Even though Ohio is a perennial big buck state, which implies fewer opportunities to take deer, Mike Tonkovich, Ohio's deer project leader, said his department manages for "numbers of opportunities." Even though Ohio has 750,000 whitetails, that doesn't mean numbers of deer. It means "providing opportunity for the least possible price and still providing a great product," he said.
"The deer we produce are a byproduct of good, solid deer management. We put the right number of deer on the landscape, and trophy deer are a byproduct of our program. Opportunities for Ohio hunters and for people who come to Ohio [to hunt] are what we're about."
Like any state, Ohio has its challenges moving forward. But at this point nothing on the horizon would endanger its status as a quality deer state and a big-buck destination.
Deer Population: 750,000
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $1 billion
"The bulk of the deer are going to be in the eastern half of the state, particularly the southeast part," Tonkovich said. "That's where most of our forest land is, and where the bulk of the deer and public land opportunities are."
"Largely urban counties and areas close to urban counties, where deer receive little hunting pressure and have a chance to get old" are good places for trophy deer, he said. "Also the west-central farmland counties, where deer are feeding on an extremely high nutritional plane – lots of corn and soybeans."
He noted that "counties like Greene and many southwest counties are getting a lot of attention right now. They're producing a lot of very big bucks."
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Tonkovich gave it a 5. "These are the good old days, no question about it."
Status 5 Years From Now
"It's been 5 for the last five years and I don't foresee any major regulation changes that would change that. If anything, I think the quality will improve a little bit."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
Tonkovich listed several things he's keeping an eye on.
"My No. 1 concern is the average age of the hunting public right now – it's only going to continue to rise. Very closely tied in to that is recruitment of new hunters and retention of existing hunters. It's very bleak, quite honestly. There's not a lot of positive on the horizon."
He said an irony is "we're asking the hunting public to support recruitment and retention, but we're losing more land due to development, so we're asking them to hunt in more crowded conditions."
He's also concerned about the ability to manage backyard deer, which have very low mortality. And – related to that – educating the non-hunting public about the "very important role our hunters play" and getting non-hunters to support that role, possibly financially.
Any Doom and Gloom?
Nope. As Tonkovich said, the good old days are here right now.