Ohio's Best January Crossbow Hunts

Ohio's Best January Crossbow Hunts

Where can you find great late-season crossbow hunting at public areas near you this month? Glad you asked! (January 2006)

Photo by Michael H. Francis

Ohio archers had a banner year in 2005, taking 57,198 deer during the four-month season, a new record. All totaled, 217,301 deer were killed during the state's various hunting seasons, also a new record. New records were also set in the muzzleloader and youth hunting seasons.

With a statewide population estimated at around 700,000 whitetails, lengthy and varied hunting seasons and liberal limits, it is easy to understand why Ohio has become one of the top whitetail hunting states in the country.

Part of the reason is the fact that crossbows are not only legal in the Buckeye State, but can be used throughout the archery season. Since 1976, when crossbows were first legalized and just 26 deer were taken, the number of hunters using crossbows and the number of deer killed with horizontal bows has rapidly increased. In fact, since 1989, more deer have been taken with crossbows in this state than with "traditional" equipment. Crossbow hunters took 28,352 deer in 2003-'04, and 29,397 deer in 2004-'05. Meanwhile, vertical bowhunters took 21,167 deer last season. It is estimated that 140,000 hunters use crossbows in the Buckeye State, making Ohio one of the top crossbow hunting states in the country as well.

As usual, this year's archery season will run to the end of January, and crossbows may be used right to the end. The "late season," as it is generally called, can be a challenge to hunt due to unpredictable weather conditions, but if you find adequate food and cover, you should have plenty of opportunities.

One thing is for sure; hunters should have no trouble finding a place to hunt. With 85 wildlife areas, some state parks open to hunting and a national forest covering 178,000 acres, Ohio is blessed with public land! There are also 20 state forests totaling 183,000 acres, providing even more public land open to hunting.

Here's just a sampling of what's available for hunters this month.


Blue Rock State Forest covers 4,579 acres in Muskingum County about 12 miles southeast of Zanesville. It is accessed primarily from State Route 60 going through South Zanesville and Duncan Falls and Cutler Lake Road.

Land for this forest was first purchased back in the 1930s. Much of the land in the area was originally farmed, and though some old fields remain today, it is primarily forested with hardwoods. The terrain is rather hilly, typical of this part of Ohio, but the area has a healthy deer popular and the hunting prospects in the area are quite good if not excellent, especially during high mast years considering the amount of hardwoods in the area.

Muskingum County was one of the top 10 deer counties last year, and this state forest offers a big piece of state land in the middle of it.

Blue Rock State Forest is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Hunters should keep in mind that vehicles are restricted to roads open specifically to vehicular traffic.

Additional information and maps may be obtained by contacting the Blue Rock State Forest office, 6665 Cutler Lake Road, Blue Rock, OH 43720; or call (740) 674-4035.


This sizeable piece of public ground covers 12,749 acres in numerous blocks in Scioto, Adams and Pike counties. Established in 1928 with just 288 acres, what is now Brush Creek State Forest was originally part of Shawnee State Forest.

As its size and number of segregated blocks increased over the years, however, a separate management plan was needed and a headquarters was established at its present site on Route 73, about one mile west of the village of Rarden, in 1950. The forest takes its name from a local creek, Scioto Brush Creek, which parallels Route 73.

Primary access to Brush Creek is also along this route, either from Route 32 or Route 41 out of Adams County or the Portsmouth area to the south, on the border with Kentucky.

Like much of south-central Ohio, the terrain within this state forest consists of steep ridges, deep hollows and narrow ridgelines. From a physical perspective it can be a challenge to hunt, but the area is known for producing big deer for hunters who don't mind working for them.

The area is heavily forested, primarily in hardwoods, and considering its size there is plenty of room to hunt. Numerous roads lead through the various blocks, but some of the best deer-hunting opportunities will be found away from the roads. There are also miles of hiking trails and bridle trails, many of which lead into prime deer country. Camping is allowed, but only in designated areas.

For maps and additional information, contact the Brush Creek State Forest office, 13291 U.S. Route 52, West Portsmouth, Ohio, 05663; or call (740)-858-6685.


Fernwood State Forest is in central Jefferson County southwest of Steubenville north of Route 151. Jefferson County produced over 3,400 whitetails last year, making it one of the top counties in the state and the second highest deer-producing county in the northeast region.

A good portion of this forest was strip-mined in the past. It has been gradually restored (since about the mid-1960s) and now provides over 3,000 acres of good deer habitat and lots of good hunting opportunities. This is especially true on the ridges and in the valleys, which are heavily forested and offer good cover and feed during the late hunting season.

Within the forest are Hidden Hollow Campground and the Fernwood State Forest Land Lab, a facility used to promote natural resource and environmental education. Hunting is prohibited within these areas, but otherwise the forest is wide open.

For more information, contact the Fernwood State Forest office, 2205 Reiser Avenue S.E., New Philadelphia, OH 44663; or call (303) 339-2205.


This state forest is in the rolling, rugged hill country of western Pike County and eastern Highland County. Land acquisition for the forest started back in 1921, and almost immediately efforts to restore the woodlands in the area damaged by farming and fire got under way. Restoration efforts were completed in the 1930s and today Pike SF offers some extensive tracts of hardwoods plus a mixture of steep ridges, deep valleys, creek bottoms and narrow ridge tops.

State ownership includes 13 separate

blocks of land totaling 11,960 acres. The largest tracts are west of Morgantown and Morgan Fork Road where Auerville, Greenbrier, Egypt Hollow and Pike Lake Road and several other roads provide access.

The forest headquarters is on state Route 124 west of Latham where Latham Road and Pike Tower Road lead to other blocks. There is plenty of room to explore and hunt here, and there are 15 miles of all-vehicle trails as well as 33 miles of bridle trails that may be used to access some prime deer country.

For maps and more information, contact the Pike State Forest office, 334 Lapperal Road, Latham, OH 45646; or call (740) 493-2441.


Scioto SF covers nearly 9,400 acres in southeast Ross County and northeast Pike County south of Chillicothe. On the east it is bordered in part by the Scioto River and on the west it touches Route 23/104. On the south it is along both sides of South Ridge Road in Ross County. Other roads such as the Moss Hollow road, North Ridge Road, Stoney Creek Road and Woods Hollow Road travel through or offer access to various parts of the forest.

In all there are about six miles of paved roads and 18 miles of gravel roads inside the forest. There are also 26 miles of combined bridle and bike trails, so access to the best hunting grounds is not a problem.

The forest headquarters is on Route 372 off U. S. Route 23 south of Massieville.

Scioto SF is in the Appalachian foothills and its topography is typical of the area, consisting primarily of rugged hilltops, steep ridges and deep valleys, all densely forested.

The deer population is considered to be thriving in the area and the hunting opportunities are not only excellent but varied as well. Deer are often found close to the roads and trails where there is proper cover and forage, but for the adventurous hunter it is possible to get away from the crowds into the forest's more remote areas. The forest surrounds 9,000-acre Scioto Trail State Park, which offers 18 hike-in campsites near Caldwell Lake. Two rustic cabins are also available on a year-round basis.

For camping information, contact the Scioto Trail State Park office, 144 Lake Road, Chillicothe, OH 45601; or call (740) 663-2125.

For more information, contact the Scioto Trail State Forest office, 2731 Stoney Creek Road, Chillicothe, OH 45601; or call (740) 663-2538.


At more than 16,100 acres, Tar Hollow State Forest is Ohio's third-largest state forest. It is primarily in the rugged hill country of eastern Ross County slightly northeast of Chillicothe, but sections also sprawl into southwestern Hocking County and northwestern Vinton County.

It is estimated that 140,000 hunters use crossbows in the Buckeye State, making Ohio one of the top crossbow hunting states in the country.

The area is home to a healthy deer population and the forest area in particular is known for producing some impressive bucks each year.

Part of the reason is the forest's rugged character. Deep ravines and creek bottoms rise to steep ridges and eventually rolling hills that make up this part of the Appalachian Plateau. Although the forest's oaks, hickories and other hardwoods provide good cover and ample food for deer, the nature of the place and its remote areas allows whitetails to live longer and reach considerable size.

Few hunters take the time or effort to get back to where the big deer are, and there are places within the forest that experience little or no hunting pressure each fall, especially this late in the season.

Deer are also often seen where the hunting is easier. Within the forest are 17 miles of paved roads, about 14 miles of dirt roads and over 20 miles of trails. It is not unusual to find good hunting ground and deer closer to more accessible areas.

Access to the forest is easiest from Chillicothe using Route 180 to Adelphi, and then Route 327 south to the forest headquarters.

For more information, contact the Chillicothe headquarters, listed above.


An even larger piece of public ground is Zaleski State Forest. It covers 28,000 acres in eastern Vinton County and western Athens County, and is Ohio's second-largest state forest. The area has been under state control and management since the 1930s, and is now one of the state's most impressive and productive state forests. It is the only state forest with its own state-owned sawmill.

Over the years various improvements have been made, including more than 35 miles of roads, hiking and bridle trails, campgrounds and other facilities. A number of these projects are in what is now known as Lake Hope State Park, which is surrounded by the forest.

The deer hunting in Zaleski SF is considered to be some of the best to be found on any public land in southeastern Ohio. The forest is heavily forested with oak and other hardwoods that provide ample mast for deer, and habitat conditions are well suited for whitetails.

The forest is also large enough so that hunting pressure is well dispersed, all of which allows for the production of some big whitetails.

Athens County is generally one of the top-producing deer counties in Ohio. Vinton County generally ranks high as well, and Zaleski State Forest is smack in the middle of them.

The terrain is generally rugged with steep ridges and some gorges, narrow ridge tops and rolling hills, and though much of it is physically demanding it offers something for everyone.

Within the forest are two wildlife management areas, one specifically managed for grouse and the other for turkey. Combined, the two WMAs cover over 5,500 acres, and both are open to deer hunting.

The forest is also home to Lake Hope State Park on Route 278. The campground offers housekeeping cottages complete with fireplaces that are open year-round, and Laurel Lodge can sleep up to 22 people.

Also available is the Atkinson Ridge Hunters Camp on the north end of the Grouse Management Area on township Road 5. It offers latrines, picnic tables and fire rings. The camp is operational from the end of August through the end of March.

The park is easily accessible from Route 50 or Route 90 and the town of McArthur, and then via Routes 677 and 278 out of Zaleski.

For more information, contact the park office, Zaleski State Park, 27331 State Road 278, McArthur, Ohio 45651; or call (740) 596-5253.

The state forest may be accessed via the same rou

tes. For more information, contact the Zaleski State Forest office, Zaleski, OH 45698; or call (740) 596-5781.

Additional information as well as maps of all state forests may be obtained by visiting the Ohio Division of Forestry's Web site at



B&N Coal, Inc., has owned property in Noble and Washington counties since the 1950s. In 1987, the company reached an agreement with the Ohio Division of Wildlife that allowed public access on its property, which is about five miles southeast of Caldwell and easily accessible from Interstate Route 77, Route 78 and Route 821.

There are several blocks of land totaling 6,144 acres. Much of the area has been strip-mined but it has been reclaimed, and now features miles of high walls and spoil banks covered with brush and small trees. About 20 percent of the area is covered with grasslands and about 40 percent is in woodland and brushland.

Deer are found throughout the area and the old fields, untouched forested ridge tops and reverting spoil banks offer some good hunting opportunities.

Hunters should be aware that the miles of high walls and hilly terrain are generally rough and the area is primitive compared to other public hunting areas. Drinking water, restrooms, parking lots and other facilities are not available, so the land is open on a day-use basis.

A permit is required to hunt these lands and the permit should be in the hunter's possession while hunting. The permits are free and may be obtained at the District Four headquarters of Ohio Division of Wildlife at 360 East State Street in Athens. The telephone number is (740) 589-9930.

Hunters should avoid areas marked with "Active Mining Area - No Trespassing" signs.

Within five miles of these lands is Ales Run Wildlife Area, located about three miles east of east of Dexter City. The area may be reached using Route 564 from Caldwell to Middleburg. The area was purchased by the ODOW from B&N Mines, Inc., in 2000.

Ales Run offers about 2,900 acres of public hunting area. Boundaries of the wildlife area are marked with yellow paint and signs. About 60 percent of the area was strip-mined prior to state ownership, and the resulting terrain is rough, featuring miles of high walls and spoil banks that have been reclaimed or have reverted to brush and small trees. The remaining 40 percent is undisturbed and offer a mixture of fields, woods and brush. Deer are found throughout the area.

Addition information may be obtained from the ODOW's Wildlife District Four office in Athens at calling (740) 589-9930.

For more information on other crossbow-hunting opportunities in Ohio, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 2045 Morse Road, Building G, Columbus, OH 43229; call (800) 945-3543, or visit their Web site at


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