Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Eve in deer blind but guest of honor is a no-show

So here I am; it's New Years Eve; I'm decked out in camo and Johnny Cash-black instead of my Sunday best.

My night on the town is really an evening in the woodlot, waiting for the guest of honor to show up. I'll take it any time of the year. Yep, even if that is the date when most other folk are getting all dolled up to exchange the last day of one year for the first day of the next.

At least some of the other guests have arrived, though not the one chosen for the evening's high honor.

A chickadee is worrying the suet block tucked into a wire cage that is hanging from the closest tree not more than a dozen paces from the blind. And when I first arrived I spooked a female downy woodpecker from off the fat-rich suet cake. She'll return shortly as she always does, I tell myself.

As I wait for the guest of honor to arrive I sort out my gear, pulling it from my over-sized L.L. Bean day pack. Exited are binoculars, gloves, a black-colored jacket that will help me blend into the blind's dark interior, face mask, crossbow rail lube, and a few other niblets of deer-hunting necessities.

Oh, yes, one other item. That being, the latest copy of "Guns And Ammo" magazine. Might as well entertain myself until the guest of honor shows up, I think out loud.

Some 20 minutes into the session a buck fox squirrel dives into the main entree: A 50-pound pile of freshly poured shelled field corn. The food pile is laid out a dozen yards from the blind's front door.

About an hour and a few minutes before the end of legal shooting time the woodlot's distinctive features become flat. The decaying daylight is fading what remained of my depth perception. And still the guest of honor is a no-show.

Before 5 p.m. the rain is tap-dancing on the blind which mostly shields me from the impact of the heavy droplets. Off and on the rain would comes, increasing and then tempering to a soft purr befor it roars once more.

It is time to put away the magazine. Light is diminishing to the point where I can't read the publication's type.

This is archery hunting's golden hour; the final moments when a deer can appear from the faded mist of twilight and float effortesly to the bait pile.

I must now reverse the direction of the removed material and restock them back into the day pack. Time is at an end for this evening, this year. The guest of honor once more failed to make an appearance.

So be it, I think, but the invitation remains open. And will be until the party favors are taken down until the next season. Happy New Year everyone; including the guest of honor.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Environmentalists on high alert over Kasich's pick for ODNR head

Governor-elect John Kasich's pick to oversee the Ohio Department of Natural Resources may be greasing the dreams of the state's oil and gas industry but it hasn't elicited a gusher of hope from environmentalists.

Selected as the Natural Resources Department's new director is David Mustine, a former top executive of the Columbus-based AEP, an electric utility firm that at one time conducted strip mining in southeast Ohio. For the past two years Mustine has been the vice president of an oil and gas service firm in the oil-rich Mideast nation of United Arab Emirates.

Also selected by Kasich is Scott Zody as the Department's assistant director. Zody is a 20-year state government employee who held positions in the administrations of both former Republican governors George Voinovich and Bob Taft.

In naming Mustine, Kasich said "...This sends a message to the business community that Ohio is open for business," praising his appointee's fossil fuel and energy development background.

Reacting with concern about the Mustine nomination is Jack Shaner, director of public affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council.

"We would hope the Kasich Administration would respect first and foremost the conservation and not exploitation of our natural resources," Shaner said. "We know from the incident in Geauga County that drilling for natural gas can contaminate water wells; with the need for safety first and then development. With that being said we are concerned. At least I'll give Kasich an 'A' for transparency; he is what he advertises himself - business first."

Shaner did say, however, that the appointment of Zody is a plus for Ohio's environmental community.

"Scott is a solid, sincere conservationist and I find his appointment encouraging," Shaner said.

Cheryl Johncox, interim executive director of the Buckeye Forest Council, said governor-elect Kaisch and ODNR director-designate Mustine would do a disservice to Ohioans if they were to promote the expansion of fossil fuel exploration where it would pose a risk to the environment.

Such a policy shift also would put at risk the opportunity for Ohioans to enjoy their state parks uncluttered by active oil wells or natural gas exploration, Johncox said.

"We are concerned though we haven't had a chance to explore his background completely," Johncox said. "We thought we had put to bed in the last legislature the idea of drilling for oil and gas in our state parks and perhaps even Lake Erie. People aren't able to travel far to recreate and they want their state parks to be free of oil and gas drilling. Those things have environmental consequences."

State Sen. Tim Grendell, (R-Bainbridge Township), said he is looking forward to communicating with the ODNR director-designate but wants to ensure that natural gas drilling in suburban and urban areas is done responsibly and with local input.

"I also look forward to speaking with him about the lakefront property owners' issue and I hope he is more respectful of their rights than the last director was," Grendell said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rumor has it - but "not interested" in ODNR director's job, says one

A rumble of rumors has set off the state's political seismic machinery, focusing on who governor-elect John Kasich will appoint as the new director for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

One frequently mentioned person for that hot-seat posting is state Rep. Danny Bubp (R-88) of Adams County.

Bubp also is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves as well as an attorney and former judge. Among those who've worked for Bubp is current Brown County prosecutor Jessica Little who is prosecuting charges against five felony-indicted Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

Just one problem about the Bubp rumor. He's not interested; instead saying he owes it to his constituents to serve as their state representative, having won in November with no Democrat opposition.

While Bubp will be sworn in next week for his forth and final term-limited stint as a state representative. Then he'll begin traveling the road that leads to the state senate.

Thus, Bubp said today, he's flattered by all of the attention but he's happy where he is at, especially now that the Republicans are back in command of the Ohio House.

"I've heard that rumor too and also for that of Veterans Affairs and State Adjutant General but I'm telling people that I'll be sworn in for my forth term," Bubp said.

Simple put, Bubp said also, leaving the legislature for an administrative post would not be fair to those people who voted for him with the expectation he'd serve their interests in Columbus.

"I have a lot of respect for the governor-elect and I'm sure whoever he picks will make a wonderful (ODNR) director," Bubp said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, December 27, 2010

UPDATED ODNR defends time off during deer gun season for indicted Wildlife officials

With their court cases still pending, four of the five felony-indicted Ohio Division of Wildlife officials took time off during the recent state-wide firearms deer-hunting season.

With permission from the parent Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

It was the ODNR’s director Shawn Logan who Nov. 10 took the indicted officials off a several-months-long period of paid administrative leave which cost the agency about $250,000.

Logan’s expressed reasons for bringing the officials back was two-fold: First, because the upcoming firearms deer season is the Wildlife Division’s most intense and extensively administered activity.

The second reason that Logan stressed was the impending transition from the current Strickland Administration to the one being assembled by governor-elect John Kasich.

Among those who took time off during the seven-day firearms deer-hunting season were Wildlife Division chief David Graham; assistant chief Randy Miller (and who will retire at the end of this month); Todd Haines, District 5 (southwest Ohio) director; and the agency’s human resources manager, Michelle Ward-Tackett.

Not taking off any time during gun deer week was the agency’s law enforcement administrator James Lehman.

“Obviously, overall, this was one of the safest gun seasons we had without any fatalities so we were able to accommodate the leave requests,” said ODNR spokesman Mike Shelton.

Asked how the department could know ahead of time whether the gun season would prove safe or not, Shelton responded by saying that the administration took into account whether someone else was available to serve as a short-term administrator.

“It’s a mater of being able to look at the time requested,” Shelton said. “If there was someone who could fill the roll for the requested time off then we could accommodate the request.”

The other reason for bringing back the indicted officials was to help with the transition and also because the court case had “reached a sensitive stopping point,” Shelton said.

As for whether allowing the time off makes either the indicted officials or the department look bad, Shelton said that “...folks don’t understand how we need to accommodate time off during that week.”

Fact is, Shelton said, all Wildlife Division employees - from a county wildlife officer up to the chief - cannot pull round-the-clock duty, not even during the uber-busy firearms deer-hunting season when up to 420,000 people are afield.

“From a lay person’s standpoint these people weren’t there when they should be but there were appropriate staffing in place,” Shelton said. “And had they still been on paid administrative leave it would have been difficult to accommodate time off for other division employees.”

A good example of this protocol, says Shelton, was Lehman who did not take time off during the deer gun season.

“As the law enforcement head he’d be the first responder into the field had there been a problem,” Shelton said.

Shelton said as well that Allen Wright, state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County, did not use any leave time "...(vacation, personal, sick, cost savings days, etc.)" during deer gun season.

It is Wright who is at the center of the legal-related matter, though charges against him were dropped by a special prosecutor assigned to the case. This prosecutor has said, however, that he intends to independently investigate Wright and possibly present his ultimate findings to a Brown County Grand Jury.

"As for whether any employees hunted with Officer Wright – I do not know, and employees are not compelled to describe what they do on their private time or who they spend it with," Shelton wrote in an e-mail today. "So, that’s not a question I would be able to answer."

This Outdoors Blog posting may be updated as additional information becomes available. Check back periodically for any changes that might appear.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

New Natural Resources director to be named

Word from Columbus is that governor-elect John Kasich will announce his pick as the new director for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. That selection could come as early as either today (Monday) or Tuesday. Whoever is selected - and there is a lot of speculation over a host of potential candidates - will replace out-going ODNR director Shawn Logan.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas bird count from my deer-hunting blind

Never try to elbow a slate-colored junco away from a suet block.

That is, if you happen to be another slate-colored junco. Ditto if you want to be king of the white-breasted nuthatch hill.

For that matter, cardinals can act pretty uppity, too. Throw in tufted titmice which often enough chew one another out over who is going to have first dibs on the suet block that's anchored inside a wire cage.

As for downy woodpeckers, well, they’ll dominate the suet with the best of them.

Black-capped chickadees are a different horse of the same avian color, however. Fearless and friendly, chickadees will patiently wait their turn, clinging upside down on the tree that supports the suet block and its wire support frame. If not there then the birds will take a seat on a nearby scrap of shrubbery.

All of this became an open book this Christmas evening, the view provided by the zippered-opened slit in my fabric deer-hunting ground blind.

Chased out of the house by Bev so she could troll with her Christmas-new electronic reader, I charted a course to my archery deer-hunting blind for the holiday’s last two hours of daylight. Just as I’ve done many other times this past archery deer-hunting season.

The hunting’s been slow but the nature watching has helped compensate for the general lack of deer activity. That slit has proven itself a voyeur's view of the woodlot where I hunt.

So much so that I’ve added a suet holder to a tree that stands well within the blind's purview. The fat-rich block of suet compliments the deer-attracting pile of corn that I maintain. Which, by the way, is occasionally supplemented by stoking it wit some black oil sunflower seeds.

It’s not that deer particularly relish sunflower seeds but my goal is to try and get the winged critters to back off the shelled corn and instead focus on the other food stuff. It hasn’t worked out all that well, though during this holiday season I'm sure it’s the thought that counts.

Especially now that it is winter, the harshest of seasons when collecting enough internal fuel becomes a daily life or death ritual for song birds.

Thing is, I’ve come to truly appreciate these little balls of feather that are supported by toothpick-thin sticks for legs. They are here - existing under grueling conditions - when supposed more robust bird species have taken the autumn express to more comfortable surroundings many miles south of our lake-effect winters.

So our cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers along with slate-colored juncos and tufted titmice tough it out. And occasionally spar when a member of their clan tries to muscle in on the suet block. That’s fair enough so long that at some point each gets a crack at the food dish.

Still, it would be nice if they all got along the way the chickadees do. Then there would be peace an earth, or at least in the bird world anyway.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, December 24, 2010

UPDATED Ron Johnson's funeral arrangements

Even in death the iconic Great Lakes charter captain Ron Johnson didn't stray far from his love of sport fishing.

The 73-year-old Johnson died Wednesday after a several-month-long battle with lung cancer. His funeral arrangements are being handled by Brunner Funeral Home and Cremation Services, 8466 Mentor Ave., Mentor.

However, instead of flowers, Johnson had requested that contributions be made to one of two charities. The first is the Future Fisherman Foundation, PO Box 6049, McLean, VA 22106.

The second is Lake University Ireland Cancer Center, 9485 Mentor Ave., Suite No. 3, Mentor, OH 44060.

As for Johnson's funeral, Brunner spokeswoman Nancy Sanden said visiting hours are scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. and again from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 28.

Immediately following the last visiting segment at 8:30 p.m. a funeral service is planned, Sanden also said.

Johnson was one of the Great Lake's most well-known fishing authorities and a popular go-to fishing seminar speaker. He operated his hugely popular and successful "Thumper" sport-fishing charter service from Grand River Marine in Grand River Village.

Friends and associates have expressed their sorrow at the loss of Johnson, an example of how a professional angler and sportsman should conduct himself, these individuals said in a Thursday News-Herald story.

For any additional information or directions, call Brunner Funeral at 440-255-3401.

Johnson's on-line obituary is available at

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A tribute to Ron Johnson

Confined to their stalls the fleet of sport-fishing vessels tugged at their rope moorings the way pent-up thoroughbreds snort and grind at their bits.

It would seem to suggest the boats were anxious to get about their business. That being, to become pack horses carrying riders and their truck to the fishing grounds off Fairport Harbor.

Maybe my eyes were deceiving me but the one stallion seemingly the most eager to break free of its tethered restraints was “Thumper,” owned by Ron Johnson.

I had traveled to Grand River Marina earlier this summer to collect some charter captain gossip along with tips for the paper’s weekly fishing report.

But none of the captains were around, each having cancelled their charters because of the lake’s unsettled nature. That cost them money, of course, but for Johnson it was also a tax-due bill.

By early summer we all knew that Ron was dying of lung cancer, battling the disease with a heart two sizes too large. It came as no surprise, of course, given that Ron was a seriously heavy chain smoker. Just the thought of him smoking gave us all the willies though I can’t recall anyone ever advising Ron to quit.

Maybe that was our fault and perhaps had we said something sooner Ron still would be around. Maybe, but I doubt it. That was Ron and we gladly accepted his faults along with the treasures he so often rewarded us with.

There was the smile, certainly. It beamed off his face and the laugh lines would crinkle at the corners of his eyes.

There were the jokes at our expense too. Miss a walleye with the net or watch as a steelhead took to the air and toss the Stinger spoon and Ron’s voice would boom from behind, condemning our amateurish efforts.

None of it was for real. He was just kidding in an attempt to integrate us into the vagaries of the hunt for fish. For Ron, there was always another walleye, another trip, another chance at redemption.

No more as the cancer ate away at Ron’s body but could not tame his spirit. No, never, with Ron continuing to pilot his much beloved and well-worn “Thumper.” Even when he was forced to sit in his captain’s chair, one quivering hand holding an oxygen mask while both eyes were fixed to the fish finder, Ron soldiered on.

That was the Ron that we, his friends, are going to remember: Ron, the never-say-quit guy just as much as Ron, the consummate walleye finder and charter captain.
So for a summer season we would tap-dance around the issue, fearful of the gathering twilight and whistling past the thoughts of a future without our Ron Johnson.

And he was ours as much - I guess - as he was his family’s, though I suspect that his daughter Meaghan and son Steve would disagree. For that, I beg their forgiveness.

Even so, Ron still belonged to us. He owed us that for the unbridled respect, fellowship and - yes - even love we held for him.

Ron gave us more than we could ever repay. He taught us anglers in a host of venues. Most of all Ron held court with his on-the-water seminars which really was how we approached his charters.

Without speaking, Ron knew what was needed. He would fiddle with his planerboards, test the drags on the reels and sort through lures in a search for the perfect walleye-catching color.

Seldom did Ron fail in his day job as a charter captain, either. And when he did come in second or third during a tournament almost without fail the winner would gush that he had “beaten Ron Johnson.”

No matter to our Ron, however. There was always another contest, another walleye, another charter. Then the cancer came and we all knew the trailhead in front of Ron was much closer than the one behind.

We indulged Ron while at the same time sucking in air whenever we saw him try to climb a hill just a tad too high.

We knew but we also understood. This was Ron Johnson and he was not going to leave us without setting an example of how to assemble dignity in the face death.

That is why some of his friends would assist Ron on his charters. Still others of us would pray for Ron, a point he appreciated.

All of which was Ron as well, always being the one to give more than he desired to get.

So now the stallions are tucked away in their barns, awaiting the spring day when they again can run the field. Except for Thumper and that makes us sad and angry and frustrated all within the same package. Which probably would disappoint Ron.

I think he’d tell us to move on, mindful to remember the good times but also not to forget his lessons, not the least of which is how to become a better person as much as a better angler.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Iconic Lake Erie angler/guide Ron Johnson is dead

Ron Johnson, the quintessential Great Lakes charter captain who held supremacy over Lake Michigan coho salmon, Lake Ontario steelhead and Lake Erie walleye, no longer will hold a fishing pole.

Johnson, of Painesville Township, succumbed to lung cancer today after being diagnosed with the disease in the spring.

Johnson, who operated a Lake Erie fishing charter business, vowed he would never be separated from his beloved Lake Erie. And he has requested that his ashes be spread over the lake next fishing season.

A full story is available at

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Pymatuning's walleye may be on road to recovery

For inland lake walleye anglers the year-end news is something of an early Christmas present.

Both the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission are jointly reporting another good survival rate for young-of-the-year walleye. Make that three years in a row, too.

What's more, says biologists with both agencies, these three back-to-back-to-back incidents represent the best first-year survival rates since 2000.

Boiled down this will translate into anglers encountering by next spring the entire stock of 2008 meeting the lake's minimum length limit of 15 inches. And the 2009 hatch will reach this all-important threshold by next summer while the fishes from the 2010 hatch will reach legal size by mid-summer, 2012.

All of which could see a transfer of angling pressure from nearby Mosquito Creek Reservoir and back to Pymatuning, a lake some walleye fishermen had given up as a lost cause.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snowbound wildlife areas to restrict weekend deer hunting access

Deer hunters looking to stalk a white-tail in Northeast Ohio will find limited access to state wildlife area parking lots.

At least in some locations. Not looking so good are the state wildlife areas in Ashtabula County. It is this county which encountered the full fury of this week’s snow storms.

With that being said, the Ohio Division of Wildlife is working to provide at least some access to a majority of its units in Geauga and Trumbull counties. Among them is the Hambden Orchards Wildlife Area in Geauga County’s Hambden Township.

Hunters there and who will participate in this weekend’s two-day bonus firearms deer-hunting season will find the entrances to the two parking lots off Rt. 608 and the one off Sisson Road have been opened.

At least partially anyway. There is enough room in each to turn around and park perhaps two or three vehicles. Needed, though, will be a good front-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle, state officials say.

For the Akron Watershed property near LaDue Reservoir snow-plowing work either has been or will be performed on about 12 to 15 lots.

And for the massive Grand River Wildlife Area in Trumbull County, the Wildlife Division anticipates opening up the lots at the shooting range, clay target range, headquarters, and a number of other popular access points.

“Each block of woods at Grand River will have at least one parking lot open so guys will have a way to get in,” said Bill Hickox, field staff member for the Wildlife Division’s Grand River Wildlife Area which oversees operations in Trumbull and Geauga counties. “We were in Geauga County on Wednesday, and the southern most parking lot in Mantua had the most snow; easily more than one foot,” Hickox said.

At Grand River about 9 inches of snow is carpeting the ground while at Hambden Orchards more than 1 foot of snow paves the surface, Hickox said also.

“Guys getting back there will be sweating,” he said.

Hickox said the problem is that the state will not approve overtime for agency employees and the Grand River unit has only vehicle capable of plowing snow.

It’s a brand-new truck and plow with only about 500 miles on it, but it is the only vehicle that we have for all of the areas that we managed,” Hichox said.

In Ashtabula County the situation is much more dismal for prospective deer gun hunters. The parking lots at the Dorset, Orwell and New Lyme wildlife areas are on the Wildlife Division’s ‘back burner,” an agency official says.

“The Mosquito Creek area doesn’t have a truck with a snowplow so that certainly limits its ability to get out,” said Allen Lee, Wildlife Division biologist. “It is unfortunate that we had this snow. There has been settling of the snow so I don’t think there will be a problem for hunters with four-wheel drive vehicles though those with other vehicles may have an issue.”

As for the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area and both its open-to-the-public hunting section as well as its controlled hunt units, those locations are being taken care of by a tractor that is fitted with a plow, Lee said.

However, this tool is restricted in where it can go with transporting it to Ashtabula County a none-starter, Lee says.

“Further south in District Three there hasn’t been as much snow,” Lee said also. “People are interested and we understand that and would like to accommodate sportsmen but we are limited by the physical lack of both equipment and manpower.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's time, Lake Metroparks, it's time

With Mentor thinking about making the plunge into establishing a controlled deer hunt in that city, Lake Metroparks should do likewise.

If anything, the parks system is at least one of the tap roots to Mentor's over-abundant deer population. Just as the agency is in other parts of Lake County.

The agency's Veteran's Park in Mentor is as close to Ground Zero for the city's deer herd as can be found in Lake County's largest city. It is a place where the deer have decimated the park's former trillium glory and are now munching on just about every speck of available forage.

These deer are now panhandling by visiting park neighbor's backyards where the critters are pretty much doing the same thing.

Of course, the Mentor Marsh is the leading candidate for supplying the city with all the deer. No doubt as well it would be at the top of the list for allowing a controlled hunt; likely in the form of archery hunting.

And that's just how Kirtland Hills and Waite Hills villages do it just as Kirtland City organizes its own controlled archery-only hunts.

Consider as well that both the Holden Arboretum and the Geauga Park District have for several years each offered controlled and very structured archery deer hunts and the question remains as to why Lake Metroparks remains so reluctant goes begging for an answer.

Lake Metroparks has long gone past the exit for organizing such a hunt. Its reserves in several outposts of Lake County are serving as sanctuary reservoirs for deer.

Thus, such locales as Girdled Road Reservation in Concord Township, and Hogback Ridge and River Road - both in Madison Township - are fueling a deer herd that is contributing to vegetative damage to adjacent private property. Not to mention providing fodder for motorists to strike as the deer race across highways.

By defying logic as it relates to wildlife management, Lake Metroparks' on-going refusal to conduct deer-reduction hunts is also stymieing efforts by the Ohio Division of Wildlife to keep Lake County's white-tail herd in check.

With the Wildlife Division declaring all of Lake County a part of an Urban Deer Zone the agency is saying that the county's herd is out of control and needs reducing. That's why bag limits and the use of antlerless-only deer permits in such declared units are more liberal than they are for the rest of the state.

Clearly it is time for the park district's three park board members to seriously take up allowing carefully crafted, by-permit-only, restricted deer hunting. Yes, even if that means that hunters can use only archery tackle.

It is now time for Lake Metroparks to step up and address this issue. Just as Kirtland, Kirtland Hills, Waite Hills, The Holden Arboretum, and the Geauga Park Districts have done. And as Mentor is now considering.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wicked weather may deter deer hunter access to local wildlife areas

With Northeast Ohio being pummeled by heavy snows and high winds, local deer hunters may see themselves ultimately shut out during the up-coming two-day bonus gun season.

More snow is in the forecast for at least through mid-week with the total snow depths by Tuesday evening possibly exceeding two feet in some areas. Most other locations in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties likely will encounter a foot or more of snow before the intense low pressure system departs.

Bitterly cold nighttime low temperatures and uncomfortably chilly daytime high likewise could dampen hunters’ enthusiasm for sticking it out as well.

Then there is the question of whether hunters can even access public hunting areas, at least those anchored to Northeast Ohio.

At the massive, 7,384-acre Grand River Wildlife Area in Trumbull County, efforts likely will be made to clear at least some of the reserve’s parking lots. Most notably those lots would include the one by the area headquarters off Route 534, the handicapped-accessible lot and a few lots along Route 88.

Perhaps the best public hunting location in Northeast Ohio where access might prove easily available is at the 9,610-acre Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, also in Trumbull County.

“Right now we don’t have much snow here,” said Jarrod Allison, the state wildlife officer assigned to Trumbull County. “It’s cold but we don’t have the snow; that would change if we get the foot of snow that’s being predicted.”

Almost certainly the state wildlife areas where access will be severely restricted - if not outright prohibitive - are those in Ashtabula and Geauga counties. Such locations as Hambden Orchards in Hambden Township, and Ashtabula County’s Orwell, New Lyme and Dorset wildlife areas may very well be shuttered closed by the ranting of the current weather state-of-affairs.

Though it would require something on the order of a two- to three-hour drive from Lake or Geauga County, the 12,000-acre Salt Fork Wildlife Area in Guernsey County could provide the safest and easiest access. So far very little snow has fallen on this area.

However, with that being said, what snow that is arriving is being sent drifting across secondary roads. Though passible these roads may require the use of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, especially on the steeper grades, says area manager, John Matthews.

“I think the hunting pressure will be lower than for the early muzzle-loading season and even during the seven-day gun season but with the weather forecast it will be difficult to determine what’s going to happen,” Matthews said.

For a preview look at this weekend’s two-day bonus firearms deer-hunting season prospects, see Tuesday’s News-Herald.

Efforts to update access conditions at nearby state wildlife areas will be attempted later this week and posted on this blog.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A shotgun not always a requirement during firearms deer season

I guess a person of general interest might have thought that my desire to hunt a portion of every day during Ohio’s recently concluded seven-day firearms deer-hunting season was something of a stretch.

And I suppose that even deer hunters might have wrinkled their brows if they had known that on most days I could be found in my fabric deer-hunting blind, holding my Horton crossbow instead of my souped-up Winchester slug shotgun.

Can’t say as I’d blame anyone for thinking along those lines. Even for me, hunting for at least 90 minutes every day is an assignment best left to people much younger than my 60-plus years of occupying above-ground space.

Yet it had always been a goal of mine. And one that I might complete next year as

It all started over in Pennsylvania and for which I wrote two stories on the subject. Both appeared in Tuesday’s edition of The News-Herald and perhaps in our sister paper, The (Lorain) Morning Journal.

Without dwelling too much on the details of the Pennsylvania firearms deer-hunting season opener, the facts are not in dispute. I shot what I thought was a doe but what turned out to be a buck instead; one that was not eligible to be taken by an adult.

So I turned myself in, forfeited the deer, paid my $25 restitution fee but saw the Game Commission officer issue to me another buck tag.

By Tuesday I was home, chased out of Pennsylvania by the very same nasty wet weather system that pummeled everyone there, here and everywhere else.

Thank goodness for my deer blind, set up because I’m forbidden to climb into a tree stand or surmount a tree ladder stand. A bad back with a recent $200,000 surgery and a still undiagnosed balance issue to deal with prevents me from rising above the earth.

So I swapped my rifle and kept my Winchester slug shotgun secured in its gun locker. Removed was my Horton Vision 175 crossbow and the appropriate related archery tackle.

About the only difference during the gun season was the state requirement to wear a vest or other outer garment made from blaze orange fabric.

The other requirement was for me to exit the blind at sunset rather than 30 minutes later. Which caused a little bit of a problem. On two evenings right at the cusp of legal-illegal shooting hours I unzippered the blind’s fly and rolled out.

Much to my chagrin in each episode I saw a deer standing less than 75 yards away.
I guess I’ll never know whether either deer would have come to the bait station in time under archery-hunting time rules and not under the firearms-hunting time rules. Then again, a before-work hunt saw me depart after two hours to the sight of three does strolling

On Saturday I switched gears once more and headed for Ashtabula County with my wife, Bev, my older brother, Rich, and my oldest brother, Terry. We were part of a 10-person crew that would conduct an assortment of deer drives on a piece of lightly hunted property.

As success and blessing would have it, both Terry and I killed deer; Terry shooting a buck which had broken off both of its antlers. My deer was a button buck, an animal that hard-charged its way through an overgrown mass of saw-felled tree tops.

Fired at first by both Bev and Rich the button buck managed to elude each but was taken down by my Winchester that fired Winchester-brand Platinum sabot slugs. How I managed to (safely, I must add) swing on a fast-moving deer at 70 or so yards and hit it not once but twice will remain a mystery to me.

In any event, I wrapped up the hunt but also looked forward to again getting to my deer blind and using the crossbow.

Sunday was a repeat of getting out of the blind at sunset just at the same moment when a deer shows up for dinner. Which got me to thinking.

My inkling was to believe that if I were to hunt the Monday AFTER the conclusion of the firearms deer-hunting season when it was again legal to hold my ground for 30 minutes after sunset, I’d have a chance to poke a deer with an arrow.

It wasn’t bad strategy. It was good, in fact. Except for one thing; Monday saw a raw and bitterly angry lake-effect system pour in. This presented me with a lot of snow to waddle through along with a whole bunch of wind to bundle up against.
Not surprisingly I didn’t see any deer that evening; just a couple of red squirrels that carved out tunnels in the deepening snow as they made their way from a nearby tree to a pile of shelled corn.
Still, I had kept to my promise. I had hunted at least 90 minutes during every day of the firearms deer-hunting season. Plus a bonus eighth day when you include Monday, which I did.
All the same, I’m still not finished. Too, if it weren’t for some family obligations and maybe some too-deep snow depths you’d probably find me in my hunting blind this evening.

Not to worry, however. I have until Feb. 6 to kill another deer from my archery-hunting blind along with two more days during the bonus two-day firearms deer-hunting season and four days for the muzzle-loading season.

In the long view of things there’s still a lot of hunting daylight left for me.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Octogenarian deer hunter shows it's never too late to teach another

For octogenarian Lynn Whipple of Painesville Township nothing beats introducing a youngster to hunting.

Even if that means the youngster is an 18-year-old oldster who also just happens to be his grandson, Colin Valante of Concord Township.

“I’m 87 and I’m still climbing into my tree stand,” Whiple said. “I took my 18-year-old grandson out with my Horton Hunter crossbow and on Saturday he was in the stand only 15 minutes when he shot a seven-point point buck right through the heart. I was just amazed.”

For Valante this assent into a tree stand was only the second time he had ever been deer hunting. The first time was during last Tuesday’s raw weather nastiness and where Valante spent three hours in the tree stand, Whipple said.

Yet Whipple is no stranger himself to successful deer hunting. Earlier in the archery season he shot a 160-pound doe, also with the same Horton crossbow used by his grandson.

“I even weighed the guts,” Whipple said with a hint of pride.

With a long track record of hunting in Lake County, the first chapter in Whipple’s sporting history began about 70 years ago; and in Concord Township, too.

“Boy, you should have seen Little Mountain back then with its virgin timber,” he said.

Times have changed and now the once very rural Concord Township is largely a checkerboard of small plots. Few are the places which offer much in the way of hunting elbow room, Whipple says.

“Most of the woodlots are five acres or so which is one important reason I didn’t want my grandson hunting with a shotgun,” Whipple said. “Besides, hunting with a crossbow is more of a challenge.”

Years ago Whipple took to the deep forests of Pennsylvania where he spent time hunting the McKean County woods for deer and turkey. That’s all changed, though, and all for the greater, Whipple says.

“The deer hunting is better back here; certainly the size is better and maybe even the abundance,” Whipple said. “I’ll be out for the two-day gun season and the muzzle-loading season.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Firearms deer season didn't stop Ohio white-tail harvest slide

Ohio’s firearms deer hunters are following the footsteps of their archery deer-hunting brethren and that is spelling a reduced kill.

For Ohio’s recently concluded seven-day firearms deer-hunting season, sportsmen shot 104,442 animals. For the same seven-day hunt in 2009, Ohio sportsmen killed 114,633 deer.

Ditto the drop for both the first six weeks of the statewide archery deer-hunting season as well as the two-day youth-only firearms deer hunting season. For the former, archer killed 49,384 deer while last year archers shot 53,959 deer.

And youths killed 9,024 deer during their two-day, Nov. 20 and 21 season this year and compared to the 9,331 animals shot during the same hunt in 2009.

The total preliminary do-date deer harvest is off as well. This figure stands at 163,362 animals thus far this season and compared to the 178,397 deer taken for the same period in 2009.

Bucking the gun-week white-tailed deer decline, however, was much of Northeast Ohio. Modest gains were noted in this sector and based upon preliminary figures reported to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

In all, about three dozen of Ohio’s 88 counties experienced preliminary gains their respective deer harvest while about 50 saw declines.

Among the not-so-fortunate were the traditional high-deer-kill counties located in southeast Ohio. Notable harvest drops were seen in such places as Guernsey, Muskingum, Harrison, and Washington counties.

Here are the reported figures for select counties with their 2009 figures in parentheses (note that this year’s figures are preliminary and are based on county of check-in and not necessarily county where taken): Lake - 300 (282); Geauga - 641 (509); Ashtabula - 2,310 (2,084); Cuyahoga - 128 (107); Trumbull - 1,514 (1,474); Lorain - 823 (808); Medina - 685 (639); Erie - 253 (332); Tuscarawas - 5,513 (5,901); Guernsey - 3,455 (4,289); Muskingum - 2,447 (2,829); Harrison - 3,741 (4,310); Coschocton - 3,320 (3,680); Washington - 2,935 (3,589); and Athens - 2,395 (3,049).

Ohio firearms deer hunters can still make amends. The state’s bonus two-day firearms deer-hunting season runs Dec. 18 and 19 with the statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season scheduled for Jan. 8 through 11.

If all of this weren’t enough, the state’s fall wild turkey hunters saw an even precipitous drop in their harvest. For this year’s fall turkey season, hunters shot 1,336 birds. That’s way below the 2,180 turkeys killed during the 2009 fall season.

In almost every county opened to fall wild turkey hunting declines were seen; chief among them being Ashtabula County. Though this county still ranked Number One in the state for the fall wild turkey harvest it was a hallow win. Ashtabula County saw 75 turkeys killed this fall season - a huge drop from the 127 birds shot during there the 2009 fall season.

Some other counties were, also with their 2009 figures in parentheses: Lake - 8 (23); Geauga - 45 (58); Cuyahoga 0 (1); Trumbull - 56 (73); Lorain - 14 (39); Medina - 27 (67); Guernsey - 44 (72); Harrison - 34 (57); Muskingum - 28 (23); Tuscarawas - 49 (135); Highland - 52 (18); Hocking - 16 (68).

Wildlife Division biologists speculate that the rather large descend in the fall wild turkey harvest is directly linked to this year’s massive white oak acorn (mast) crop. When the mast crop is plentiful the turkeys spread themselves out and are thus much more difficult for hunters to locate, these biologists say.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snafus dogging experimental hunting license/deer check-in system

With its reputation on the line and $16 million at stake, the Ohio Division of Wildlife is trying to work out the bugs with its web-based Wild Ohio Customer Relations Management System.

All in an effort to see where potential snags exist and then either cut them off and re-tie or else find an alternative way to get the job done. Problem is, both the selling of licenses and the check-in process have failed to deliver in a flawless fashion.

The WOCRMS profile is under the microscope as the agency experiments with the system in an effort to refine the process. This experiment includes selling licenses at Gander Mountain’s Mentor store as well as checking in deer at the Hartsgrove Square BP station in Ashtabula County.

In each case, problems arose.

Indeed, there’s been enough frustrating challenges that Gander Mountain employees have largely abandoned the WOCRMS process and have gone back to using the more familiar and quicker way of selling tags.

Meanwhile, the check-in process at the Hartsgrove Square station confused my computer-illiterate oldest brother and left me initially puzzled as well.

Last things first. On Saturday, my oldest brother Terry and me visited the Hartsgrove Square BP station to register our respective kills. The store is just a couple miles south of the Trumbull Locker plant where we have our deer processed into venison.

Invited by the Wildlife Division’s helpful staff there to try out the new check-in procedure that will become mandatory next year, both Terry and I agreed.

Terry selected the telephone option while I picked the Internet option. My choice was confused by a couple of points; one being poor instructions about recording a rather lengthy registration number with a seemingly lack of adequate spaces to fill in all of the digits.

Then too, the form’s Internet format was such that it required careful attention to all of the particulars. Among them was not pre-anticipating writing a response before examining the entire set of instructions.

For Terry the affair was far more frustrating. His efforts failed when the telephone call he made to record his information was dropped; this, in spite of the fact that cell phone tower for his provider is only a mile or so up the road.

Which could be a key warning considering that many rural areas of Ohio have poor cell phone reception.

Terry then looked to me to finish the chore via the Internet. Knowing what to look for and where, I was able to complete the task in fairly short order.

On these several prickly points the Wildlife Division staff noted that appropriate adjustments to the system are needed. Which is why the agency is going through the experimental learning process, they said.

Now comes the second point. With me having used up one either-sex deer tag on the animal I killed Saturday, I was needed a replacement permit. That meant a visit to the Mentor Gander Mountain store on Sunday.

Yet in spite of being one of only a handful of experimental stations for issuing licenses and permits with the WOCRMS process, the store employed the older, soon-to-be-extinct issuing model in spitting out my document.

The reason, said the issuer, was that the WOCRMS process is so slow that it can cause a customer traffic jam as holiday shoppers must wait for a hunter to be issued his or her legal documents

Time will tell if the Wildlife Division can smooth out the flawed wrinkles that the WOCRMS process is currently infected with.

But if come next hunting season - especially the firearms deer-hunting season with its crunch of license sales and animal check-ins - these problems are not resolved then it will be the agency’s neck on the block. And $16 million of Ohio sportsmens’ dollars in jeopardy.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ashtabula County deer hunter shoots rare antlered doe

Paul Skvarek of Sheffield Township shot what almost no other Ohio deer hunter has even ever seen, much less killed.

On Monday’s firearms deer-hunting season opener, Skvarek killed a 10-point deer. However, the animal was not a buck but rather a doe.

Such animals are called “hermaphrodites” and are uncommon to the point of being rare, state wildlife officials say.

“It’s a big deer, too,” Skvarek said. “The funny thing was we didn’t even know what it’s sex was until after we got home and went to field dress it. The officials at the check station didn’t look, either - just taking photos because it had a nice rack.”

Skvarek was hunting behind his home when he shot the animal. He used an older Remington Model 1100 semi-automatic shotgun and fitted with 4-power telescopic sights.

Since the shotgun is a smoothbore, Skvarek uses Foster-style rifled slugs instead of the newer sabot-type slugs. Foster-style slugs were never noted for their accuracy, however.

“My son, Jesse, shot an eight-point about two hours earlier and we were busy taking care of that deer before we went back out,” Skvarek said also. “We were in our tree stand - which is about 20 feet up - for less than two minutes and still catching our breath when the deer came.”

The big-rack doe was moving at a pretty good clip, too, when the animal was shot about 15 yards from the stand, Skvarek said.

“It was with two other deer, which also were does,” he said.

As for getting the head mounted, Skvarek says there’s no debate. A mount of the antlered doe will grace a wall in one of his home’s rooms.

“My son is going to do a skull mount of his rack; which was the first buck he’s ever shot,” Skvarek said.

Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Scott Peters says that an antlered doe is unusual - even “highly unusual.”

“Common sense tells me it’s a matter of genetics,” Peters said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn