Ohio's Urban Deer Units -- Are They Working?

Ohio's Urban Deer Units -- Are They Working?

Buckeye State archers who can overlook traffic sounds and neighborhood noise while sitting in a tree stand can enjoy some of the best deer hunting in the state. Our expert explains how. (January 2007)

Photo by Bill Lea

Ohio's urban whitetail population has adapted so well to "city living" that the deer have become a nuisance to landowners, damaging expensive shrubbery and backyard gardens. Their habit of crossing busy roadways at the most inappropriate times is an equally serious problem.

In response, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife has devised an Urban Deer Program including special zones and permits. These suburban settings can be some of the best hunting opportunities in Ohio, not just for does but also for trophy bucks.

"As far as Ohio's Urban Deer Zones go, the history is pretty simple," said Mike Tonkovich, the ODOW's top deer biologist. "In 1994, Urban Deer zones were created, centered around major urban areas."

Deer populations in Ohio's urban-suburban areas, along with the rest of the state have been increasing dramatically. As the numbers rose, so did complaints of deer damage and as deer-vehicle collisions. Deer were controllable in the rural and public forested areas of the state, though the population continued to climb for a few more years. But in the urban-suburban areas, hunters had very little access and little interest in hunting in a "neighborhood" environment. Numbers continued to climb, unchecked except by highway mortality.

"Urban areas are not very attractive from a deer hunter's point of view," Tonkovich said. "So we initially decided to create Urban Deer zones and issue Urban Deer permits valid for antlerless deer only."

This program aims to manage urban-suburban deer populations. To make hunting in this highly developed setting more attractive, hunters were allowed to take additional antlerless deer beyond the normal statewide limits. Hunters may purchase as many as four Urban Deer permits, allowing them to take seven deer annually, depending on the area being hunted, though only one may be a buck.

Hunters must first have purchased a standard Special Deer Permit before using an Urban Deer Permit.

"We didn't get much response the first year, but the next year, we cut the price of the tag in half," Tonkovich noted. The cost is now $15 for an Urban Deer Permit. Sales have been fairly stable since then.

"The only problem with it is, any time you create a zone, you also create a law-enforcement problem," Tonkovich said. Some hunters have taken deer outside of an Urban Deer Unit and then tagging them with an Urban Deer Permit.

There is debate within the ODNR as to how often this has been happening, but law enforcement officials rigorously pursue cases of misuse of the permits.

The establishment of zones also creates potential misunderstandings. Initially, five Urban Deer Hunting units were created, including the Columbus, Cincinnati-Dayton, Cleveland-Akron, Youngstown and Toledo Urban Deer Units.

Boundaries were established using easily recognizable highways and county lines. Roads might not be misunderstood, but county lines are invisible in most cases.

Some hunters still don't understand that the program does not permit hunting just anywhere within an Urban Deer Unit. It is also the hunter's responsibility to obey the rules and laws regarding firearms and archery equipment. Tonkovich noted that an area's designation as an Urban Deer Unit in no way supersedes existing firearm regulations or community prohibitions on hunting.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife has worked closely with municipalities to apply the program when deer complaints are made. Enlightened municipal leaders accept that hunting is the most efficient means of keeping deer numbers in check.

Other means of managing deer are available, but hunting provides both recreation and venison on Ohio's dinner tables.

"Some municipal leaders have seen that bowhunting is the best way to reduce their deer herds," Tonkovich noted. "They know that if you take the deer with a bow in October, it won't end up in front of a citizen's car in December."

Although hunting with firearms is not an option in many urban-suburban settings, archery hunting has proved to be safe and practical.

"Crossbow hunts are very popular, for example, and the number of deer taken by crossbows in these zones is very high," Tonkovich said.

While Urban Deer permits may be used to take antlerless deer only, the program opens some exciting possibilities for trophy-buck hunting simply by encouraging hunters to spend more time in urban-suburban areas.

"Some of our urban counties have excellent trophy potential," Tonkovich said. "We have a pretty good history of record-class bucks in the state, and the urban counties float way to the top."

This might not be evident with a first look at the list of record bucks taken in Ohio. But when you compare the number of record bucks taken in the urban counties to the total numbers of bucks taken in these counties, the trophy-buck potential becomes more apparent.

"We're talking about very small numbers of bucks taken in the urban counties," Tonkovich pointed out.

Judging the success of this program is difficult. No specific numeric goals were set when it was devised. One good measure would be tracking deer-motor vehicle collisions.

"We've seen some reduction in deer-vehicle accidents," Tonkovich noted.

The rise in these mishaps has been checked. Accident records are not divided into Urban Deer zones, but statewide, there was an 8 percent decline in 2005 and before then, it had been down 2 to 3 percent.

Working with municipalities has increased the amount of land where hunting is allowed within the units, but hunting access remains the greatest obstacle to taking deer. Very few public lands are open to hunting.


The Columbus Urban Deer Unit includes all of Franklin County and that portion of Delaware County south of state Route 36 beginning at the Union-Delaware county line, and then east to the junction of state Route 36 and state Route 36/37, east along state Route 36/37 to the junction o

f state routes 36/37 and 36/3, northeast along state Route 36/3 and ending at the Delaware-Knox county line. All portions of Delaware County south of this line are included.

According to Dan Huss, the ODOW's District One wildlife management supervisor, the amount of public land open to hunting in the Columbus Urban Deer Unit is "very limited." Two places mentioned are Battelle Darby MetroPark and Alum Creek State Park.

Battelle Darby MetroPark lies in southwest Franklin County and covers about 800 acres.

Alum Creek State Park is in Delaware County. The park covers 4,630 acres, but hunting is allowed on some areas of the park.

For more information, contact Alum Creek State Park, 3615 South Old State Road, Delaware, OH 43015; or call (740) 548-4631. Ask about a map that shows areas open to hunting.

"Public land is pretty limited as far as the Urban Deer Units," Huss said. "The majority of the hunting occurs on private land. But the hunting can be real good. Probably the best areas for urban deer are in southern Delaware County because you have a combination of developed areas, woodlands, brushland and cropland, so the deer have plenty to eat.

"The No. 1 thing people need to find out is if hunting is allowed in a particular area," Huss cautioned. "If it is legal to hunt, and they can get permission to hunt, they can expect some outstanding deer hunting.

"The potential is there to kill a large buck. Deer have the opportunity to grow old in those areas. In the areas that allow hunting, the average deer is going to be 1 1/2 years old."

Deer density is very high in some parts of the Columbus Urban Deer Unit. At Sharon Woods Park, for example, deer densities during the early 1990s were estimated to be some 350 per square mile, according to ODOW biologist Dan Huss.

"At that time, there were no controls, so the deer population just grew and grew. In fact, they were malnourished. But that was an extreme situation. There are still areas where there are 50 to 100 deer per square mile -- these are areas where there is no hunting. Even so, there are areas in the suburbs where there are 40 deer per square mile."


The Cincinnati-Dayton Urban Deer Unit consists of the western half of Clermont County (generally west of state Route 132 and south of state Route 48), Hamilton County, those portions of Warren and Butler counties bounded on the west by the Great Miami River and on the east by state Route 48, in Montgomery County everything east of Interstate Route 75 and state Route 48 north to the respective county lines.

"We've been working with villages and cities to try to help control the deer herd," said Dave Kohler, the ODOW's District Five wildlife management supervisor. "They've been coming to us for years with deer problems. In some places it's feasible to allow hunting, and in other places it's not."

Urban-suburban settings in general are not suitable to hunting with firearms, for safety reasons.

"Over the years, some municipalities have changed their codes to allow deer hunting. We definitely have seen a shift to bowhunting, which is excellent for managing deer in an urban setting," Kohler said. "There's been a corresponding increase in the number of deer taken by bow and crossbow."

As with all of these urban units, public access is limited. In this unit, Five Rivers MetroParks and Hamilton County Parks provide good opportunities for late-season hunting.

"Five Rivers MetroParks has a controlled bowhunt program," Kohler noted.

For details, contact the Five Rivers MetroParks main office, 1375 East Siebenthaler Avenue, Dayton, OH 45414. Or you can call (937) 275-PARK or check the agency's Web site at MetroParks.org.

"Hamilton County Parks has a similar program that was started last year. Just getting it off the ground was a success," Kohler said.

In that first year, 247 hunters applied, 147 hunters passed muster and 23 deer were taken.

For more information, contact the Hamilton County Park District, 10245 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231. Phone (513) 521-7275, or check the agency's Web site at HamiltonCountyParks.org.


The Cleveland-Akron Urban Deer Unit is in all of Lake and Cuyahoga counties and portions of Summit, Lorain, Medina, Wayne, Stark, Portage and Geauga counties.

Boundaries for this unit begin in Lorain County where state Route 58 intersects the Lake Erie shore, south on state Route 58 to state Route 303, east to I-71, south to state Route 18, east on state Route 18 to state Route 21, south on state Route 21 to U.S. Route 30, east on U.S. Route 30 to state Route 44 and then north on state Route 44 to Lake County.

Though this may seem to be a large area, public access is minimal -- only one state-owned tract is in the unit.

"The only one in this urban area is the Auburn Marsh Wildlife Area. We restricted that to archery only," said Dan Kramer, a District Three wildlife management supervisor.

Only a portion of this wildlife area west of state Route 44 is in the Urban Deer Unit, according to Kramer. But another new opportunity has opened up recently.

"We just struck an agreement with the city of Akron to manage its watershed property," Kramer said. "Most hunters don't know that there are several thousand acres surrounding LaDue Reservoir that are open to hunting."

About a quarter of this area lies in the Urban Deer Unit. Previously, a permit was needed to hunt here, but that will no longer be the case.


The Youngstown Urban Deer Unit, also in District Three, lies in portions of Trumbull and Mahoning counties. Its boundary begins where the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line meets the Ohio Turnpike, continues northwest on the Ohio Turnpike to state Route 5, east to state Route 82, east to the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line and then south along the state line to the starting point.

Public access is limited in this unit. According to Kramer, the only public tract is 40 acres in Trumbull County.

Urban Deer units may never be major destinations for deer hunters. Hunting them demands considerable knowledge of the areas and requires hunters to make connections with landowners. Some industrial complexes allow hunting, but these are not places that visiting hunters are likely to find appealing.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife maint

ains a list of landowners who file deer complaints and makes this list available to the public. But this does not guarantee access to their land, nor does it guarantee that there is no law against hunting there.

"The vast majority of people who hunt in these areas are also landowners," Kramer said.

Nonetheless Kramer calls the program a success: "It has been quite successful. Wherever communities have allowed it, hunting has certainly helped to control the deer population."


The Toledo Urban Deer Unit encompasses all of Lucas County and that portion of Wood County where state Route 64 intersects with the Maumee River, continues north on state Route 65 to Five Point Road, east on Five Point Road to state Route 25 north to I-475 and then east to I-75, ending where I-75 meets the Maumee River.

Though this is a relatively small unit, there is some public hunting ground within its boundaries.

"There's a small portion of public land in Maumee State Forest in Lucas County. Also, in the eastern part there are two wildlife areas. These are areas that are managed for waterfowl, but hunters will find some deer," said Scott Butterworth, the ODOW's District Two wildlife management supervisor

Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area borders Maumee Bay State Park and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Lucas County, covering 558 acres. Much of this area is marshland or open water. It is north of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Heading east from Toledo, turn off state Route 2 onto Bono Road.

The Mallard Club Wildlife Area also borders the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Lucas County. To get there, turn off state Route 2 on Decant Road or Cousino Road. It covers 402 acres, but like Metzger Marsh, much of it is not suitable for hunting deer.

Maumee State Forest covers 3,068 acres where Fulton County, Henry County and Lucas County join, south of Swanton on county Road D.

According to Butterworth, deer densities have remained about the same with the program.

Hunters are reminded that Ohio's Urban Deer Program is not set up as a strategy for hunting public land. Biologist Tonkovich suggested that the first place to start looking into an urban deer hunt is at the district Ohio Division of Wildlife headquarters.

For more information about urban deer hunting opportunities in Ohio, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife's headquarters, 1840 Belcher Drive, Columbus, OH 43224-1329. Call (614) 265-6300; or log on to OhioDNR.com.

Maps and descriptions of Ohio's Urban Deer Units are available on that Web site.

For travel information, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at OhioTourism.com, or call them at 1-800-BUCKEYE.

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