With one week and one day to go before the start of Ohio's four-day muzzle-loading deer-hunting season the state's white-tail harvest is 12 percent behind where it was at this time last year.
Yet Ohio Division of Wildlife officials anticipate that black-powder hunters will make up a lot of ground when that season begins next Saturday, January 4.
The to-date deer harvest as of Dec. 24 – or 87 days into the all-seasons' total – stands at 165,820 animals.
When stacked up to the same 8-day, to-date total in 2012 of 188,409 deer, hunters are off the mark by 22,589 animals, or 12 percent.
Only eight of Ohio's 88 counties show gains in the kill with nearly all of these counties typically being located at the back of the deer-harvest pack. Exceptions include Ashtabula County (the to-date harvest here being up 2.73 percent) and Trumbull County (the to-date harvest here being up 4.81 percent).
Still down are the traditional go-to deer-hunting counties in southeast and southwest Ohio.
Such counties as Guernsey, Muskingum, Licking and Tuscarawas are down 12.4 percent, 12.99 percent, 18.04 percent, and 15.24 percent, respectively.
However, no need exists just yet to panic and in the process jettison the Wildlife Division's current deer management strategy, says the agency's chief white-tail biologist.
If anything a good recovery is very likely following the four-day muzzle-loading season as hunters recharge each county's deer harvest figures, says Mike Tonkovich.
“If we see snow on the ground and reasonably cold temperatures I would not be at all surprised to see a new muzzle-loading season harvest record set,” says Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division's deer management administrator.
That muzzle-loading season harvest record, by the way, now sits at 25,006 deer, established in 2009. Last year's four-day muzzle-loading deer-hunting season tally was 21,555 animals.
In the upcoming season's favor, says Tonkovich, is that Ohio did not have a two-day so-called “bonus” weekend-only firearms deer hunt in the middle of December.
Thus the deer will have gone through five or so weeks of relatively undisturbed conditions, says Tonkovich.
“Part of the means is we'll likely see pretty good hunting pressure,” Tonkovich says. “This muzzle-loading season could see upwards of 250,000 participants.”
And hunting pressure as often as not translates into deer being spooked out of their hiding holes where they become more vulnerable to hunters looking to finish topping off their freezers with venison, says Tonkovich.
“There's a lot more 'Hail Mary' effort during the muzzle-loading season,” Tonkovich said with a chuckle.
Bundle everything together then and almost certainly the rules that hunters encountered – excuse me, are encountering – this season will apply to the 2014-2015 Ohio deer-hunting season as well, says Tonkovich.
Consequently hunters who were less than thrilled with Ohio's first-ever two-day antlerless-only/muzzle-loading deer-hunting season in October again will grumble come October 2014. And perhaps even 2015, says Tonkovch.
“We're not going anywhere for the next couple of years,” Tonkovch says. “We will be looking at a couple of things (for the 2014-2015 season) but there won't be any surprises.”
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn