Top County for December Bucks

A combination of high deer densities, lots of trophy-class bucks and plenty of public land gives Muskingum County the nod as Ohio's top December hunting destination. Our expert explains why.

Ohio hunters looking for a great place to hunt white-tailed deer during the gun or muzzleloader season need look no farther.

Muskingum County has several key reasons why it's the top choice for December deer hunters, including vast rural areas, high deer densities and plenty of public land.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife biologists predict that the 2002 deer season will be a record-breaker statewide, with more deer available than ever. Last year, Muskingum County's gun season kill was over 3,600. With only a 3 percent increase in the harvest statewide, research indices show that more deer must be harvested if we are going to control herd growth. Statewide, hunters set a new harvest record of 22,513 deer during December's statewide primitive deer hunting season. Muskingum County hunters contributed 697 deer.

Muskingum County regulations allow a hunter to harvest three deer (only one buck plus two antlerless deer, or three antlerless deer total) during the season. With a quest to harvest more deer, hunters will be out in full force as they attempt to accomplish this throughout December's gun seasons. This means one thing - get to Muskingum County and find a comfortable place to sit, because deer will be moving throughout the gun and muzzleloader seasons.

Photo by Ken Thommes

Muskingum County is an excellent choice for December deer, thanks to its wide selection of public lands that are open to hunting. Five outstanding wildlife areas or state forests are within a 45-minute drive of each other, with the city of Zanesville as the hub. Over 27,000 acres are available to hunters between the following five public areas:

American Electric Power Lands
A top choice for bagging a deer in Muskingum County would be the American Electric Power (AEP) lands in the southeastern corner of the county. Because of high deer densities in the region, over 7,000 acres have been opened to hunters for the purpose of reducing the deer population, which has had a severe browse impact on young tree plantings.

There are some regulations that are unique to this area. For example, deer hunting will only be permitted during the deer gun season and the statewide primitive weapons season.

Because these lands have not been recently hunted, ODNR officials expect high success in 2002, making this a top-rated hunt for Muskingum County!

Additional acres are in Rich Hill and Meigs townships, along both sides of state Route 284. Look for maps that will be posted on bulletin boards in the campgrounds in ReCreation Land. There will also be maps available to view in local stores that distribute AEP maps and permits. For more information, permits and maps, including a map of the special deer hunting area, access the AEP Web site, at

Hunters are reminded that the rules and regulations governing AEP's ReCreation Land apply in addition to all state wildlife regulations. No ATVs are permitted except for those with special handicapped permits from AEP.

For more information, call the American Electric Power Company at (740) 962-1205 or the Ohio Division of Wildlife at (740) 594-2211.

Blue Rock State Forest
Blue Rock State Forest is 12 miles southeast of Zanesville and is accessed via state Route 60 and Culter Lake Road. This 4,579-acre area features hardwood forests and wildlife openings. Blue Rock State Forest can be a productive spur-of-the-moment deer hunt.

Most of the region's marginally productive farmland was originally acquired by the federal government during the 1930s under the Resettlement Administration. Surface ownership was later transferred to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Forestry, while the federal government retained three-fourths interest in the oil and gas rights. Subsequent reforestation and the application of forest management and protection practices have transformed low quality farmland into one of Ohio's most beautiful and productive forests, according to Ohio Division of Forestry officials.

Blue Rock State Forest is open to visitors between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily. Motor vehicles are restricted to roads maintained for public traffic. Vehicles may not be parked where traffic or access to Forest Service roads is obstructed. Shooting is prohibited within 400 feet of any building, facility or recreation area and from or across any road or driveway. Discharge of any firearm is not permitted except during lawful hunting.

For answers to questions or to obtain more information in general about Blue Rock State Forest, e-mail

Dillon Wildlife Area
Another viable option for December gun hunting is the Dillon Wildlife Area, which is adjacent to Dillon State Park. Areas that are adjacent to non-hunting zones tend to hold more deer and produce older bucks. This relationship can produce high numbers of deer and big-racked bucks. As many hunters know, a 4 1/2-year-old buck in Ohio will easily score well above 150 on the Boone and Crockett scoring system.

Dillon Wildlife Area contains over 3,600 acres in three sections. Area One is off state Route 16 south of Marne, Ohio. Area Two, the largest section to hunt, is directly south of the intersection of state routes 586 and 146. The third section is northeast of state Route 146. Look for county Road 500 (Cemetery Road) to access the central part of this area.

For more information about the Dillon Wildlife Area, contact the Tri-Valley area headquarters at (740) 454-8296.

Tri-Valley Wildlife Area
Another top choice for public land in Muskingum County, Tri-Valley features over 16,200 acres of prime whitetail habitat in an area that can easily produce a high percentage of the total deer harvest in the county. Because of the area's small pockets of mature timber, overgrown strip mine pits and old field conditions, hunters should be able to find heavily used travel routes on which to ambush moving deer during December.

Tri-Valley receives a great deal of attention from Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists in Muskingum County. Its large land area allows wildlife technicians and area managers to plant a number of food plots to attract late-season deer.

The Tri-Valley Wildlife Area is easy to find

from the town of Dresden. Proceed east of town on state Route 208, or south of town on state Route 666. State Route 666 borders the western edge of the area and travels close to the wildlife area headquarters.

For more information about Tri-valley Wildlife Area, contact the area headquarters at (740) 454-8296.

Powelson Wildlife Area
Another top-rated hotspot for deer in Muskingum County is the Powelson Wildlife Area north of Zanesville. This 2,775-acre area is similar in terrain and vegetation to the Tri-Valley Wildlife Area. Smaller areas are often overlooked when bigger areas are also an option, but Powelson is large enough to hold a number of hunters.

Powelson Wildlife Area is north of Zanesville on state Route 60. It is approximately seven miles south of Dresden. Both Zanesville and Dresden offer great dining establishments and lodging.

Many hunters new to an area shy away from asking local landowners for permission to hunt.

One recommendation is to check with the local state wildlife officer or Division of Wildlife District office for tips on farmers who have complained about deer crop damage. Many farmers in areas of the state with high deer densities request several kill permits each year to help reduce crop damage. Fortunately for hunters, many farmers rely on safe, ethical hunters to alleviate the problem.

Contact the District Four office at (740) 594-2211 for more information on finding farmers in need of help in reducing their deer herd. It just may produce a great place to take that buck of a lifetime.

Muskingum County's public land deer hunting opportunities include many opportunities for camping and lodging. Centered among these areas is Dillon State Park, which offers camping and year-round cottages that cost $85 for two nights. These cottages offer two bedrooms and a kitchen - a perfect home away from home while deer hunting Ohio's finest December county.

For more information about reservations and accommodations, call (740) 453-4377.

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