Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Questions beg answers for this year's Ohio deer harvest

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


  1. our dnr is full of excuses
    sounds just like our politicians, go figure
    just remember less deer, less hunters, less money for the state

  2. first off i would like to say great post i would just like to add to it seeing how the deer herd numbers are being manipulated. To start hunting in the state of Ohio is being ran like a business. I have called odnr and asked what their target deer herd number is and what their detailed plan for it was and was told they do not know. with that being said I also looked in to how they continually come up with the number of 700 to 720 thousand deer in the state of Ohio. they send out surveys to farmers and ask them if their farms are being over ran by deer.now logic tells me every time a deer eats a soy bean hay or corn farmers lose money and if someone was taking a 20 dollar bill out of my wallet every day i would want them gone.Look back to 2009 gun season their was 114 thousand deer plus killed during gun season.that is 35 thousand plus down from this year but they do not want to go back that far. simple math we go from 1 buck and 2 does to 6 deer total and the number never dropped from 720 thousand deer.In the state of ohio now here in gurnsey county we are allowed 4 deer and the kill count is down for 5 years in a row and the deer herd count is still at 720 thousand another scenario between my family and the group next door to me their is 85 acres and a total of 9 people that is about 1 person to every ten acres 2 years ago if every one taged out on 85 acres legally 54 deer would have been allowed to be killed and this year 36 so in two years legally on 85 acres 90 deer would have been allowed by law to kill on 85 acres that did not happen but explain to me how that could possibly be a sustainable number.do the math guys of your own camps and then just think about it state wide. Scary. they say 420 thousand hunters took a feild every year as well to hunt deer well do that math if every one tagged out 2 years ago at 6 deer a piece that number would be 2 million 520 thousand deer killed to a 720 thousand deer herd hmmm OK that's dramatic but lets just say everyone killed on that's half the heard or if everyone killed 2 it would be depleted. what im getting at is just do some simple math and tell me how they have a herd reduction plan that all but eliminates the herd. I have called ODNR as well and said hey you need to have a comment page on your web site so the hunters can leave their feed back on what they are seeing in their neck of the woods and leave it up so everyone can see and then you will have feed back from a non business setting and they said no as well as a 5 question survey when you get your hunting licenses on deer herd and restrictions and i was told it would be biased. to all my fellow hunters if we want the herd to grow get with neighbors and set your own restrictions or the herd will be all but gone,

  3. sure wish tonkivich would show everyone the detailed plan they are going off of to get herd numbers in control. thing is he doesn't HAVE 1 if he does why has it not ever been posted on the odnr website so everyone can follow the plan and see for their selves

  4. I am an avid deer hunter in the state of Ohio and take deer hunting very seriously. In the past 2 years the deer numbers have dropped so sifnicantly in our area it is almost not worth the time and money to go out. In 2008 we averaged to see about 3-5 deer a sit, not including the deer we jumped going in and out of our stands. The fields around my home would fill up with 10-20 deer a night. Now I am lucky to see 10 deer in all the fields around my house. Whatever the odnr plan is, it needs to be more thought out. Should the deer numbers have been reduced slightly? Absoutly but not to the extent of taking quality hunting oppurtunities away from us. We just want our deer numbers back up a little that's all. People just want to see deer when they are hunting that simple. I know you think you have a target healthy herd range, but the more deer there are the more hunters the more money and bigger harvest.