Is This Our Top Deer County?

Is This Our Top Deer County?

Coshocton County has it all: big bucks, well-managed public lands and private lands open to hunting by permission. This is one place you won't want to miss! (September 2008)

Deer hunting in the Buckeye State has definitely come of age. Wildlife managers now spend more time worrying about how to keep whitetail numbers in check than they do about finding ways to protect them.

Every fall, out-of-state trophy hunters flock to Ohio to take advantage of what may be the Midwest's best deer-hunting opportunities. They all hope for a chance at one of this state's legendary world-class bucks.

Though big bucks do exist in most of the state's 88 counties, all things considered, Coshocton County in east-central Ohio may be the best spot in the state to find a big Buckeye Big Buck Club qualifier.

One look at the records of the Buckeye Big Buck Club will show that Coshocton County has been the top-producing county of trophy deer for four years running. Last year, it yielded a total of 8,656 antlered and antlerless all-season white-tailed deer.

Licking County is consistently at the top of the list for its archery-season harvest, and it's interesting to note that it borders Coshocton County on the northeast side. The entire region is a deer hunter's paradise.

According to Denise Shivers, who works at Wills Creek General Store in Wills Creek, the number of deer harvested in the county is always high.

"We checked in 1,030 deer last season," said Shivers, "and that was actually kind of low compared to other years. "The biggest buck was a 19-pointer, and one of the deer taken during the Youth Season was a 16-pointer.

"The first part of last year's archery season went really well," she added. "We checked in about 230 deer during that time. There are good numbers of deer and some excellent bucks around here."

Coshocton County's public and private lands offer equally good hunting, said Shivers. In most areas of the state, the locals keep the private lands to themselves and leave the public lands to visitors and those who don't have access to private property.

Not so in Coshocton County. Local hunters are as at home on public land as they are on the area's farms, taking plenty of deer from both. (Continued)

Shivers said she would even provide contacts for visiting hunters who seek permission to tag a big buck on private land: "All they have to do is to stop by the store, and I'll provide a few names," she said. "It's up to the hunters from there."

Most of the local landowners who hunt are willing to share their bounty. There is no "official" list of private landowners, so information on those willing to give permission to hunt is spread by word of mouth.

Woodbury Wildlife Area
The public lands in Coshocton County are loaded with deer. The Woodbury Wildlife Area and the Conesville Coal Lands offer thousands of acres of prime whitetail habitat and are open to bowhunters on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Woodbury WA spreads through much of Coshocton County and may explain why this county has been able to maintain its No. 1 ranking for deer-harvest numbers.

This is rough country for central Ohio. Prior to the state's acquisition of the property in the early 1990s, about half of it had been strip-mined. The results are obvious, with high spoil hills covered with young trees and extensive open grasslands, thanks to reclamation efforts.

Well over 100 small ponds and over 40 wetland areas add to the mix of diverse habitat, and it all adds up to quality deer. Big bucks know exactly where to go when the pressure is heavy, and it will be worth your effort to go in after them.

Farmland borders part of this huge area that covers 19,050 acres. Bucks move in and out of Woodbury's remote forested sections, chasing does or foraging in crop fields at their leisure. To take advantage of deer travel patterns, early-season hunters can set up on public acreage near the farms. But to find out which fields are being utilized by the herd, hunters should do a little pre-season scouting.

Other hotspots include food plots cultivated by wildlife area staff. Corn and buckwheat draw deer into the area. For updates on the locations of their most productive fields, contact the Woodbury Wildlife Area office at (740) 824-3211.

Conesville Coal Lands
Another top bowhunting destination in Coshocton County is the Conesville Coal holdings. Muskingum and Coshocton counties share this restored strip-mined area now owned by the American Electric Power Company.

Though in private ownership, the Conesville property is open to public hunting through an agreement with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The habitat is hilly, filled with brush and second-growth timber, littered with ponds and loaded with deer. Service roads are cut through the area. Public access may be limited in some areas due to AEP activities. This can change, so watch for posted signs.

Setting up along the borders of private property can be productive.

To avoid hunters and to forage in less-pressured areas, deer will move on and off the Conesville lands.

As pressure increases, whitetails are prone to travel and less likely to stay in areas where hunters are concentrated. Stouthearted hunters can push through the off-road tangle to get to remote clearings and bedding areas that most other hunters never see. The bigger bucks often move into these hard-to-reach areas when they've been harassed by hunters.

The Conesville Coal Lands cover about 12,000 acres southeast of the city of Coshocton. State routes 83 and 541 intersect the property. The free permit required to hunt Conesville is available at area bait shops, from the AEP's McConnelsville office or at

All ODOW rules and regulations apply, along with the AEP's own regulations.

Many hunters believe that public wildlife areas aren't as productive as the less pressured private landholdings. Not so in this case, according to Larry Wise, vice president of the Coshocton Sportsmen's Club.

"There's good hunting in Coshocton County, and deer are everywhere, including on o

ur public lands," he said. "Hunters come from all over to hunt Coshocton County. The deer here are a lot bigger than in Pennsylvania or down South."

One look at the records of the Buckeye Big Buck Club will show that Coshocton County has been the top-producing county of trophy deer for four years running.

Wise recommends scouting before hunting on public property.

Look for sign and deer trails early on. Then as the season progresses, start getting into the thickest, most inaccessible cover because that's where the deer will be.

Traveling the roads on Woodbury WA or the Conesville Coal Lands is a great way to look for sign as well as concentrations of deer.

Joe Miller leases hunting rights in the western part of the county.

When asked what makes the county so good for deer hunting, his answer was simple.

"It's the habitat," said Miller. "The cover can be thick, and if a buck goes in there, you're not going to get him. Some areas were clear-cut seven or eight years ago. They're now 10 feet high and full of thick vegetation."

The leased lands have a spot that locals referred to as "Little Africa." Miller believes there are deer in that tangle that have never seen a human.

His Woodbury Outfitters' leased lands have set a 125-inch minimum on bucks, and hunters are encouraged to take does.

The size of the bucks taken there has been good, due to the limited hunting pressure that gives them a chance to grow older and larger.

Unlike most private leasers, Woodbury Outfitters offers lodge accommodations and guided hunts on their leased lands. For more information, call Miller at Woodbury Outfitters at (740) 623-2227.

For more information about the Conesville Coal Lands, contact the AEP at (740) 962-1205, or the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930.

Additional information is available from the Coshocton County Sportsman's Association, at (740) 622-3925.

You can reach the Wills Creek General Store at (740) 829-2609. A Conesville Coal Lands permit may also be picked up there. The Coshocton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau can provide information on where to stay in the county.

For more information, call 1-800-472-3700.

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