Ohio's chief deer management biologist admits the state currently has more questions than answers regarding this year's to-date white-tail harvest.
That being said, however, the objective of establishing a more stable deer herd appears on track, says the Ohio Division of Wildlife official.
Thus, the on-going effort to seek an overall reduction in the state's deer herd through a newly established county-by-county strategy is beginning to pay off, says Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division's deer management administrator.
“It's been seven years of hard work,” Tonkovich says.
Much of what will accumulate in terms of deer harvest has all ready occurred, Tonkovich says, due to conclusion of the statewide general firearms deer-hunting season. This season wrapped up Sunday with a preliminary 75,408 deer killed, or a 13.29 percent decline from the 2012 firearms deer-hunting season kill of 86,963 deer.
Wildlife Division officials first forecast a firearms season deer kill of 80,000 to 90,000 animals, a bracket that was not achieved.
At this point Ohio hunters traditionally have taken around 75 percent of the all-seasons' kill of deer. What remains now is the statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season and set for January 4 through 7. Meanwhile, the statewide archery deer-hunting season extends through February 2.
No doubt, says Tonkovich, “there are fewer deer on the landscape.”
Which is a good thing, Tonkovich quickly added.
“We must thing positively,” he said.
Pluses include fewer deer damage complaints from farmers along with a shrinking number of deer-motor vehicle accidents, Tonkovich says, noting as well that any deer management plan must embrace strategies that take these matters to serious heart.
Likewise, says Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division is now striving to manage deer on a county-by-county basis rather than with a format that combines blocks of counties.
A boots-on-the-ground translation for such a management plan zeros in on the removal of fawn-producing does. So far this year Ohio's deer hunters have taken about 1.5 percent more of this white-tail segment than they did last year, Tonkovich says.
While that number may at first blush appear insignificant it is equally important to remember the new county-by-county strategy seeks a reduction in antlerless numbers as the best method of cutting back on the herd size.
Consequently, when asked if Ohio's deer hunters are killing off too many does Tonkovich quickly says “no” but follows up with a qualifying caveat.
“There's no blanket statement that can be made regarding whether we need to cut back on he doe harvest,” Tonkovich said.
The reason being is because while some counties may have achieved stability in herd size (which is probable) other counties still have a ways to go (which is likely), Tonkovich says.
No better illustration for this exists than in extreme Northeast Ohio.
Here, Ashtabula County gun hunters killed 2,334 deer during the seven day firearms season. That figure represents a 13.74 percent increase from its 2012 firearms deer-hunting season total of 2,052 animals.
Not lost either is that Ashtabula County's immediate neighbor to the south, Trumbull County, saw a rise in its firearms season kill as well though not by a similar double-digit figure. This gun season Trumbull County deer hunters killed 1,298 deer, a 4.93 increase from the county' 2012 gun season total of 1,237 animals.
If anything, says Tonkovich, even more antlerless deer need to be removed from these two counties.
“There's not much more we can throw at the them,” Tonkovich says as to the all ready liberalized ground rules for killing deer in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties. “But these two counties do have me scratching my head.”
And just as perplexing is the monstrously steep drop-off in the firearms deer-hunting season kill in Lake County, which abuts Ashtabula County.
Lake County deer hunters killed 126 deer during the just-concluded firearms deer-hunting season. That figure represents a humongous drop of 39.13 percent from its 2012 gun season kill of 207 animals. Only three other counties saw percentage drops greater than that experienced in Lake County.
Presently any number of as-yet unkown factors may be at play here, Tonkovich notes.
Among them is the abandonment of the previous Urban Deer-Hunting zones, one of which included all of Lake County. In these zones a hunter could use an antlerless-only permit throughout the entire year, a stipulation that was erased for this season, among other changes.
“That could be part of it but I don't want to overstate the case,” Tonkovich said.
Along these same lines Tonkovich noted declines in several other counties which also were enfolded into one of the state's several former Urban Deer zones.
Tonkovich pointed to Franklin County (Columbus) which saw its gun season deer harvest plummet 35.8 percent while Hamilton County's (Cincinnati) gun season harvest fell 17.21 percent.
Yet Tonkovich is reluctant to suggest any course correction for the 2014-15 deer-hunting season at this stage of the game.
Only when the final volley of muzzle-loading bullets are fired and the last of the arrows launched will he and the rest of the Wildlife Division's biologists have the necessary data to make recommendations.
For now, Ohio's deer hunters should dress warmly, check to ensure their required documentation is in order and head into the field and forest in search of the deer that got away during the gun season.
“The muzzle-loader season could be excellent or it could be a bust,” Tonkovich says. “It all depends on the weather.”
Plus the ability of the state's wildlife biologists to properly interpret the numbers and then crunch the data needed to best manage the state's deer herd for all interested parties.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn