds ranging from 1/4 acre to 82 acres, and over 30 wooded wetlands and restored wetlands from two to 18 acres — all excellent places to locate early autumn whitetails that tend to stay near water sources during the warmer part of the season.
For more information on hunting deer at Lake La Su An, visit wildohio.gov.