It is hard to believe another upland game (rabbit/pheasant) opening day has sailed past. The Ohio deer gun week and bonus weekend are now also in the rear view mirror. The only thing that doesn’t seem to ever end is the rain. The weather has certainly made things miserable for the farmers who may still have crops in the field. The Ohio deer harvest is down and that can be attributed to the weather.
Weather likely kept many hunters away from the field while the standing corn certainly provided additional cover for the deer. Once I had a deer, I also sat out the worst of the rain over the bonus weekend of December 15 and 16. Despite the challenges, I’m thankful to have once again been in the woods with family and friends. It was first, and foremost, another safe season .
We had some success so there is venison in the freezer. The success came with some long walks, hard hills to climb and a very long drag to get the deer out of the woods to the trucks. The rain was once again the culprit as we couldn’t get the 4-wheelers across Salt Creek in Vinton County. That meant walking around to a bridge crossing. It certainly made me wish for some younger legs with hills that seemed to get steeper as the week wore on. Snow on top of the leaves made the woods beautiful but made walking even more slick on top of the mud.
Ohio’s deer-gun hunting season remains a tradition enjoyed by thousands of hunters for more than 75 years. Starting the Monday after Thanksgiving, Ohio deer hunters safely enjoyed seven days of deer-gun hunting. 60,557 white-tailed deer were checked during the season, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Last year, hunters checked 72,814 deer over the deer gun. The comparable recent historical numbers are: 2011 – 90,282; 2013 – 86,963; 2014 – 75,408; 2015 – 73,399; 2016 – 66,758; 2017 – 91,444. The three year average is just over 87,800 animals.
The bonus gun weekend saw an additional deer harvest that also encountered more rain. Ohio’s hunters checked 9,625 white-tailed deer during Ohio’s 2018 two-day deer-gun hunting season, Dec. 15-16. During last year’s two-day December deer-gun season, 14,115 deer were harvested. While this year is significantly lower than 2017, the number may be somewhat misleading. The two-day bonus seasons of 2015 (9447 deer) and 2016 (9228 deer) each saw harvest numbers lower than the 2018 rain plagued number.
Trying to make sense of all the numbers becomes somewhat complicated. The ODNR Division of Wildlife deer management biologists are tasked with that job. More important than just the statewide total numbers may be numbers in specific counties as biologists attempt to balance the herd size to the available habitat. It is a job that seems to always leave someone unhappy.
If the deer hunters are happy with a larger deer herd, landowners and, especially, farmers may be unhappy with additional crop damage. The problem facing the deer management biologists can be summed up with my experience in Vinton County this year. We saw more deer, and especially more doe, than we’ve seen in five years. However, a friend, who hunts at the other end of Vinton County, reported that they saw fewer deer.
I spoke with Clint McCoy, ODNR Division of Wildlife deer management biologist to get their perspective, “It is surprising to me that there were more deer taken over the 2-day bonus weekend than I expected considering the weather. The big deer counties in the eastern and southeastern part of the state had a lot of rain. Without the hindrance of the weather, we might have caught up the shortfall from the traditional gun week. If you just look strictly at total harvest we are down around ten percent. We look at the numbers several ways to appreciate the whole picture. Looking back at the archery harvest prior to the gun season, the statewide buck harvest was up about two percent and the antlerless harvest was down just over one percent. We were basically on track with the previous year.
There is a little bit of concern looking at the harvest. The buck harvest is six percent down while the doe harvest is down about thirteen percent. From a management perspective, we would like to see the doe harvest increased. Depending on the weather we could see an increase during the muzzleloader season. However only bucks can be taken on public land the rest of the season, so that my offset any increase. We will have to evaluate all the numbers after the season and determine if any adjustment is needed.”
The biologists project that it is entirely possible that the total deer kill will be down around 10 percent. Last year hunters shot a total of 186,247 animals so a 10 percent drop would put the 2018 – 2019 harvest around 168,000 animals. Ohio hunters still significant time left with the muzzleloader season Jan. 5-8, 2019 and the deer archery season runs through Sunday, February 3, 2019.
Ohio ranks fifth nationally in resident hunters and eleventh in the number of jobs associated with hunting-related industries. Hunting has a more than $853 million economic impact in Ohio through the sale of equipment, fuel, food, lodging and more, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation publication. Past year’s harvest summaries and weekly updated harvest reports can be found at www.wildohio.gov/deerharvest.
Larry Moore is a Greene County resident and long-time outdoor columnist.