As biologists continue to refine deer regulations with an eye toward stabilizing deer populations throughout the state, bag limits are being decreased in 44 counties and antlerless tags are being eliminated in 29 counties.
With harvest numbers down for a fourth consecutive year in the state, most changes this year were intended to stabilize deer populations.
"The overall status of the herd is very close to where we want it to be," said Mike Tonkovich, deer program administrator at the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW), who notes that the goal of the new regulations is to stop further population declines. "We have to reduce the harvest to do that. With no regulation changes, there might be a small decrease in the harvest (because of fewer deer), but with these changes we'll definitely see a decrease. It's a pre-emptive move."
Bag limits are reduced this year in 44 counties, increased in five counties and held at last year's level in 39 counties. The use of the discounted antlerless permit is prohibited in 29 counties this year in an attempt to see fewer does harvested. The unknown factor may be how removing the antlerless permits will impact the final numbers.
"Our expectation is that it will reduce the harvest — we're banking on that," said Tonkovich.
He says that in most of the counties where that change is being imposed, populations have been gradually shrinking. Biologists want them to level off.
"I know some people think removing the antlerless tags is a money grab but the fact is antlerless tags have only been around since 2007. They were created to encourage hunters to take extra does and reduce Ohio's deer herd when it was too high. That's been done and we now want to keep populations steady so we just don't need them in some counties," he said.
In addition to the new bag limits in many counties this year, hunters will be able to use specific straight-walled cartridge rifles for deer gun season: .357 Magnum, .357 Maximum, .38 Special, .375 Super Magnum, .375 Winchester, .38-55, .41 Long Colt, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .444 Marlin, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Long Colt, .45 Winchester Magnum, .45 Smith & Wesson, .454 Casull, .460 Smith & Wesson, .45-70, .45-90, .45-110, .475 Linebaugh, .50-70, .50-90, .50-100, .50-110 and .500 Smith & Wesson.
These rifles are the same caliber and use the same straight-walled cartridges that are currently legal for use in the same caliber handgun.
Larry Moore, a regional leader with the Buckeye Firearms Association said, "The original proposal made to the ODOW was that any cartridge currently legal to hunt with in a handgun, would be legal in a rifle. Additionally, cartridges considered as traditional black powder cartridge rifles were included in the proposal. During the refinement of the proposal, and with comments from the open house process, the ODOW proposed a specific list of legal cartridges. The majority of these cartridges are the same straight-walled cartridges that are currently legal in handguns. A few additional cartridges, such as the .50-90, were added to the list. I should also note that not all cartridges currently legal in a handgun are included in the straight-walled rifle cartridge list. Only those cartridges listed in the final regulation will be legal for use in rifles in 2014. The rifles will be limited to 3 rounds in the firearm including the chamber and the magazine."
Moore says he intends to use a .45-70 Marlin Model 1895 for the upcoming gun season and added that he knows many hunters who will be using the .45-70 because it's offered in several varieties of firearms and has excellent ballistics for deer.
"I'm looking forward to the time when some of my grandkids will start hunting. I will likely chose either a .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum lever action rifle for them. I think these provide a wonderful balance of weight, handling characteristics and reduced recoil which make them an ideal choice for the young hunters," he said.
The early antlerless muzzleloader (EML) weekend will be held for the second year, despite considerable objection from some hunters last year when it was proposed. The two deer managers said that most of the concerns people had voiced prior to the season didn't end up being a problem.
Some had suggested too much foliage in mid-October might create a safety issue. But no hunting incidents occurred during the two-day hunt. Another concern from bowhunters was that the EML would cause bucks to become nocturnal, but the buck archery harvest was actually up last year.
According to Clint McCoy, ODOW's other deer biologist, muzzleloader season may have delayed the buck harvest but didn't lower it.
"The day after the EML season, archers had killed 30 percent fewer bucks than the previous year, but by Nov. 1st, they had killed 1.5 percent more than the previous year," said McCoy.
Tonkovich added, "A lot of people said it was a nice time of the year to get their kids in the woods."
Last season, hunters checked in a total of 191,503 deer, a 12.5 percent decrease from the 2012 season. This statistic could reflect weather anomalies during two of the established seasons: youth gun season and the January either-sex muzzleloader season. Young hunters were greeted by below average temperatures and high winds, conditions which contributed to a harvest decline in that hunt of nearly 3,000 deer compared to the harvest in 2012. The 2013 youth hunt therefore added just 6,645 to the total harvest.
Muzzleloaders had it even worse, with record-setting cold and howling winds helping to bring their harvest down by about 5,000 animals from the previous year and putting their total at 16,464.
"In addition to liberal regulations, other factors have played in to lower deer densities," said McCoy, noting that trends in land use have produced woodlots with more mature timber and not as much second-growth to support wildlife.
The harvest prediction for this year?
"We could see as much as a 15 percent decrease in counties where we reduced the bag and took away the antlerless permit; probably more like 5 to 8 percent statewide. I expect a notable drop in antlerless harvest but not much change in the buck take. My guess is it will probably be between 180,000 and 185,000 deer, so this may be the fifth in a row in harvest reduction. It's a very common theme throughout most of the Midwest; Indiana, for instance, is in their seventh year of decline."
Hunters will kill fewer deer than they did five years ago, but Ohio is still a big producer for venison enthusiasts. Whether you hunt on private or public land you can still find ample opportunities to tag your deer.
Counties where the most deer were harvested last year were Coshocton (6,270), Tuscarawas (5,774), Licking (5,711), Muskingum (5,547), Guernsey (5,307), Ashtabula (4,981), Harrison (4,533), Knox (4,529), Carroll (4,203) and Athens (4,053).
There are no big surprises here; Coshocton County also reported the most deer taken the previous year (7,413). Not much is expected to change in this line-up and these counties are scattered from the far northeastern corner of the state (Ashtabula) to a southeastern county bordering the Ohio River (Athens), with four of the consistent producers hanging close to the center of the state (Knox) or slightly east of it (Coshocton, Licking, and Muskingum).
What these counties have in common is suitable, year-round habitat. Unfortunately, what they don't have in common is abundant public land. Licking County has no wildlife area so unless you're lucky enough to own land here, you'll need to put on your best smile and knock on doors.
Some of these counties, however, do have some public hunting lands. In Muskingum County, 1047 of the 5,547 deer were taken on public land and 380 of those public-land deer were bucks. Think about the big Tri Valley Wildlife Area (WA) with over 15,000 acres. In Coshocton, 935 (332 bucks) of the 6,270 were from public land. Coshocton hosts most of the popular Woodbury WA (a portion of the WA is in Muskingum County).
According to McCoy, teasing out where to go can be tricky. The top county (harvest numbers) for public land is Muskingum. But with respect to the number of deer harvested per square mile Harrison County is best; for percentage of harvest that comes off public land, the best is in Lawrence, where 30 percent of the deer taken came from public land.
Looking at the overall picture, if you're hunting with a bow, best numbers come from Licking and Coshocton; with a gun, Coshocton and Muskingum. For total numbers regardless of weapon, the top counties are Coshocton, Tuscarawas, and Licking.
Deer numbers are lower in the western farm counties, though all provide hunters with a good chance of tagging a fat Ohio deer. Urban counties, while not necessarily short on habitat, are generally short on land available to hunters. That leaves east-central and southeast counties where habitat is abundant, and within this group, the harvest tends to be the highest in those counties where the deer are not wholly dependent on mast and whatever else may be offered in Mother Nature's buffet. In other words, areas where crops are available to supplement the annual diet are what you should look for anywhere to find the best concentrations of deer.
For private land hunters, there isn't a county in Ohio that doesn't have excellent areas for deer hunting. Some counties don't show up as well for numbers but have plenty of successful hunters; think southwestern Ohio.
In southwestern Ohio, wildlife district manager Todd Haines said, "For public hunting, try one of the areas close to greater Cincinnati, like East Fork WA. It has great habitat and deer numbers, and there's a lot of area there (7,746 acres). Especially during archery season or the late season, you won't get a lot of competition."
He also recommended the 4,258-acre Tranquility WA in Adams County, saying it is somewhat underused and had good populations of deer.
In northeastern Ohio, the ODOW's assistant wildlife management supervisor Dan McMillen suggests that public land hunters try Brush Creek WA in Jefferson County, Grand River WA in Trumbull Co., lands owned by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) around Clendenning, Piedmont and Tappan lakes, Jockey Hollow WA, and Harrison State Forest. Harrison County has some of the largest concentrations of deer per square mile in the state and has significant amounts public land.
Although not considered the most prime deer hunting location, the northwestern parts of Ohio have abundant crops and grow big deer, although woodlots for cover can be few and far between. If you can find a willing landowner, you're good to go.
For public land hunting, John Windau, ODOW's northwestern Ohio communications specialist, suggests Resthaven (1,831 acres in Erie Co.) and Kildeer Plains (8,175 acres in Wyandot Co.).
"Both these areas have abundant bushy cover and woods, making them very good deer hunting areas," said Windau.
What about areas you might not expect to produce? Formal urban hunting zones were eliminated last year because in many cases they didn't produce much due to local laws that prevented hunting and the lack of access to public land. But many municipalities and park districts are having their own controlled hunts and many participating hunters are very successful.
According to McCoy, Hamilton (third) and Lucas (fifth) were two top counties for deer killed on public land. Both are urban/suburban and both have a number of controlled hunts conducted by local entities. Twenty or more percent of deer taken in those counties were killed at controlled hunts.
Because regulations change annually, pick up a copy of the hunting regulations or go to wildohio.com and look them over. To study potential hunting areas, call 1-800-WILDLIFE and request a copy of publication #77. It is a great map of the state with public hunting areas identified and described as to amount of acreage, etc. The publication isn't on the state's website because of the size of the file, but once you've found an area that looks promising, visit the website at wildohio.com and look up more detailed maps of individual wildlife areas.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '