Ohio Deer Gun Season Recap: Awful

stars-storyOhio’s deer gun season, at least in southern Ohio, can be summed up in one word:

Awful.

My boss, Steve, described it as a “perfect storm” of poor weather, fewer deer, and fewer hunters, and the numbers bear it out. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the week’s harvest was 65,485, down from the 75,408 taken last year.

When the DOW posted the week-long totals on Facebook, the self-proclaimed experts blamed the low harvest on everyone and everything from the Farm Bureau to insurance companies, and most especially the Division of Wildlife. Of course, everyone has a solution and knows more about what is going on with the deer herd than do the state deer biologists.

Everyone has the answer, but perhaps they don’t know the question.

Weather-wise, I think we can agree it was an awful week for deer hunting: relatively warm, windy, and wet – perfect weather to keep hunters out of the woods or huddled out of the rain. In short, the deer hunkered down without many hunters to keep them moving. Even the Grapevine Ridge Hunting Club struck out on the first day, which is the first time that has ever happened in my personal recollection.

I cannot prove that there are fewer deer statewide (since I still seem to see just as many lying dead along the roads) but the consensus among hunters is that there are fewer deer now. Online, people are blaming the reduction in the deer population on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for making deer limits too generous, doing away with check stations (encouraging poaching), the Amish, coyotes, and early muzzleloader and youth seasons.

In the long run it probably doesn’t matter; at worst hunters may have to work a little harder to fill their tags, but I doubt that white-tailed deer will disappear from the state. People may be right about the coyotes’ effect on deer numbers, but usually a predator-prey relationship is self-correcting, and no one is stopping anybody from taking coyotes. Just realize that old canis latrans as a species is a formidable adversary.

Do hunters really want check stations back, because who actually misses loading up a deer and wasting their time and gasoline by taking it to the check station? I understand that check stations served an important function, and that a visit to the check station marked an significant rite of passage for young hunters, but that isn’t the world we live in. Now those young hunters are more likely to share their kill with friends via Facebook or text message – usually from right there in the woods.

The woods seemed a little empty, most likely because of the weather, but over the years more people are taking up archery hunting instead of or in addition to gun hunting, and it also appears that hunters are taking fewer days off of work to go deer hunting during the deer gun season. It seems like after the first couple of days of gun season the woods are suddenly devoid of hunters.

I also noticed that Ohio hunters did not embrace the now-permitted straight-walled cartridge rifle. According to the Division of Wildlife, only about eight percent of Ohio’s hunters used a rifle to harvest their deer. During the youth season, less than six percent were taken with straight-walled cartridge rifles, which surprised me because I think a rifle chambered in 357 Magnum would be ideal for young hunters.

So in the end, what can the individual hunter do?

Probably not much, everybody thinks they have the answer but probably fail to understand the question. The question is not “Why are there are fewer deer where I hunt?” rather it is “How many deer should there actually be in Ohio?”

So kick back, relax, and remember that deer body counts and big bucks are not the most important thing in life, or even the most important thing about hunting.

However, we can always hope for better conditions for muzzleloader season, Jan. 2-5.

Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or jim.freeman@oh.nacdnet.net.

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