We asked Ohio's hardworking game wardens for the best January deer hunts on public land in their districts. Here's what they had to say. (January 2008)
Photo by Tom Evans.
While interviewing one of Ohio's 88 game wardens last fall -- and imagining the daunting task of single-handedly managing an entire county's poaching, nuisance wildlife calls and complaints about hunting without permission -- it occurred to me that, Hey, this guy probably knows the best places to hunt deer!
When I asked Rick Louttit, Medina County's wildlife officer, if he did, a slow smile spread across his face.
"I might," he said.
Before you head to the couch for a long winter's nap, you may want to read what Ohio's game wardens and resident wildlife research biologists answered when asked, "Where would you hunt late-season deer?"
Bear in mind that in January 2005, a prize buck with a 24-inch-spread was taken in Athens, Ohio; and Brad Jerman's state-record crossbow buck was killed in January 2006. There was also a 16-point buck taken in Geauga County on Jan. 4, 2004.
WHY BOWHUNT IN JANUARY?
"Two things influence deer numbers in January," said Michael Tonkovich, a wildlife research biologist for Ohio's Division of Wildlife.
"First, look at the number of deer in existence before the season. Deer harvest figures by county will answer that question for you. The larger the harvest, the larger the prehunt population and hence, the larger the population will be after the season."
The second influence, according to Tonkovich, is food.
"Although deer activity is reduced significantly in January, whitetails need to eat. Food is relatively scarce at this time of year, so I would focus on food sources."
As good bets, Tonkovich recommended unharvested agricultural crops, sources of waste grain and food plots planted for deer and other wildlife.
"Deer are especially weary at this time of year," Tonkovich continued. "They've been hunted hard for three months and they take few chances. Find the thickest cover available and do your best to blend in. When you find a consistent source, hunt near it."
Dillon Wildlife Area
Bill Ballard, and ODOW wildlife officer has watched over Licking County since 1996. During archery season last year, Licking County led the state with a total 1,121 deer killed. Of Ohio's five wildlife districts, the game wardens in District One were most enthusiastic about January whitetail hunting.
"I hunt in January every year," Ballard said. "I know most hunters hang up their equipment by then. But I enjoy late-season hunting and usually hang onto one or two tags until the very end."
Last year, officer Ballard took two deer in the late season -- one in January and one in February.
While public hunting grounds in Licking County are limited, Ballard suggests late season hunters take a look at the Dillon Wildlife Area in Muskingum and Licking counties.
Part of Dillon State Park in Nashport, Ohio, east of Zanesville, Dillon WA covers more than 2,000 acres and also has 1,500 acres of water. The designated hunting area is along the Licking River. Black Hand Gorge State Nature Preserve is within the park's boundaries and lies midway between two hunting areas.
According to Ballard, the area has a good mix of fields and wooded areas. The area is about 40 percent forested, with cornfields and hayfields along the borders.
For directions and more hunting information, call the Dillon State Park office at (740) 453-4377. Maps may be found on the Internet at www.dnr.state.oh.us.
Oxbow Lake Wildlife Area
Matt Smith, a Defiance County wildlife officer, sees his area as overlooked when it comes to whitetail hunting. However, he believes that hunters would be surprised if they drove the few extra miles south to Defiance.
"I work many nights in January and I see a lot of nice deer in the Oxbow area. We have plenty of room to hunt, and a lot of big deer."
According to Smith, one of the main reasons the area has so many deer is the many available water sources, including 38-acre Big Oxbow Lake and the four-acre Little Oxbow Lake.
Oxbow Lake Wildlife Area surrounds Big Oxbow Lake. There are many tributaries and rivers running through the 416 acres that are open for hunting.
Oxbow's deer habitat consists primarily of marshland, brush and some woodland, with large patches of grass throughout. Trails are mowed especially for hunters.
Oxbow Lake Wildlife Area is northwest of the city of Defiance. Route 24 is the best path from the north. Directions may be found at www.dnr.state.oh.us. Hunters may also call Ohio's Wildlife District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area
Jeff Carter was a game warden in Ashland County for 22 years. Currently, he is the wildlife investigator for all of District Three, giving him some unique perspective on hunting for the entire region.
"If I were hunting public lands, I would head to Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in Holmes and Wayne counties. There are plenty of isolated pockets that hold deer."
Carter likes Killbuck WA because of its proximity to leftover corn crops. In January, deer will often try to conserve energy by bedding near feeding areas. Their habits remain fairly consistent. If you catch a herd feeding one afternoon, chances are they'll be back the next day.
Killbuck WA covers nearly 5,500 acres in Wayne and Holmes counties. Permanent wildlife cover has been established through plantings of thousands of trees and shrubs, helping to create terrific deer habitat.
According to Carter, the size of the area makes hunting pressure in January virtually nonexistent.
"Chances are good you won't see another hunter in Killbuck in January," he said.
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area lies 35 miles from Mansfield and Akron and 55 miles from Cleveland. The area extends north f
rom Holmesville to three miles south of Wooster.
County and township roads provide good access to most of the area, and small parking lots are scattered throughout.
For more information and maps, log on to www.outdoorohio.com.
Forked Run State Park
Forked Run State Park in Meigs County is in the heart of Appalachia and runs along the Ohio River. While the area also borders the Shay River State Forest, the bottom area along the Ohio is farmed, providing leftover corn for hungry deer.
"This is an excellent area for late- season hunting," said Keith Wood, a Meigs County wildlife officer.
"There's never a lot of hunting pressure, and the habitat is good for deer."
Wood, who has served as a game warden in Meigs for 25 years, likes Forked Run for its combination of bordering crops, water and state forest for whitetail browsing. Area farmers grow cabbage, melons, tomatoes and sweet corn.
Forked Run is 34 miles south of Marietta in Reedsville on state Route 7. The park has nearly 800 acres of land and 100 acres of water. The bordering state forest boasts more than 2,000 acres of woodland. Directions may be found on the Internet at www.dnr.state.oh.us.
Sycamore State Park
Trent Weaver, a Montgomery County wildlife officer, talked of seeing a multitude of deer in urban areas of the county where farms and development have merged. The only public hunting ground in Montgomery County, Sycamore State Park, is a perfect example.
In 2006, 137 deer were taken in Montgomery County during archery season. Weaver said that those low kill numbers weren't due to a low deer population, but the result of hunters overlooking these prime hunting grounds.
Sycamore State Park offers nearly 2,400 acres of land and more than three miles of creek. The area is northwest of Dayton in an area where farming still occurs among growing suburban developments.
Directions to the area may be found at www.dnr.state.oh.us.
A record 67,912 whitetails were taken during Ohio's 2006-07 archery season. With fewer hunters out and deer clustering around prime feeding areas, there's good reason to get off the couch and into the woods this month.