There is still plenty of great bowhunting left in the 2002 hunting season. Here's a sampling of the best public land deer hunts for you to consider this month.
Don't hang up your bow yet -- there is plenty of good deer hunting left in the Buckeye State this month. Photo by Tom Evans
In recent years, one of the best months for archery deer hunters has been January. Mild weather conditions and concentrated deer herds have provided bowhunters with some great opportunities for bringing home some late-season venison.
"We saw a big increase in the archery harvest numbers last year," said Mike Reynolds, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "This was due primarily to good weather conditions that allowed archers to enjoy their sport well into January."
Last year's season saw a 21-percent increase in deer harvested by archery hunters. A total of 41,526 whitetails were taken by bowhunters - 24,098 by crossbow and 17,428 by longbow. With Ohio's deer herd estimated at well over 500,000 animals going into the 2002 season, archery hunters can expect plenty of whitetails in the woods and fields of the Buckeye State this month.
Reynolds also noted that with the four-month season, which runs through Jan. 31, 2003, and liberal harvest limits - three deer can now be taken in Zone C - bowhunters may close out the year with yet another record season.
Of course, weather conditions are always a big factor regardless of the month involved, but archery hunters are a dedicated group. It takes some rough weather to keep them out of their tree stands.
With reduced hunting pressure on the animals, January can be one of the best times to head for the deer woods. The following public hunting areas are recommended for planning a late-season bowhunt.
HOCKING STATE FOREST The 9,000 acres of Hocking State Forest provide a variety of bowhunting terrain in Hocking County. Rolling, wooded hills mixed with brushy fields have helped bolster this hunting area with a dense population of whitetails.
"Being in central Ohio has made this a highly-utilized forest," said Charlie Foster, a state forest manager at Hocking. "There is plenty of edge territory here, and deer respond very well to this type terrain."
Foster noted that edge provide deer protection while traveling between feeding and bedding grounds. Well-used trails in such regions give hunters plenty of tree-stand opportunities.
"Hunters should keep in mind," Foster said, "that this is a state forest and not a park. Timber harvesting may be taking place and may have taken place since last season, so habitats may have changed."
Hunting is permitted within the forest under Ohio Division of Wildlife regulations. Shooting, which includes arrows, is prohibited within 400 feet of any building, facility, recreation area or designated nature preserves.
Three state nature preserves have been established in Hocking State Forest. These preserves - Conkle's Hollow, Sheick Hollow and Little Rocky Hollow - have unique ecological systems that are closely monitored by the state. No hunting is permitted within these preserves.
With the exception of those areas, the rest of the forest is open to hunters.
Access to Hocking State Forest is best achieved from the northwest by following U.S. Route 33. From northeastern Ohio, follow Interstate 77 and from the southeastern region follow U.S. Route 50.
Camping is allowed within designated campgrounds only. No roadside camping is permitted. Hocking Hills State Park provides a variety of facilities including a dining lodge and vacation cabins. For additional information on the park's lodging accommodations, call 1-800-HOCKING.
For additional information, contact the Hocking State Forest office, 19275 State Route 374, Rockbridge, OH 43149-9749; or call (740) 385-4402.
For additional information on the district's deer management program and hunting regulations, contact the Wildlife District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701; or call (740) 594-2211.
ZALESKI STATE FOREST Long known for its quality deer hunting, Zaleski State Forest contains over 26,000 acres of premier whitetail territory. From the first days of the reestablishment of whitetail deer in Ohio, this Vinton County hotspot has provided archery hunters with an abundance of deer and deer habitat.
All of this public forestland - with the exception of 3,000 acres of Lake Hope State Park - are open to hunting.
Approximately 73 percent of Vinton County is forested, making this southern-Ohio county the most wooded in the state. And, with a population of less than 10,000 people, Vinton County is also one of the least populated counties in Ohio. For bowhunting purists, Zaleski State Forest is the perfect wild, wooded region in which to pitch camp.
Hunters traveling to Zaleski State Forest can follow U.S. Route 50 to state Route 278 at Prattsville. Turn north on Route 278 to get into the heart of Zaleski's prime bowhunting territory.
Sections of Zaleski recommended for scouting and hunting include the Horseman's Camp near Turner Ridge Road as well as Irish Ridge, Big Four Hollow and King Hollow to the north.
According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, excellent hunting opportunities are available in Zaleski and Tar Hollow state forests due to timber management programs for grouse within the forests. Good grouse habitat also means good whitetail habitat.
For additional information, contact the Zaleski State Forest office, P.O. Box 330, Zaleski, OH 45698; or call (740) 596-5781.
For information on camping and lodging available at the park, write the Lake Hope State Park office, Zaleski, OH 45698; or call (740) 596-5253.
TAR HOLLOW STATE FOREST In a region noted for record-class whitetails, 16,000-acre Tar Hollow State Forest is definitely big-buck country. This Ross County forest in the vicinity of Chillicothe has plenty of room for a January bowhunt. This is the state's third-largest state forest, and it is surrounded by top farming country. The soybeans and corn grown in this region have helped produce several record-book whitetails.
For archery hunters, this forest
is one to take seriously. Edge areas are plentiful, and the whitetail herd is in good shape, according to wildlife officials.
Scouting the forest before a late-season hunt is recommended. Deer behavior patterns change after the rut subsides, and taking the time to find mid-winter feeding and bedding areas can make the difference in a successful bowhunt.
Seventeen miles of paved roads and 14 miles of gravel roads crisscross the forestlands, providing good access to all sections of the forest. The Ohio Division of Forestry has set aside 1,700 acres in Coey Hollow as a special grouse management area in the extreme northeast corner of the forest, creating ideal habitat for whitetails as well.
Due to the region's rugged terrain, scouting this large tract of public land is recommended. Even though mild weather is possible in January, severe weather can just as easily settle in. The change in temperature can often be dramatic. Hunters are encouraged to prepare for sharp drops in temperature and dress accordingly. A daypack with emergency essentials should be a prerequisite to hunting Tar Hollow and other recommended areas.
Tar Hollow State Forest came about as a result of the Ross-Hocking Land Utilization project of the 1930s. The purpose of the program was to locate families to more productive farmland; thereby enabling them to better sustain a living. Following the termination of the project, the land was leased to the Ohio Division of Forestry and was finally transferred to state ownership in 1958.
Whereas many of Ohio's state forest regions began more as wilderness areas, Tar Hollow had its beginnings with land management projects, and these abandoned projects have resulted in excellent whitetail habitat.
Tar Hollow is easily accessible from all directions. Most hunters use U.S. Route 23 to Chillicothe from the north and south, and then go east on U.S. 50.
For additional information, contact the Tar Hollow State Forest office, Route 1 Box 387, Londonderry, OH 45647-9632; or call (740) 887-3879.
DEER CREEK WILDLIFE AREA Deer Creek Wildlife Area in parts of Fayette, Madison and Pickaway counties has over 6,800 acres available to hunters in south-central Ohio. Just 34 miles south of Columbus and 57 miles east of Dayton, this area lies next to Deer Creek Lake.
The slightly flat to rolling topography of Deer Creek's terrain includes approximately 1,000 acres of row crops and small grains under cultivation annually. Obviously, deer food is plentiful. Special wildlife plantings have also been introduced as part of the wildlife management program.
One of the main things to think about when hunting these areas is that there are many open areas. This means more field hunting. The deep- wooded regions that are common on public lands farther to the south are not as abundant within this wildlife area.
Wildlife officials note, however, that broad areas of switch grass often grow to four and five feet in height. This provides plenty of cover for deer as they evade and avoid hunters.
Hunting techniques must be carefully considered when hunting this area, yet whitetails are here for the taking for cagey hunters who are up to the challenge.
Only 25 percent of this wildlife area is covered by hardwoods. The timber stands are primarily on the east side of Deer Creek and include oak, hickory, elm, maple and sycamore. The remainder of this area is in permanent meadow and reverting crop fields.
Before going to Deer Creek, give the area managers a call and ask about the hunting conditions and where the deer are concentrated. A little research ahead of time can save hours of trial and error in the field.
Archery ranges are available at Deer Creek, and targets are placed in representative terrain. As always, a few days spent scouting this state wildlife area could make the difference when the time comes to hunt.
U.S. Route 22 and state Route 56 can reach Deer Creek from the east and west. From the north and south, follow U.S. Route 62 and state routes 104 and 207.
A map and additional information on the deer hunting in this area can be obtained by writing the Wildlife District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215; or call (614) 644-3925.
WAYNE NATIONAL FOREST Heading all the way to within gunshot of the Ohio River, Buckeye State hunters can scout for days on end and not leave the perimeters of the Lawrence County section of Wayne National Forest. With over 100,000 acres of Appalachian woodlands, this public hunting area has hardwood stands as well as pine and cedar groves for excellent whitetail habitat.
All of Wayne National Forest is open to hunting with the exception of the Vesuvius Recreation Area. This tract of the forest is primarily in Lawrence County.
This national forest is best accessed by state Route 93, which penetrates the heart of the woodlands. The district ranger office is north of Ironton on this same route.
Traveling from southwestern Ohio, hunters can follow U.S. Route 52 east, tracing the Ohio River. Turn north on state Route 93 at Ironton. For easier access, search out Telegraph Ridge, and for remote hunting opportunities, the 1,200-acre section near Timber Ridge off state Route 775 near Lecta comes highly recommended.
District Rangers advise hunters to spend as much time as possible scouting Wayne National Forest before attempting to hunt. With several private land holdings interspersed with the public lands, preseason scouting can help keep the action within the boundaries of the forest.
Camping areas are available throughout the forest, and lodging accommodations can be found a few miles south in the city of Ironton.
For additional information as well as district maps of Wayne National Forest, contact the Ironton Ranger District office, 6518 State Route 93, Pedro, OH 45659.
CAESAR CREEK WILDLIFE AREA Moving to the west in southern Ohio, Wildlife District Five provides a variety of public lands for whitetail hunters. The 10,000-acre Caesar Creek Wildlife Area is in Greene, Warren and Clinton counties between Dayton and Wilmington. The prediction for this year's bow season in this region is very good.
Wildlife officials say the available data on the deer population of this region show the herd to be in good shape. Road kills are good indicators of deer health and numbers, and the road kill statistics suggest a strong and healthy herd.
Hunters can expect good hunting opportunities within the Caesar Creek Wildlife area. Unlike the rugged woodlands that dominate the District Four public lands, Caesar Creek provides a meadow-and-cropland mixture over
most of the available hunting grounds.
Wildlife management practices for this area include crop rotations and field sizes to supply food and cover for deer as well as other wildlife. The planting of trees and shrubs to establish field dividers has enhanced the deer habitat here. Whitetails establish trails quickly along such cover, and hunters are advised to scout such locations.
State Route 73 bisects the Caesar Creek Reservoir and crosses the Corwin-new Burlington Road, which provides access to the wildlife area from the south. Lumberton-New Burlington and Mound roads reach the area from the southeast. State Route 380 provides access from the north.
With some areas of the park closed to hunting, a map of the wildlife area is a prerequisite for January archers. A map and additional information can be obtained from the Wildlife District Five office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9261.
EAST FORK WILDLIFE AREA In the southwest section of the state and within a short distance of Cincinnati is the East Fork Wildlife Area. This 2,200-acre public hunting area in Clermont County produced plenty of whitetails during last year's record bow season.
This is an area with diverse terrain bordering the Ohio River. Hunters can expect about 50 percent woodlands, often steep in places, and 25 percent reverting fields of shrubs, small trees and grasses. The remainder of the land is in meadowlands and grain crops.
This mix of habitats gives the deer population the best of edge areas in which to feed and bed throughout the year. The only drawback is that when deer can feed and bed conveniently in the same area, hunters may find it hard to fool them.
The East Fork Wildlife Area is on the southwest edge of Williamsburg. Access to the region on the north side of the lake is from old state Route 32 between Batavia and Williamsburg. Access to the south side is from state Route 125 near Bantam. The wildlife area can be reached by roads off state Route 133 east of the area.
Maps and additional information can be obtained from the Wildlife District Five office in Xenia.
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