State biologists expect another record-setting deer season in 2006. Here's where bowhunters can get a jump on the action on public lands statewide. (August 2006)
From all early indications, Ohio's bowhunters should enjoy continued success during the 2006 archery deer season.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources deer biologist Mike Tonkovich said most of eastern Ohio would probably be down, but meant that only in modest terms.
"My gut feeling is that for a while, we're going to see harvests remain fairly constant," Tonkovich said.
Last fall, bowhunters got off to a fast start. For the second consecutive year, they set a record pace during the first six weeks. Good weather was a contributing factor. In just those first six weeks, archers took 41,589 deer -- 2 percent more than in 2004.
Mike Rex of Athens, former Buckeye Big Buck Club president, contributed a 17-point buck that should make it into the all-time top 25, and he did it on the very first morning of the season.
Last season continued to be hot, producing a final tally of 60,090 deer.
Deer hunting conditions change dramatically as the long season progresses. Early bowhunting season is often summerlike, with temperatures that might exceed 70 degrees. Though these are pleasant conditions for being in the field, such high temperatures present unique obstacles to bowhunters. Deer don't move as much in hot weather, and preserving the eating quality of venison can be a challenge.
But first, you have to get those deer in your sights. Here is a look at some of the better public lands around the state to start your 2006 bowhunting season:
Shawnee State Forest
The ODOW's District Four is the top deer-producing district in the state. Wayne National Forest provides the greatest amount of public hunting ground, but there are also numerous state lands open to hunting.
One of the more intriguing opportunities is Shawnee State Forest, which lies on the border between districts Four and Five, but mostly in District Four. Although Shawnee is west of the area most bowhunters look to as the region's best deer-hunting area, we'll make it our top pick this year for early-season bowhunting.
"I can't help but believe that Shawnee State Forest is going to be a great place to hunt this fall," Tonkovich said. "It's been four growing seasons since a big ice storm ravaged the forest," he noted. In February 2003, a major ice storm knocked down hundreds of thousands of trees. Trails have since been cleared, but hunters should expect the going to be tough in the woods.
This is some of the more rugged terrain in Ohio, part of the Appalachian Plateau. Dense hardwood forest covers the hills.
"It's rugged," Tonkovich said. "It's not for the faint of heart!"
Logging operations are ongoing on the state forest. However, about 8,000 acres have been designated as the Shawnee Wilderness Area, where no logging is allowed. An additional 8,000 adjacent acres is specially managed for wildlife. Combined, the two areas provide an unusual walk-in hunting experience.
Shawnee, with an area of 63,747 acres, is the largest state forest in Ohio. It is west of Portsmouth in Scioto and Adams counties, extending generally north from the Ohio River and U.S. Route 52.
Camping is permitted only in areas provided and designated for such use. Shawnee State Park, which is situated within Shawnee State Forest, has camping, rental cabins and a lodge. To reach the park, take U.S. Route 52 West, and then state Route 125.
For state park information, contact the Shawnee State Park office, 4404 State Route 125, Portsmouth, OH 45663-9003. You can call (740) 858-6652, or access the park's Web site at www.ohiodnr.com/parks/parks/shawnee.htm.
Call (866) 644-6727 for camping reservations or 1-800-282-7275 for lodge and cottage reservations.
Information about the forest is available through the Shawnee State Forest office, 13291 U.S. Route 52, West Portsmouth, OH 45663-8906. You can call (740) 858-6685, or go to the state forest's Web site at www.dnr.ohio.gov/forestry/Forests/shawnee.htm.
For local information, contact the Portsmouth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 1487, 324 Chillicothe Street, Portsmouth, OH 45662. Call 1-800-648-2574, or go to www.portsmouthcvb.org.
Southeastern Ohio hunting information, including maps of most state lands, is available through the ODOW's Wildlife District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701; or call (740) 594-2211.
Tranquility Wildlife Area
Western Ohio has fewer public deer-hunting opportunities than the eastern counties. But every district has some excellent deer hunting, especially for early-season bowhunters.
"We increased our bag limits where there are the most deer. For example, Highland County and Adams County are in the three-deer zone," said Dave Kohler, District Five wildlife management supervisor.
"Hunting pressure in these areas is not high. I would think bowhunters would find plenty of room to find a spot."
One area he suggested is Tranquility Wildlife Area, a little more than an hour's drive from Cincinnati. This 4,254-acre area is in northwestern Adams County. To get there from the Cincinnati area, take state Route 32 east to Seaman and then state Route 770 north.
"Tranquility WA is predominantly forested," Kohler said. "There is some co-op farming on the property. It has a good deer population, and there is some potential for trophy bucks there."
A little less than half of the area is forested, with oaks and hickories on drier slopes and hilltops. There is some grassland and plenty of brush for deer to hide in.
Roughly 375 acres of the area is set aside for co-op farming. The ODOW allows farming on its public lands under agreements that include farming practices beneficial to wildlife, including deer. Agricultural crops grown here include corn, soybeans and wheat.
For local information, contact the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau, 110 North Manchester Avenue, West Union, OH 45693. Call the agency at (937) 544-5454, or visit them at www.ad
Paint Creek Wildlife Area
On the border of Highland County and Ross County, Paint Creek Wildlife Area comes highly recommended for early-season bowhunting. It lies about an hour south of Columbus by way of U.S. Route 23 south to Chillicothe, and then U.S. Route 50 west.
This tract of public land also has a great mix of deer habitat.
"Paint Creek has a mixture of grassland and some unique wildlife corridors," Kohler said. "Paint Creek on one side and Rattlesnake Creek create a large V that tends to channel whitetail movements. There's also quite a bit of co-op farming on the property."
While Paint Creek WA covers a fairly large area of 11,024 acres, but it's narrow. Access is good via several minor roads crossing or touching the area. There is boat access as well.
Paint Creek State Park borders the south end of the wildlife area where Paint Creek and Rattlesnake Creek join. Camping and hunting is allowed in the park.
For more information, contact the Paint Creek State Park office, 14265 U.S. Route 50, Bainbridge, OH 45612. Call (937) 365-1401 for the park office, or (866) 644-6727 for camping reservations.
For information about local services, contact the Highland County Convention Visitors Bureau, 1575 North High Street, Suite 400, P.O. Box 638, Hillsboro, OH 45133. Call them at (937) 393-4883, or go to www.highlandcounty.com.
More information about hunting in southwestern Ohio, including maps of state lands open to bowhunting, is available from the ODOW's Wildlife District Five office, 1076 Old Springfield Pike, Xenia, OH 45385; or call (937) 372-9261.
Lake La Su An Wildlife Area
Few bowhunters look to District Two as a destination. Harvest figures are relatively unimpressive -- as far as numbers are concerned. But if you know where to go, there is some great bowhunting for trophy bucks in this district.
"Up in northwest Ohio, we have the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area," stated Scott Butterworth, wildlife management supervisor for District Two. "It's an excellent mix of habitat, with grasslands, wetlands, forest, and neighboring private land. Plus there's quite a bit of agricultural activity nearby."
Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, best known for high-quality bluegills, has limited access for fishing, but not for deer hunting. This 2,280-acre area is one of the best public lands in the northwest for bowhunters to open their seasons, and a good place to sample Ohio's trophy buck potential.
A lot of the area is wetlands, including numerous small- to medium-sized ponds. The area is primarily forested with a mix of beech, oaks, maple and ash, along with some brushy areas. The terrain is gentle.
There are some co-op crop fields and food plots for dove hunting. Crops include corn, sunflower, winter wheat and millet.
Hunters should pay attention to the mix of ponds, open areas, forest, wetlands and thick cover when scouting deer movement patterns.
"On the weekends, the area certainly gets pressure. But during the week, you can usually have your pick of where to go. I'd say that characterizes all of our areas," Butterworth noted.
Lake La Su An Wildlife Area is in the northwest corner of Ohio in Williams County, west of Pioneer. To get there from the Toledo area, take Interstate Route 80/90 west to Holiday City. Turn north on state Route 15, and then proceed west on state Route 576.
Check for local information with the Jefferson Township Holiday City Visitors Bureau, 13918 B CR M, Holiday City, OH 43543-0303. Call (419) 485-5881, or you can visit http://www.holidaycityohio.org.
Tiffin River Wildlife Area
The MWCD lands provide a total of 54,000 acres for public use. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, is responsible for fish and wildlife management through a lease agreement.
"In Fulton County, there's the Tiffin River Wildlife Area," Butterworth suggested. "It includes 340 acres along the Tiffin River and is basically the river flood plain with a mix of woods and wetlands."
The area features excellent bedding areas and travel corridors. It is comprised of three separate tracts that are a mix of grassland and woodland.
The Tiffin River Wildlife Area is north of I-80/90 in western Fulton County. Take Exit 25 and drive north on county Highway 24 to reach the southern tracts.
For additional information on northwest Ohio wildlife areas, including maps, contact the ODOW's Wildlife District Two office, 952 Lima Avenue, Box A, Findlay, OH 45840; or call (419) 424-5000.
Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District
Although human population densities might make northeast Ohio appear limited in deer-hunting opportunities, this is an excellent area for bowhunters. This is another high-priority destination for bowhunters who want a serious upgrade in trophy buck potential.
Harrison County has consistently been among the top deer-producing counties in Ohio. It ranked 6th in total deer take during the 2004-'05 seasons. This is a good area for the district's many serious bowhunters, who can do a lot of pre-season scouting close to home and then hunt mornings or evenings after work.
Clendening Lake is the largest undeveloped lake in Ohio. Surrounding its 41 miles of shoreline is 4,801 acres of land that's open to hunting. These rolling, forested hills provide excellent bowhunting, yet pressure is invariably light to moderate.
Boats provide the best access to remote areas, but bowhunters should know that there is a 10-horsepower limit on motors.
Clendening Lake is west of Cadiz in Harrison County. To get there, take U.S. Route 22 west from Cadiz, go north on state Route 342 to Freeport, and then take state Route 799 to the marina.
For information on camping and lodging, contact the Clendening Marina office at (740) 658-3691. A map of the lake and surrounding lands is available at the agency's Web site at www.mwcdlakes.com.
Other Muskingum Watershed Conservancy Lakes information can also be found at this Web site.
Tappan Lake and Piedmont Lake are in the same vicinity. Tappan Lake is north of Clendening Lake. Take U.S. Route 250 West from Cadiz.
Surrounding the 2,350-acre lake is about 5,000 acres of land. Tappan Lake Park has 500 campsites and rental cabins. Motors are limited to 299 horsepower.
For more information, call (740) 922-3649.
Piedmont Lake is south of Clendening Lake. U.S. Route 22 passes close to the dam west from Cadiz. The dam and lower part of the lake are in Harrison County; the remainder is in Belmont County.
The lake is surrounded by 4,416 acres of land that are open to bowhunting. Boats are limited to motors of 10-horsepower, maximum. Piedmont Mill Lake Marina and Campgrounds has 80 campsites.
For more information, call (740) 658-3735.
Deer Creek Wildlife Area
Bowhunters in central Ohio face a different situation than in the other districts.
"In our district, the amount of public land is limited," said Dan Huss, the ODOW's District One wildlife management supervisor.
"Most of the deer hunting that occurs in central Ohio takes place on private land," Huss said. "But there are some areas, especially lands adjacent to urban areas, where there are both good numbers of deer and some good bucks."
One of the few public lands in District One with good bowhunting potential is the Deer Creek Wildlife Area.
"This is a mixture of woodland, brushland, cropland and open grassland," Huss said. "There's a lot of tall prairie grass in that area."
Deer Creek Wildlife Area has an area of 4,085 acres. About a quarter of the generally flat terrain is hardwood forest. Another quarter is cultivated.
This public land is about 35 miles from Columbus. Head south from Columbus on I-71, exit onto state Route 3 or state Route 56 to Mt. Sterling, and then head south on state Route 207.
Deer Creek State Park is adjacent to the wildlife area. This park is a major resort facility with a 277-site campground, 25 cottages and a 110-room lodge.
Get park information by contacting Deer Creek State Park, 20635 Waterloo Road, Mt. Sterling, OH 43143. Call the park office at (740) 869-3124, or visit the park's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/deercrk.htm.
Some hunting is allowed in the park, but it's the closed area that generates this area's trophy buck potential.
"Most of the state park is closed to hunting, but all of the wildlife area is open to hunting," Huss explained. "So the deer move back and forth. Some bucks get a little more age on them as a result."
Information about these wildlife areas, including maps, can be obtained from the ODOW's Wildlife District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215; or call (614) 644-3925.
For more information about bowhunting opportunities in Ohio, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife headquarters, 1840 Belcher Drive, Columbus, OH 43224-1329. Call (614) 265-6300, or you can visit the ODOW at www.ohiodnr.com, where maps and descriptions of most wildlife areas are available.
For travel information, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at www.OhioTourism.com, or call them at 1-800-BUCKEYE.