By Dan Long
Sitting for long periods of time in the cold of winter can wear on an archer, but bowhunting Ohio’s whitetails in January can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of the season.
January can bring bowhunters a rewarding way to fill unused deer tags left over from the rut and gun season. Survival is the game now, and deer are fixated on finding secure bedding areas – which need to be out of the wind, because wind chill can devastate them – near ample sources of high-energy foods such as corn, acorns, and unpicked beans. And as deer in winter naturally spend more time in groups for security, opportunities will likely increase all the more for those targeting areas that contain both food and shelter. Thus, an area featuring this combination can turn out to be an archery deer hunter’s gold mine.
Also, weather is an excellent gauge for determining when to be in your stand to catch deer on the move. Keep an eye on weather patterns to predict how early or late deer will leave their beds to move around. Normally, hunting two hours in the evenings or mornings is enough to bring deer within bow range on a constant basis.
Last year, Ohio bowhunters harvested almost 49,000 deer during the state’s four-month bow season. The record-breaking fall and winter coupled with a tremendous gun and muzzleloader season for a total statewide harvest of 204,652 deer that shattered the previous mark, 1995’s total of 179,543.
Leaning to the conservative side of management, the Ohio Division of Wildlife elected to bring all three-deer-limit counties back to two-deer counties to prevent a possible over- harvest situation. A wet spring and summer boosted fawn production, ensuring a great deer season for 2003-04.
The following public hunting areas offer some of the best prospects for successful late-season whitetail hunting in the Buckeye State.
What makes this area a solid bet for deer hunting generally, and a chance at a big deer specifically, is that it’s often possible to see 30-plus whitetails feeding in a single field. Delaware State Park provides refuge for whitetails during the gun season, when hunters begin ambushing the deer as they move to local agricultural fields during late afternoons.
If additional motivation to visit Delaware WA is needed, note that Delaware County bowhunters tagged 792 deer last year, and that some 17 Ohio Big Buck Club qualifiers were taken there in 2001! I’d strongly consider scouting Delaware County and Delaware WA this year for a late-season whitetail.
Contact the ODOW’s District 1 office at (614) 644-3925, or try the ODOW’s Web site – www.dnr. state.oh.us/wildlife/hunting/wildlifeareas/central/centralwa.htm – for a map of Delaware WA.
In an area known for fertile soils and productive agriculture, Deer Creek WA produces a fair number of big deer. Over 1,000 acres within the area either are farmed or are planted in food plots designed to attract deer and provide winter food sources. There are few large tracts of woods at Deer Creek, but plenty of fencerows, edges and thickets in which feeding deer may be found.
Much of the area is planted in warm- and cool-season grasses and switchgrass, providing great habitat for upland game and drawing deer in as well. Avoid these areas when approaching a stand or blind, but keep them in mind when setting up on a winter food source, because deer are sure to be bedding in them.
Deer Creek WA is easy to find. U.S. Route 22 and state Route 56 are major east-to-west access roads. U.S. Route 62 and state routes 104 and 207 provide access from the north and south. The WA is about 30 minutes south of Columbus via Interstate Route 71.
Research Deer Creek WA by ordering maps from the District 1 office or the department Web site (address noted above). However, nothing beats scouting the layout of crops and cover before hunting.
Lake La Su An
“Lake La Su An is in Williams County, which has a very good deer population for northwest Ohio,” said Plageman.
Though great overall for bowhunting, the area does receive some pressure in gun season. But don’t let the pressure of gun hunting dissuade you from a late-season bowhunt. Keep in mind that deer are expert at evading pressure and will flee to adjacent pockets of concealment when the slugs begin to fly. By the time January rolls around, groups of deer will have reestablished themselves at La Su An and become easier to pattern.
Hunters can access Lake La Su An WA via state Route 576 in Williams County. The WA lies between county roads S and R six miles west of Pioneer and about two miles east of state Route 49, which runs north and south.
From the east, take the Interstate Route 80 (a toll road) exit in Williams County and take state Route 576. Lake La Su An is approximately an hour west of Toledo.
For more information, contact the area manager at (419) 485-9092, or write: Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, 09-455 CR R, Pioneer, OH 43554.
“Killdeer Plains has a large refuge for
waterfowl on the 8,627-acre area. Deer populations are higher there than on the surrounding agricultural areas because there is light deer hunting pressure on the refuge,” said the ODOW’s Plageman.
Even though last year’s bow harvest totaled only 223 deer, low numbers mean light bowhunting pressure and good odds for seeing deer. Knee-high rubber boots will allow easier (or, at least, drier) access into wet areas and help prevent scent dispersion.
Killdeer Plains WA is eight miles south of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County. Access the area by taking county Road 115 from state Route 294 two miles west of Harpster or state Route 309 eight miles west of Marion. Like Lake La Su An, Killdeer Plains WA is approximately one hour from Toledo. Parking lots and latrines are scattered throughout the area.
For more information on Killdeer Plains WA, contact the district office at (419) 424-5000 or browse the ODOW’S Web site.
Grand River And Mosquito Creek WAs
Wildlife technician Geoffrey Westerfield recommends these two areas for great deer hunting and a chance for a big buck.
“Grand River and Mosquito Creek Wildlife Areas have plenty of habitat supporting many deer. The large sizes of these areas (6,200 and 8,525 acres) allows hunters the ability to spread out within an interspersion of different habitats such as woodlands, wetlands and brushy country,” said Westerfield.
Both areas contain a good deal of water. Accordingly, entering certain spots by canoe or boat may give enterprising hunters the advantage by slipping into areas that are unreachable on foot.
Mosquito Creek WA includes a waterfowl refuge that is off limits to hunting, but 1,500 acres to the north are open to hunting and contain prime habitat for deer seeking a high-energy food source.
Both areas are in Trumbull County approximately 90 minutes from Cleveland. Grand River WA is near the intersection of state routes 534 and 87; state Route 87 east cuts across the northern part of Mosquito Creek.
U.S. Route 22 skirts the northern end of the area. Look for the intersection of state Route 519 and U.S. Route 22. A few county and township roads stem from the main highways to provide access.
For more information about these areas, contact the ODOW’s District 3 office at (330) 644-2293.
State-owned wildlife areas are good options this month for two reasons: First, most of them are old farms that have reverted to wilderness or are adjacent to current agricultural activity; second, ODOW area managers work diligently to plant food plots and to enhance natural vegetation through fostering the increase of specific target species. Following are the top choices for the district’s best winter bowhunts.
Of last year’s district total of 5,272 whitetails, bowhunters harvested 823 of them in Belmont County. Most of the hunting pressure occurs during the gun and muzzleloader seasons, which leaves late-season bowhunters pretty much to themselves. The ideal time for scouting to pattern deer as they begin to gather in herds for winter will be before Christmas, preferably after a snowfall.
Interstate 70 runs along the southern end of the area. Take state Route 800 north of the interstate toward Sewellsville or state routes 149 and 331 to the east and north for access on the north end of Piedmont Lake.
Before driving aimlessly around the area – and one could spend countless hours scouting an area of this size – hunters should think about getting advice from the area manager on where the current food plots and agricultural areas are. A 10-minute phone call could save you a great deal of time. Contact the area manager at the District 4 office, (740) 594-2211.
Pre-hunt scouting is critical for finding late season food sources and trails to standing or picked cornfields in the valleys. Over 30 miles of paved and gravel roads cut through the forest, allowing foot access to all areas.
Tar Hollow State Forest can be accessed from U.S. Route 23 and Chillicothe from the north or south and U.S. Route 50 from the east or west.
Detailed information and maps can be viewed on the Internet at http:// www.dnr.state.oh.us/forestry/default.htm.
Last season, bow and crossbow hunters harvested nearly 1,200 deer in Clermont County, a total that easily put it in the top 10 counties statewide. Late-season archers owe it to themselves to keep these tremendous statistics in mind.
East Fork covers 2,200 acres near the Ohio River that offer a unique mixture of terrain and habitat; mixed hardwoods cover approximately half of the area, with a quarter being shrub land, and the remainder crops and meado
ws. Steep terrain skirts the draws and water sources, while rolling terrain dominates the high ground. Finding deer travel corridors to and from the no-hunting zone of East Fork State Park may be advantageous, and especially so when you find a food source that the deer are using after leaving their beds.
East Fork WA is southwest of Williamsburg. Access is from the north via old state Route 32; look for roads heading south between the towns of Batavia and Williamsburg. From the south, access is easy via state Route 125 outside Bantam; take state Route 133 and look for easterly roads heading into the area.
For more information about East Fork Wildlife Area, contact the ODOW’s District 5 office at (937) 372-9261 or write: 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385.
Indian Creek’s 1,800 acres southeast of Fayetteville consist of open range grasslands with scattered pin oaks, sassafras and soft maple. About 40 percent of the area is wooded, with the northwest and southwest corners holding most of the standing timber. Hunt in between those areas when there is a late rut, or in the evenings, when deer start moving toward food plots and agricultural fields.
The area is relatively easy to find. U.S. routes 50 and 68 lead to the area and link up with many county and township roads providing access to the area.
For more information, call the District 5 office at (937) 372-9261.
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