If you think targeting trophy bucks to hunt here in Ohio means targeting private land, think again. We worked with Boone & Crockett (B&C) to scour their records books and identify the Buckeye States’ top counties for relinquishing whitetails with record-book qualifying racks over the past half- decade. You know what? The top three all offer multiple hunting destinations that are both open to the public and prime for surrendering a bragging-size buck this season.
Topping that trophy buck list is Muskingum County, in east central Ohio, where no fewer than eight racks have made the B&C record books in the past five years. What’s more, between state parks, wildlife areas, state forests and AEP ReCreation Lands, there is a mix of public land types open to hunting. Among them are that four that the Wildlife Management Supervisor for Ohio Division of Wildlife District Four, which includes Muskingum County, considers “best bests” for whitetail hunters seeking big deer.
“They are all large and they all have a good mix of (whitetail) habitat types either on or around them,” explained wildlife biologist Jim Hill. “Deer hunters who visit these areas, and are willing to do a little walking, should have a decent shot at being in the vicinity of big deer.”
One of the largest in terms of acres to hike in search of big deer, according to Hill, is the Tri-Valley Wildlife Area. Located north of Zanesville between Dresden to the west and Adamsville on the east, along the east side of the Muskingum River, Tri-Valley is a 16,200-acre public hunting area consisting of mature forests, fields, and brush land, much of the latter reclamation grasslands in the northern section of the area. Bisected by several routes, there is plenty of access to the area. Maps and more information are available at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/trivalley.
On the west side of Muskingum County, 3,600-acre Dillon Wildlife Area has long been a productive deer hunting destination in a county known for producing some the state’s biggest bucks. The area is approximately 10 miles northwest of Zanesville and 15 miles east of Newark along state Route 146. Adjacent to Dillon State Park, the wildlife area’s proximity to the non-hunting zone makes it a good choice for hunters who want to see large numbers of deer and some big bucks that use the park land as a refuge.
The Licking River borders the Dillon Wildlife Area, almost two thirds of which is wooded, with pockets of mast-producing oaks on ridges surrounding floodplains. About a third of the total wildlife area is open land, with most of it planted in row crops, while some ten percent of the area is brush land.
Dillon consists of three large parcels: Area One is off of state Route 16 south of the village of Marne. Area Two is south of the intersection of state routes 586 and 146 and is the largest of the three. Area Three is located northeast of state Route 146. All have ample access, detailed in maps available from the Division of Wildlife or by visiting wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/dillon.
Camping is popular with deer hunters at adjacent Dillon Lake State Park, as are the state park’s rental cottages. For more information, call (800) AT-A-PARK or the Dillon State Park office at (614) 453-4377.
American Electric Power (AEP) ReCreation Lands are famous for their whitetail hunting opportunities, especially for those who want to get far off the beaten track. With some 5,700 acres recently being sold to the ODNR for the new Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area, all the AEP holdings that have been open to hunting will remain so through the 2018/2019 season, according to spokesperson Tracy Simons, as will the campgrounds some hunters enjoy. With more than 50,000 acres of land open to hunting, much of it in southeastern Muskingum County, all you need is a free permit to legally access the rugged, formerly strip-mined landscape that includes acreage in Morgan, Noble and Guernsey counties.
The required permit can be obtained through the Ohio Division of Wildlife, at local businesses near AEP holdings, or online at aep.com/environment/conservation/recland/permit.aspx. The aep.com web site also offers more information about the areas that are open to deer hunting and updated regulations, as will a call to AEP regional office (740) 962-1205.
A dozen miles southeast of Zanesville, Blue Rock State Forest is another good choice for deer hunters seeking public land in Muskingum County. The 4,579-acre forest is open to the public and located on state Route 60 and Cutler Lake Road.
The state forest features farmland sewn in row crops that are a popular food source for resident whitetails that is adjacent to newly managed forest areas that offer excellent deer habitat. As a bonus, much of Blue Rock State Forest’s backcountry is open to easier-than-usual access for hunters afoot and in the saddle via 26 miles of bridle trails that lead into some remote areas of the forest.
It is important to note that the trails remain open to horseback riders during the deer hunting season, so extra caution must be taken. Adjacent Blue Rock State Park, at 7924 Cutler Lake Road, Blue Rock, 43720, offers camping opportunities that are popular with some deer hunters.For more information about deer hunting at Blue Rock State Forest, contact the Forest Manager at (740) 385-4402 ext. 100 or the Columbus headquarters at (877) 247-8733 or at ohiodnr.gov/bluerock.
For maps and more deer hunting information about pursuing whitetails on Muskingum County’s public lands call (740) 589-9930 or visit wildohio.gov.
Meigs County has surrendered seven B&C class bucks to hunters since 2013. According to Wildlife District Four biologist Hill, prime pubic deer hunting grounds include the AEP Southern Ohio Recreation Area, where 4,015 acres are located in southern Meigs County and south into Gallia County (where four Booners have been tallied in the past five seasons).
Plenty of county and township roads pass through the AEP-owned area and provide access to a rugged landscape situated in the hilly unglaciated Allegheny Plateau offering rounded ridges, steep slopes and narrow ravines. Numerous old fields reverting to forest are intermixed with woods of second and third growth timber. That timber includes plenty of mast-producing oak and hickory, which may account for the area’s healthy population of whitetails.
The property is open to hunting by those who obtain a free permit available from the District Four office of the ODOW in Athens, at area businesses, the Meigs County Soil and Water Conservation District office in Pomeroy, or online at aep.com/environment/conservation/recland/permit.aspx. Special camping areas for deer hunters will be established on the recreation area during the deer gun season as well. For information on those opportunities, visit aep.com.
At fewer than 800 acres, Forked Run State Park, located three miles south of Reedsville in eastern Meigs County, is often overlooked by deer hunters who figure it takes big woods to produce big deer in southern Ohio. That’s hardly the case, according to Hill, who said the combination of abundant oak and hickory found on Forked Run, and its proximity to the Ohio River and its fertile bottomlands that are a mix of hayfields and row crops, helps the park maintain a healthy popular of whitetails.
The state park, which includes a 120-acre lake, offers camping and rustic cabins for hunters. The park is located at 63300 State Route 124 in Reedsville, 45772. For maps and more information about deer hunting at Forked Run, call (740) 378-6206. For camping or cabin reservations, call (866) 644-6727.
What Forked Run lacks in overall space, the adjacent Shade River State Forest offers in abundance, explained Hill. The wildlife management supervisor explained that the 2,800 acres of state forest, which spills into Athens County to the north, abounds in mast producing oak and hickory and plenty of opportunities for deer hunters to get off the beaten path.
For mapping purposes, the state forest is located at 52425 Number 9 Rd, Reedsville, 45772.
For maps and more information on Shade River State Forest, contact the forest manager, at (740) 385-4402 ext. 100 or go to forestry.ohiodnr.gov/shaderiver.
Check out this video to learn how to manage your small track of land to bag your trophy buck.
Seven B&C-qualifying bucks shot in Adams County in the past five seasons have been entered into the club’s record books, and with abundant public hunting opportunities Adams is a go-to place for Ohio hunters seeking trophy racks. District Five Wildlife Management Supervisor Brett Beatty recommends a state forest, and public wildlife area and a preserve for whitetail hunters who want to sample what Adams County has to offer deer-wise this season.
Situated in the rugged, unglaciated hill country of south central Ohio, Brush Creek State Forest includes 13,502 non-contiguous acres in Adams, Pike and Scioto counties. As witnessed by Adam’s County’s tally of seven Booners, as compared to one for Scioto and four for Pike county since 2013, Adams 7,500 acres of state forest is where you want to hunt.
The forest is harvested on a selective basis and provides good habitat for deer and is in the vicinity of private agricultural lands planted in row crops, which help grow big whitetails. For Brush Creek State Forest maps and deer hunting details, contact the Forest Manager at (740) 493-2441 or visit forestry.ohiodnr.gov/brushcreek.
A special opportunity for a limited number of proactive deer hunters who want to hunt Adams County is offered annually on 2,400 acres of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Located south of St. Rt. 125, approximately seven miles east of West Union on Waggoner Riffle Road, the Preserve includes 16,000 acres administered jointly by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Nature Conservancy.
The terrain is rough, heavily forested and mountainous, with steep hillsides and ravines. No ATVs are permitted, deer hunters must hike into the area, and a limited number of free permits are given out each season to maintain the quality hunting experience. Permits are issued on a first come, first serve basis, are available to the public and are good for deer hunting only for both the archery and deer gun seasons.
Permits are available in person only at the Edge of Appalachia Eulett Center located at 4274 Waggoner Riffle Road, West Union, 45693, Fridays only beginning each August. For more information call (937) 544-2880.
Massive Tranquility Wildlife Area “jumps out” as the most popular public deer hunting area in Adams County, according to Beatty. Spreading over some 4,500 acres of land “that simply looks like prime deer habitat” it’s no wonder. The biologist explained that the terrain is rolling with hardwood ridges and cedar thickets with 10 percent of the ground planted in row crops.
Tranquility Wildlife Area is located 16 miles south of Hillsboro on State Route 770. County Road 100 runs along the southern boundary of the area. Maps and deer hunting information is available from the District Five wildlife offices at (937) 372-9261 or at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/tranquility.