Our Best Archery Deer Counties

Excellent deer-hunting opportunities await bowhunters throughout the Buckeye State, but we've narrowed the search to the best counties in each district and the top-rated public hunting areas in each county. The rest is up to you!

By Curt Williams

The final numbers from the 2002 archery deer season indicate that hunters across the Buckeye State once again had an extremely successful year.

A total of 47,173 whitetails were checked in by bowhunters during the four month long season, and the 2003 season promises to be just as good . . . or better.

A healthy whitetail population is the primary reason for the high harvest statistics. Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists agree that quality habitat is a prerequisite in order to have a healthy herd of deer. A combination of croplands, woodlands and brushy areas mean ideal whitetail habitat, and most of Ohio has a plentiful supply of such cover.

Counties across the state are turning in Buckeye Big Buck Club qualifiers like never before. What accounts for such deer population growth? How did Ohio go from having nearly no deer population to being one of the top deer states in the country?

Once again, the answer is habitat.

Photo by John R. Ford

When the white man came to the region that is now Ohio, woodlands covered the landscape. Relatively few open areas existed, and deer numbers were low. In the early 1800s, family farmers began a land-clearing crusade that virtually eliminated Ohio's native forestlands. This clearing frenzy continued for over a century, and by 1940 less than 15 percent of the state still held large plots of contiguous timber and brush.

After World War II, change took place quickly. Jobs in the city replaced working on the family farm. When old farmers passed on, few of their offspring stayed to continue the family tradition. Croplands and pasture fields reverted to brush and timber. By the 1960s, enough land had regenerated to the point where wildlife biologists could begin a whitetail reestablishment program.

Whitetails moved in and multiplied as more land reverted to brush and timber. Now, especially in the southeastern region of the state, large tracts of woodlands and brush lands bordering croplands provide Buckeye State archery hunters with an abundance of game.

The following counties across the Buckeye State are ranked "the best" in their district for archery hunters seeking a quality experience this season:

"Central Ohio contains a good mixture of farmland and woodland," said Gary Ludwig, wildlife biologist in Wildlife District One. "Flatland butts up against rolling woodlands creating excellent whitetail habitat."

Although central Ohio is heavily populated by humans, deer hunters have done well. Whitetail populations, even within urban areas, have multiplied to the point of being a nuisance in some areas.

Top archery counties such as Licking, where bow kills tallied 1,845 last season, and Knox County, with 1,521 whitetails taken by bowhunters, provide plenty of hunting opportunities.

Compared to other regions of the state, public hunting lands are relatively few, but the ones that are open to hunters contain plenty of deer. Wildlife areas such a Dillon Wildlife Area and Kokosing Wildlife Area offer good public-land options for bowhunters.

Dillon Wildlife Area
Dillon Wildlife Area is in both Licking and Muskingum counties. With nearly 4,000 acres open to hunters, this sprawling wildlife area between Newark and Zanesville contains plenty of deer.

This area is about equally divided between open fields and woodlands along the Licking River, where corn- fields and other small grain fields are intermixed with brushy fencerows and other cover. Oaks and hickory occupy the slopes and ridges, while willow, sycamore and hackberry border the flood plain.

State Route 16 provides the best access into the Licking County portion of Dillon Wildlife Area.

Kokosing Wildlife Area
The 1,323-acre Knox County wildlife area is northwest of Fredericktown and five miles northeast of Chesterville. The public land surrounding Kokosing Lake is managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife specifically for wildlife and recreation.

A large woodlot consisting mainly of pin oak and hickory is on the south end of the lake. The area provides limited camping facilities in the southwest corner of the area north of county Road 6. Habitat development includes the planting of grasses and food plots as well as cutting trees in fencerows to improve brushy areas.

The best access to Kokosing Wildlife Area is from state Routes 13 and 546. Interstate 71 also runs just north of this wildlife area.

For additional information on the whitetail management and archery hunting opportunities in this central Ohio region, contact the ODOW's Wildlife District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus OH 43215; or call (614) 644-3925.

The northwestern portion of the Buckeye State is noted for its flat croplands. Whitetails have taken hold in the region's scattered woodlots, brushy fencerows and thickets bordering waterways.

One of the district's top-producing counties for archery hunters is Huron County, where bowhunters harvested 332 whitetails during last year's four-month season.

Although public land is limited throughout the northwest region of the state, Huron County has some options for bowhunters to consider.

Willard Marsh Wildlife Area
This 1,676-acre wildlife area is four miles southwest of Willard in the farm country of Huron County in north-central Ohio. The best access is from U.S. Route 224 to Section Line Road.

Willard Marsh WA is relatively flat, with about two-thirds of the land in woodlands. The remainder of the land is divided between open land and brush. This provides excellent cover for whitetails. The nearby croplands and a plentiful supply of water have helped deer numbers increase steadily in recent years.

Other counties in the northwestern region of the state that tallied high bow kills last year include Richland (507) and Lucas County (494). Public access is limited in these regions, but many landowners welcome considerate hunters who take the time to request permission and r

espect the landowner's property.

For additional information on the deer-hunting opportunities in the northwest region of Ohio, contact the Wildlife District Two office, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay OH 45840; or call (419) 424-5000.

When it comes to big deer and quality deer habitat, northeastern Ohio has the right combination of both. A mixture of rugged, hilly topography and flatter, rolling terrain, plus the all-important ingredients of woodlands, croplands and brushy areas mean plenty of whitetails will be on hand for hunters this fall.

"The district has several good deer counties," said Dan McMillen, a private lands biologist in Wildlife District Three. "The top-producing counties within this district are large and boast a good mix of rolling hills and farmlands."

Two of the top archery counties within Wildlife District Three are Holmes and Harrison counties. Holmes County, known for its scenic farmlands, reported 1,472 deer taken by bow hunters, and Harrison County recorded a harvest of 1,043.

Two public hunting areas are available to archers in Holmes and Harrison counties.

Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area
This 5,492-acre wildlife area is in parts of Wayne and Holmes counties. This area extends north from Holmesville to three miles south of Wooster. Killbuck Marsh is between state Route 83 in the east and state Route 226 to the west.

Known for its marshes and swamps, this U-shaped valley varies in elevation from 840 feet at the floor of Killbuck Creek to nearly 1,000 feet on hillsides that parallel the valley floor. Permanent wildlife cover has been established through plantings of thousands of trees and shrubs, which has helped create good deer habitat.

Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area is 35 miles from Mansfield and Akron, and is 55 miles from Cleveland. County and township roads provide good access to most of the area, and small parking lots are scattered throughout the wildlife area.

Harrison State Forest
Just off state Route 9 between Jewett and Cadiz, 1,344-acre Harrison State Forest provides archery hunters with plenty of whitetails and room to hunt them. This Harrison County hotspot is primarily former strip-mine land with most of its unstripped acreage on the ridges or in the valleys.

Reforestation projects along with the installation of recreational facilities were established through the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965. This, along with contributions from the Ohio Capital Improvements program, has helped fund two reforestation projects completed in 1992 and 1993. Over 100,000 trees were planted to create prime habitat for deer and other species.

Two campgrounds are available at Harrison State Forest. Fire rings, drinking water, vault latrines as well as several miles of hiking trails are available within the forest.

For additional information on hunting or camping at Harrison State Forest contact the forest office, 1888 East High Avenue, New Philadelphia OH 44663; or call (216) 339-2205.

For additional information on the deer management and archery hunting available in northeastern Ohio, contact the Wildlife District Three office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron OH 44319; or call (330) 644-2293.

The southeastern portion of the Buckeye State is the gold mine of Ohio's whitetail population. The rugged, wooded terrain in this region has produced successful archery seasons with consistently high numbers of deer harvested.

When asked about the district's top three archery deer counties, Keith Morrow, wildlife management supervisor for District Four said, "Coshocton, Muskingum and Hocking counties are on the fringe of the agricultural activity in the region. This mix of agriculture and woodlands are of great benefit to the deer in this region."

Morrow also noted that some of the southeastern region's counties contain more mature timber, which is not beneficial to deer. A mixture of brushy areas bordering timber and croplands is better habitat because this combination provides the cover and browse required by whitetails.

Two of the district's top archery hunting counties are Coshocton and Hocking. Coshocton County deer hunters harvested 1,579 deer by bow last year and Hocking County bow hunters took 1,043. In Coshocton County, the AEP ReCreation lands provide much of the public lands available for archery hunters, and Hocking State Forest is one of the better hotspots for archery deer in Hocking County.

AEP ReCreation Land
This deer-hunting paradise covers a total of 30,000 acres in several counties. This is reclaimed coal mining country. Since the mid-1940s, the area has been reclaimed through the planting of over 50 million trees.

More than 350 lakes and ponds are on this property providing deer with an abundant water supply. In Coshocton County, a 14,639-acre tract of this land known as the Conesville Coal Lands is five miles southeast of Coshocton. This area is considered a day-use only area and overnight camping is not allowed.

For archery hunters this could be considered a plus. Public access is limited and drinking water, public restrooms and picnic facilities are not available. This creates a more primitive experience, just the type of hunting situation that appeals to most bow hunters.

Permits for hunting the AEP lands are free and can be obtained by writing to American Electric Power, P.O. Box 328, McConnelsville, OH 43756.

The Coshocton County portion of these public hunting lands are best accessed from state routes 83 from the west, state Route 541 from the north and state Route 93 in the east. Numerous township and county roads provide additional access within the public hunting lands.

Hocking State Forest
Hocking County rates at the top in any discussion of Ohio deer harvest statistics. With over 9,200 acres of public land available to hunters, this forest has produced more than its share of venison down through the years.

Near Laurelville, this forest is managed by the state under a multiple-use concept, with special emphasis on maintaining forest cover. This approach has helped create excellent deer habitat, and the whitetail population is thriving.

When hunting Hocking State Forest, hunters are cautioned to watch for parcels of private property scattered throughout the public lands. Yellow paint marks the boundaries between state and private properties.

Three designated nature preserves are also in Hocking Forest. Conkles Hollow, Sheick Hollow and Little Rocky Hollow are off limits to hunting. The boundaries

of these areas are marked with white and/or red paint spots.

The best access to the forest is by U. S. Route 33 to Rockbridge. From Rockbridge, follow state Route 180 to the perimeters of the woodlands.

Camping and lodging are available at Hocking Hills State Park. Reservations and additional information can be obtained by writing the park office at 20160 State Route 664, Logan OH 43138-9537; or call (740) 385-6841.

For additional information on the archery hunting in the region, contact the ODOW's Wildlife District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens OH 45701; or call (740) 594-2211.

The rolling woodlands in the southwestern region of the state offer a good mixture of woodlands and croplands that are favored by the whitetails. The deer make good use of the quality habitat within this urban region even with the concentrated human population in the Cincinnati area.

"The Hamilton Urban Deer Zone covers all of Hamilton County and parts of western Clermont County," noted Heidi Devine, a wildlife biologist for Wildlife District Five. "This helps to account for the high archery harvest totals reported for Hamilton County. The river counties such as Clermont and Adams also have large wooded tracts with excellent deer habitat."

Clermont County reported 1,189 deer taken by bow hunters last season, Hamilton County reported 1,025 whitetails, and the less densely populated Adams County produced 658 whitetails.

As biologist Devine noted, the urban areas accounted for many of these bow kills, and in Adams County. She recommended Tranquility Wildlife Area for an odds-on bow hunt this fall.

Tranquility Wildlife Area
This Adams County public hunting area contains 4,254 acres of prime deer habitat. This wildlife area is 16 miles south of Hillsboro on state Route 770. County Road 100 (old state Route 32) borders the southern boundary of this area.

About 40 percent of this wildlife area is in native woodlands with oak and hickory on the ridges, and maples, beech and ash common on the lower slopes and along the streams. Mixed brush with stands of red cedar make up about 40 percent of the region, and the remaining land is in crops and grasslands.

For additional information on deer management and hunting opportunities in this region of the state, contact the ODOW'S Wildlife District Five office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9281.

For additional information on the deer hunting opportunities available around the Buckeye State as well as information on maps and travel accommodations, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife headquarters, 1840 Belcher Drive, Columbus OH 43224-1300; or call (614) 265-6300.

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