Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ohio likely to seek hunting fee increases, but for non-residents only

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife is poised to request increases to the license and tag fees charged to non-resident hunters.

Non-resident hunters last faced a hunting license increase 10 years ago, says the Wildlife Division.

However, not on the to-do list is a similar request to up the same fees on resident hunters, particularly deer hunters, says the Wildlife Division’s chief, Scott Zody.

Though the idea for requesting such fee increases almost certainly has the blessing of the John Kasich Administration the matter also will need the approval of the Republican-led Ohio House and Ohio State Senate.

By way of numbers, the current to-date sales of non-resident general hunting licenses stands at 37,894 documents (a 0.09 percent decrease from the to-date sales of 2012-2013 non-resident general hunting licenses).

Similarly, the to-date sales of either-sex deer tags to non-residents is 44,545 documents, or a 0.85 percent drop.

By comparison, the to-date sales of general hunting licenses to Ohio residents is 278,880 for a 1.08 percent decline from the to-date 2012-2013 figures.

Also, to-date ales of either-sex deer tags to Ohio residents total 284,611 permits, a drop of 4.74 percent from the 2012-2013 to-date sales.

"Ohio has become a destination for non-resident hunters to pursue whitetails.  When you look at our non-resident fee structure, we are very underpriced, especially when you look at other popular whitetail states like Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa,” says Zody.

“Most of our non-resident deer hunters come from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan, but we are seeing greater numbers coming from the Carolinas, Tennessee, New York, and other Eastern states.” 

In fact, Zody says, Ohio ranks about 35th out of the 50 states when it comes to non-resident fee prices.

“Our goal is to bring our non-residents fees more in line with other states, but still be on the lower end of the scale so we continue to be competitively priced,” Zody says.

To illustrate, Zody says the non-resident who ventures into Ohio to hunt deer pays $149; or $125 for a general hunting license and $24 for an either sex tag.

What we have been discussing would be a modest increase to the base license (of maybe) $20 to 30, and creating a non-resident either-sex deer tag and charging non-residents a higher amount for that tag, for arguments sake, let’s say $100,” Zody says.

Thus, instead of paying $149 a non-resident deer hunter could wind up paying as much as $255, or more than a 90-percent increase.

Zody does admit that any fee increase would prove a delicate balancing act. The simple reason being the Wildlife Division cannot afford to think only of its own bottom line, Zody says.

“We also want to be sensitive to non-resident waterfowl, turkey or small game hunters and not ‘chase them away’,” Zody says.

Then too the Wildlife Division both wants and needs to be “sensitive to the multitude of small business owners out there that cater to non-resident hunters and count on their business each year.”

All this being said, the fact remains increased license fees are mandated in order for the Wildlife Division to continue to move forward with its wildlife management and law-enforcement activities, Zody says.

We are facing unprecedented increases in our Federal Pittman-Robertson allocations due to the huge increases in the sale of guns and ammunition the past 4-5 years,” Zody says.

With the increases to P-R, it is becoming a struggle to match down those funds, not just for Ohio, but in several other states as well,” Zody says.

“We have also been trying to reduce costs where we can – combining field work units, reducing staff or combining positions when vacancies occur, but it becomes a double-edged sword with the P-R dollars - if we don’t match down the funds in any given year, the dollars revert back to Washington and are spent elsewhere.”

Still, any such additional revenue will come from the wallets of non-residents as tapping the purses and the bank accounts of resident hunters are off limits, says Zody also.

“Increasing the fee on non-residents now will help us defer asking our resident hunters, anglers and trappers to pay more,” Zody says.

However, at the same time the Wildlife Division will fight tooth and nail any legislative effort designed to amend a proposal by allowing the issuance of free licenses and tags to active-duty military personnel on leave.

“We are funded almost entirely by license and permit sales and Federal Aid.  When you dilute the pool of paying customers and have the remainder subsidize those who receive a free benefit, it puts greater strain on the system,” Zody says.

“Therefore, we are not in favor of expanding free licenses and permits, and every statewide conservation organization as well as many individual sportsmen and women have expressed their concerns over such proposals.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ohio's Sen. Rob Portman aims for universal concealed-carry reciprocity

The fact that his proposed universal concealed carry allowance has little to no chance of passage in the U.S. Senate and (much) less than that before the Obama Administration is not deterring Rob Portman from pressing on anyway.

Republican Portman – Ohio's junior U.S. Senator – again is trying to convince his colleagues to support his Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. The 2014 version will enter the Senate's elaborate debate and vote system while all previous ones were tucked away without passage by a reluctant Senate.

As proposed by the bill's original sponsor Texas Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn, the measure (if enacted, which it won't but is still worth trying) would allow individuals with concealed carry privileges in their home state to exercise those same rights in any other state that also has concealed carry laws.

Portman is a co-sponsor of the measure.

Since every state now allows some form of concealed carry that means the right to do so would be universal throughout the country in some form or another.

Portman says such an allowance would thus “treat state-issued concealed-carry permits like drivers' licenses.”
“I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment and remain committed to protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Portman says. “This important legislation will allow the nearly 250,000 Ohioans with concealed carry privileges to exercise that same privilege in other states that likewise allow concealed carry.”

Among the opponents' contrary arguments is that some states permit concealed carry with no system of licensing, background checks or testing.

Meanwhile, other states – among them being Ohio – insist that applicants first must attend a several-hour training course, prove minimum proficiency at shooting on a range, undergo a background check, be photographed and fingerprinted and issued a renewable-required permit by a county sheriff.

Now-retired U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich cited this disparity as his reason for opposing a similar reciprocity proposal when he was a serving senator a few years back.

Proponents counter by saying that the patchwork quilt of concealed-carry laws is sown together so haphazardly that traveling gun owners are always potentially in danger of unintentionally violating a law.

And in the House last year a reciprocity bill along the lines of Portman's co-sponsored Senate proposal passed on a bi-partisan vote of 272 to 154.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Public can voice its two cents on fed's Great Lakes anti-invasive species plan

The federal government is ready to go public with its war plans to fight invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage, which includes the Ohio River that creeps all the way up into Pymatuning Valley.

And the public is invited to participate in the process, too, with the meeting scheduled to take place at the Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Ave., N.E, downtown Cleveland.

Accordingly, the government is announcing that:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are hosting a public meeting in Cleveland Jan. 16, 2014, from 4 - 7 p.m. to discuss the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) Report that was submitted to Congress Jan. 6, 2014, and to allow for public comment.
The report presents a range of options and technologies available to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species (ANS), such as Asian carp, between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins through aquatic connections.
This meeting is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. With a presentation on the report. Following the presentation the public will have the opportunity to respond; or at least those persons who have pre-registered to do so.
To view the report or to register to speak, visit http://glmris.anl.gov/glmris-report/. Comments will be accepted for the administrative record until approximately 30 days following the last public meeting, or March 3, 2014.
The report identifies eight potential alternatives - from continuing current efforts to complete separation of the watersheds - and evaluates the potential of these alternatives to control the inter-basin spread of 13 aquatic nuisance fish (to include Asian carp), algae, virus, crustaceans and plants in all life stages with high or medium risk for transfer.
The options concentrate on the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). The CAWS is a complex, multi-use waterway and is the primary direct, continuous inter-basin connection between the Mississippi River Basin and Lake Michigan.
The report provides a description of various evaluation criteria (like estimated cost and timeline information) that can be used by stakeholders to compare plans. However, this report is not a decision document and does not rank, rate or make a recommendation.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy, happy Hippo hunting grounds

This has nothing to do with the outdoors as such (unless you're planning an African safari - the real thing and not one of those lame "photo safaris where the greatest danger lies in being stampeded to death by other guests rushing for the breakfast buffet).

Anyway, North America's oldest hippo in captivity is now the former oldest hippo in captivity.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo released a statement today (Monday, Jan. 13) that reads:

"Blackie, the oldest Nile hippopotamus in North America, was euthanized in his off-exhibit enclosure in Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Africa barn today due to advanced age-related ailments. He was estimated to be 59, and it is believed he set the record for the oldest male Nile hippo ever recorded.
"He sired three offspring, all males, during his time at the Zoo and he was a favorite of many guests and staff members.

"Due to his advancing age, the Zoo built a special addition with a heated pool onto the Africa barn for him in 2008. He lived out his last several years contentedly eating copious amounts of produce and floating lazily in a pool he didn’t have to share.

"Blackie came to the Zoo from Africa in 1955 when he was about 1, and generations of Clevelanders grew up seeing him in the former Pachyderm Building.
"He was born at the Mount Meru Game Sanctuary in Tanzania and brought to Cleveland by Zoo officials and board members, including Vernon and Gordon Stouffer, who were gathering animals on a safari, which was an acceptable method of acquiring zoo animals prior to the passage of the Endangered Species Act.

"Hippos typically live between 30-40 years in the wild and can live a few years longer in captivity. They are herbivores, and in the wild they graze mostly on grasses. They eat a wider variety of foods in the zoo including hay, vegetables, fruits and other produce.
"Despite the name, however, the hippo’s closest biological relatives are whales and dolphins.
"Hippos are classified as 'vulnerable' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Hippo populations are declining due to habitat loss and poaching but are still found over a large range of eastern and southern Africa."
What makes this release interesting from an outdoors standpoint is the most recent issue of "Guns & Ammo" magazine includes a story by firearms/hunting expert and retired Marine Corps General Craig Boddington on hunting Africa's dangerous game animals.
While that list includes such shoe-in species as the water buffalo, lion and elephant also on the list is the hippo, widely regarded as both intelligent as well as a nasty-tempered brute that annually kills scores of people.
Boddington says hippos are true trophies and hunting them should only be done when the hunter gives the animal the proper respect it deserves.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ohio's muzzle-loading deer-hunting season harvest drops dramatically

Bad weather swatted what expectedly might have proven an Ohio record-setting muzzle-loading deer-hunting-season harvest.
The preliminary figures for the statewide season that ran January 4 through 7 was a harvest of 16,464 animals, off 23.62 percent from the 2013 muzzle-loading season kill of 21,555 deer. 
With just two exceptions virtually every other one of Ohio's 88 counties report a preliminary decrease in this year's muzzle-loading deer-hunting season.
That divergence shows up in southwest Ohio's Fayette County which is posting back-to-back identical muzzle-loading deer season harvests of 27 animals.
The only other at least status quo county-wide harvest was in Vinton County where its back-to-back identical muzzle-loading season harvest consisted of 392 animals each time.
Some counties recorded significant drops, too.
Among them being Lake County. Here, muzzle-loading hunters reported a total statewide black-powder season kill of just 20 deer. That figure is off a whopping 66.10 percent from the 2013 muzzle-loading season harvest of 66 deer.
No other county - except, again for Fayette and Vinton counties - was immune from the decline, with only eight counties displaying harvest declines of 10 percent or less.
The other 80 counties all saw shortfalls greater than Meigs County's drop of "only" 11.83 percent.
Some counties share in Lake County's misery. Among them is Ashtabula County where the muzzle-loading season harvest fell 25.83 percent from 422 animals taken during the 2013 season to the 313 deer shot during this year's winter storm-tossed season.
Other noteworthy declines are noted. Thee include - with the preliminary 2014 season harvest followed by the 2013 season kill and then the percentage decline: Adams County - 296 deer (347 deer), off 14.70 percent; Brown County - 233 deer (305 deer), off 23.61 percent; Coshocton County - 630 deer (813 deer), off 22.21 percent; Geauga County - 96 deer (126 deer), off 23.81 percent; Guernsey County - 652 deer (821 deer), off 20.58 percent; Harrison County - 513 deer (677 deer), off 24.22 percent; Jefferson County - 472 deer (619 deer), off 23.75 percent; Licking County - 511 deer (675 deer), off 24.30 percent; Lorain County - 142 deer (197 deer), off 27.92 percent; Muskingum County - 593 deer (751 deer), off  21.04 percent; Trumbull County - 222 deer (321 deer), off 30.84 percent; Tuscarawas County - 592 deer (784 deer). off 24.49 percent. 
Ohio deer hunters still have time to bag a deer. The state's archery deer-hunting season runs through February 2.
However, Ohio Division of Wildlife officials do not believe the kill during these remaining hunting days will up the state's total deer-harvest ante to equal - much less - exceed the 2012-2013 all seasons deer harvest of 218,910 animals.
As of today, the preliminary to-date statewide deer harvest stands at 184,891 animals.
Last year between this point in the season and the last day, Ohio deer hunters killed roughly an additional 5,000 animals. If that figure is added to this year's to-date harvest figure than a 2013-2014 all-seasons deer harvest of around 190,000 animals.
The last time Ohio has experienced a total deer harvest of less than 200,000 animals was in 2003; 11 years ago.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Groups threaten legal action against Camp Perry wind-power project

A pair of avian protection groups is taking on the Ohio National Guard over its siting of a wind—power generating project at the 640-acre Camp Perry training facility along the Lake Erie shoreline in Ottawa County.
Both The Plains, Va.-based American Bird Conservancy group and the Toledo area-based Black Swamp Observatory are threatening legal action against the ONG, potentially launching a lawsuit over possible violations of several federal wildlife protection laws.
Among them are the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Of concern to both the Black Swamp group and the Bird Conservancy group is that locating a wind-power generating project along Lake Erie's Western Basin poses a very real and serious threat to a host of migrating wild fowl.
The area is a pinch-point for seasonal bird migration. The shortest distance across Lake Erie and aided by the placement of Pelee Island and the Bass Islands, this marshy section of Ohio allows birds to either quickly and easily circumnavigate around Lake Erie or else hop-scotch across the water via the islands.
So vital to migrating birds is that both the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife maintain important wildlife refuges in close proximity to Camp Perry.
Long an advocate for considering the serious and potentially damaging threat to bird migration posed by what it believes to be ill-conceived siting of wind-powered generating projects, the Bird Conservancy group is not mincing words about the Camp Perry venture.
Pretty much located at Ground Zero of a “major migration corridor” next to bird refuges is hardly an idea whose time has come, a Bird Conservancy official also says.
“The proposed development ignores the many concerns expressed by federal and state wildlife professionals,” says Michael Hutchins, the Bird Conservancy's Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign's national coordinator.
If all of this were not enough, Hutchins says the Bird Conservancy has generated what it calls a “Wind Development Bird Risk” map.
This document shows that the Lake Erie shoreline is “among the worst possible locations for a wind power project.”
If anything, says Hutchins also, scientists with the Fish and Wildlife Service have concluded as well that the project ultimately will “kill such threatened and endangered species such as the piping plover and the Kirtland's warbler.”
Thus, the wind-powered package represents an “extremely high risk” to migrating song birds, raptors, and other wild fowl, Hutchins says.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has even gone so far as to warn Camp Perry officials as to the threat the project poses to migrating birds and further has requested an environmental consultation.
Agreeing with the Bird Conservation group is the Black Swamp organization and its research director Mark Shieldcastle.
Shieldcastle is no stranger to either the area nor migratory birds. He is a retired Ohio Division of Wildlife avian biologist who once headed up the agency's Magee Marsh migratory bird research station, located just to the west of Camp Perry.
Shieldcastle notes that the area around Camp Perry has one of the highest concentration of nesting American bald eagles in the Lower 48 states and that these birds heavily utilize the area found within the project's sphere.
Perhaps worst of all, adds Kimberly Kaufman, the Black Swamp Group's director, the project “potentially sets a horrific precedent,” one that any developer can turn a blind eye to since many of the steps that need to be taken to help ensure minimal potential harm to migrating birds are voluntary.
“If we cannot even trust the government's own agencies to follow (the federal government's voluntary) guidelines, then it's time for a change to a mandatory permitting system,” Hutchins says.
Until and even if that happens Hutchins is requesting the developer to “immediately halt construction and take the (necessary) steps mandated by federal law to prevent the illegal killing of protected species.”
Camp Perry was built in 1909 and is home port to the 213th Ordnance Company (Missile Support, Corps); the 372nd Missile Maintenance Co., Detachment 1; the 200th Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron of the Ohio Air National Guard; the U.S. Coast Guard Port Security- Unit 309: and various other components of the Ohio State Defense Forces.
The Ohio-owned facility also served as a World War II prisoner-of-war camp for captured German military forces.
Today Camp Perry likewise is the venue for the annual National Rifle and Pistol Matches, produced by the National Rifle Association and the Civilian Marksmanship Program.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bitter weather likely to keep Ohio's total deer harvest under 200,000 head

Only by a stroke of good luck that won't happen Ohio's hunters will almost certainly fall short of harvesting more than 200,000 deer for the 2013-2014 all-seasons' year.

The last time fewer than 200,000 deer were killed in Ohio was 11 long years ago. In 2003 Ohio saw an all-seasons' deer harvest of 197,790 animals.

Ohio's current to-date all-seasons' harvest stands at around 187,000 animals. Thus the likelihood of achieving a harvest of 17,000 deer in the remaining 27 days of the statewide archery deer-hunting season will become nigh unto impossible.

And don't expect much support from the statewide four-day muzzle-loading deer-hunting season, either, which concludes this very weather-bitter day.

The first two-days of this year's muzzle-loading deer-hunting season all ready was 9.25 percent behind that of the 2013's season's first two days.

Coupled with an horrendous harvest during Monday's record-setting skin-numbing wind-chill cold (and even worse wind-chill numbers today), it's doubtful to the point of impossible that the archery-season-shrinking number of bowmen will make up the difference.

Preliminary harvest figures for the muzzle-loading season's third day on Monday saw a paltry 1,845 animals taken. That figure is roughly one-half the 3,702 deer harvested on last year's third day of the muzzle-loading deer-hunting season.

“That's gone, completely,” said Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division's deer management administrator on the odds of a new muzzle-loading deer-hunting season harvest record.

That record was 25,006 animals, taken in 2009.

Consequently the state will “absolutely” see a total all-seasons' deer harvest of under 200,000 head, Tonkovich believes.

Yet put the blame entirely and squarely around the neck of some pretty fickle weather patterns this entire year but especially during the muzzle-loading hunt, says Tonkovich.

No question, says Tonkovich also, the weather patterns and just plain funkiness of this year's cache of deer-hunting seasons has tossed wildlife management scientists a real “curveball.”

“I've never seen or dealt with anything like this in my 20-year career,” he said. “In my heart of hearts I do believe that there are fewer deer but not to the extent that the (to-date) muzzle-loading season harvest would suggest.”

If one bright element exists in this dismally dull end-of-year deer huntingpicture is that the surviving animals are going to go on the prowl for food once this current cold snap ends. Which will come throughout Ohio by the week's end when highs will range from the low- to mid-30s and even into the upper-40s in some parts of the state.

“Obviously it doesn't make sense for a human to sit motionless outside in the cold but it does make sense for deer to sit tight, conserving their energy until the weather improves,” Tonkovich said. “Late season archery hunters could very well be the beneficiaries of a poor muzzle-loading season harvest.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, January 6, 2014

BURR! Weather puts chill on Ohio muzzle-loading deer harvest

It would appear that Winter Storm Ion has frost-bitten Ohio's statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season.

And even though the season's first two days - Saturday and Sunday – had respectable hunting weather across much of Ohio the harvest was still off by more than nine percent.

Preliminary figures supplied by the Ohio Division of Wildlife show that for Saturday and Sunday (January 4 and 5) muzzle-loading hunters killed 12,625 deer.

The harvest for the first two days of the 2013 statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season was 13,912 animals.

With life-threatening winter storm warnings blanketing the entire state through Wednesday almost certainly very few deer will be taken today and Tuesday, the final two days of this year's season.

Thus it is highly unlikely that last year's muzzle-loading season total harvest of 21,555 animals will be breached, let alone the all-time record of 25,006, achieved in 2009.

So far – and after the first two days of the four-day season – only 17 of Ohio's 88 counties have posted gains in their harvest. And the vast majority of these counties are not in the top tier of typically large deer-harvest-associated counties, either.

Among the big to-date fall-behinds are: Ashtabula County - 229 verses 259 (off 13.13 percent); Brown County – 187 verses 209 (off 10.53 percent); Coshcocton County – 511 verses 543 (off 5.89 percent); Guernsey County – 507 verses 553 (off 6.32 percent); Harrison County – 402 verses 451 (off 10.86 percent); Knox County – 296 verses 342 (off 13.45 percent); Noble County – 255 verses 304 (off 16.12 percent); Richland County – 180 verses 241 (off 25.31 percent); and Tuscarawas County – 460 verses 519 (off 11.37 percent).

In Northeast Ohio and besides Ashtabula County, declines occurred as well. Among them: Lake County – 16 verses 35 (off 54.29 percent); Geauga County – 67 verses 69 (off 2.90 percent); Trumbull County – 152 verses 200 (off 24 percent); Lorain County – 108 verses 133 (off 18.80 percent).

Some traditionally go-to deer-hunting counties have (so far, anyway) bucked the downward trend. Among them are: Adams County – 241 verses 211 (up 14.22 percent); Ashland County – 223 verses 198 (up 12.63 percent); Holmes County – 270 verses 252 (up 7.14 percent); Lawrence County – 172 verses 152 (up 13.16 percent); and Washington County – 309 verses 289 (up 6.92 percent).

Overall and to-date for all of Ohio's various archery and firearms-related deer-hunting seasons, the statewide total as of January is 185,965 animals. The compatible to-date figure for 2013 was 209,215, or off 12.12 percent.

To-date only seven of Ohio's 88 counties have seen net gains, and none by overwhelming percentages. These six counties include: Ashtabula County (up 1.29 percent); Erie County – up 9.0 percent; Lucas County – up 3.90 percent; Mahoning County – up 9.70 percent; Ottawa County – up 6.94 percent; Stark County – up 0.08 percent; Trumbull County – up 1.93 percent.

Ohio's statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season concludes tomorrow, January 7 at one-half hour after sunset.

The statewide archery deer-hunting season runs through one-half hour after sunset on February 2.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ohio's deep freeze has winners and (mostly) losers

Ohio's four-day statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season has effectively been freeze-dried and broken in half.

After a surprisingly good first two days of classic winter deer-hunting weather the entire state is bracing for penetrating cold that will wave good-bye to zero on their way down, potential snowfalls that could build one to two feet, and near gale-force winds that will – at times – lead to potential wind chill values approaching minus-40 degrees.

That sort of weather will cause deer to lay-up and hunters to grumble as they clean and put away their muzzle-loading rifles for several more months.

Of course deer hunters are not the only sportsmen impacted by the go-for-the-juggler severe weather.

Northern Ohio waterfowlers will see the official end of their goose hunting tomorrow, Monday, January 6. And the conclusion of their duck hunting season in a few days.

If I may be so bold to say this to the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council: “I told you so.”

The council is the official (rubber) stamp of the Ohio Division of Wildlife's rule-making protocols.

For reasons that escape logic and common sense the eight members nodded “yes” when the agency's staff said it was a good idea to stagger the start of northern Ohio's goose and duck hunting seasons, and cause the goose season to shut down for a short spell when it not only failed the litmus test of rationality.

But the eight members even went further by pretty much clearing the calendar in November of duck hunting in northern Ohio.

Consequently in a very real and practical application northern Ohio duck hunters were left with a fraction of the days they were legally entitled to, as were the region's goose hunters.

So while Ohio prepares to do battle with some really nasty wintry weather the state's waterfowlers can only hope that next summer when the Ohio Wildlife Council's eight members mull establishing the duck and goose hunting seasons they'll recall just how much opportunity they frittered away.

Not everything is bad news about the unseasonably cold weather that has blanketed a good portion of North America the past several weeks.

A number of snowy owls have descended along the south shore of Lake Erie, the birds have uprooted themselves from the Arctic tundra in search of prey.

It seems the owls' preferred food – lemmings – are in short supply. Whenever that happens snowy owls fly south in search of small rodents.

That being said the last place anyone would expect to see a snowy owl show up is around Jacksonville, Florida.

Yet that is exactly where one representative of this inspiring species has appeared, the bird hanging out at Little Talbot Island State Park.

This owl is only the third documented time a snowy owl has been sighted in Florida, too. And that fact has brought one a sizable army of birders who are more accustomed to seeing flamingos than snow owls.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Arctic weather now may freeze out Ohio's muzzle-loading season deer harvest

Ohio's upcoming four-day statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season is now shaping up to be a two day affair.

With the start of this season now less than 48 hours away the weather picture is beginning to take on stark clarity. And what is included in that snapshot is far from pretty for the estimated 250,000 hunters who are expected to take in this annual search for deer in Ohio.

From Cincinnati to Conneaut, and Bryan to Marietta, the weather forecast for the season's hunt days Three and Four include lots of wind and snow along with sub-zero temperatures that will induce bone-chilling - and even potentially dangerous - wind-chill numbers.

Yet a two-day window of opportunity is in the making. Throughout Ohio the temperatures on Saturday and Sunday – days One and Two of the season – are forecast to run from the mid-30s to the low 40s with at least partial sunshine very well near everywhere.

All hunters will need to do is get past what likely will feature bitterly cold temperatures and sub-zero wind chills early on Saturday morning.

If hunters do grit their teeth in the face of penetrating cold than the season's deer harvest figures may yet be salvaged, says officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

The reason is simple, too. On average nearly 70 percent of the muzzle-loading season harvest typically occurs during the season's first two days.

As a case study, during last year's muzzle-loading season 34 percent of the harvest came on the Saturday opener, 30 percent on Sunday, 17 percent on Monday, and 18 percent on Tuesday, Wildlife Division figures indicate.

And the year before that the daily percentage breakdown was 40 percent, 27 percent, 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

“I believe it was in 2009 when we went back to a muzzle-loading season in early January that we got hit with some really cold weather and we still managed to set a new record harvest,” said also Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division biologist in charge of the state's deer management program.

Even so, Tonkovich says the weather will play an extremely important role in this year's harvest.

If Saturday morning rolls around and the temperatures are gosh-awful cold than would-be participants may wait until later in the day to venture forth. Or not bother at all, Tonkovich says as well.

Thowever, Tonkovich says one thing working in favor of a potentially still good to best-case excellent deer harvest is the timing of this year's muzzle-loading season.

With the elimination of the previous two-day so-called bonus firearms deer-hunting season the middle of December the deer have had roughly six weeks to settle into their old habits. And that factor alone may light a warming fire underneath chilled muzzle-loading season participants, Tonkovich says.

Still, whether hunters will duplicate the deer harvest accomplished during the 2012-2013 muzzle-loading season (21,555 animals) let alone break the season's all-time harvest record (25,006 animals and set in 2009), will hinge to a large degree on how much cold, wind and snow participants are willing to stomach, admits Tonkovich.

“This will show who the real muzzle-loading hunters are,” Tonkovich said, chuckling.

Oh, how true, says Tonkovich's boss, Mike Reynolds, the Wildlife Division's wildlife management section leader.

“It will be interesting to see how our hunters are going to respond to what the weather brings,” Reynolds says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Deep freeze expected for Ohio's muzzle-loading season

Mother Nature may very well give the big chill to Ohio's up-coming muzzle-loading deer-hunting season, set for Jan. 4 through 7.

While the season's start on Saturday will experience reasonable enough highs from near 30 degrees in Northeast Ohio and northwest Ohio, 36 degrees in southwest Ohio, to around 37 degrees in southeast Ohio, the bottom will fall out starting Sunday evening, various weather forecasting bodies are now saying.

That is when temperatures throughout the state will plummet at night and struggle to recover Monday and Tuesday, the last two days of the season.

Lows on Monday night are forecast to tumble to minus-10 degrees in portions of southeast Ohio and minus-13 degrees in parts of northwest Ohio.

The “warmest” overnight lows Monday are forecast to be minus-5 degrees in Northeast Ohio.

Daytime highs practically everywhere on Monday will remain well below their historic averages. Some spots may not even reach zero degrees while the highest temperatures for the day may reach 15 degrees in extreme Northeast Ohio.

And temperatures will bottom out on Tuesday – the last day of Ohio's statewide, four-day muzzle-loading deer-hunting season.

Moderation will begin Wednesday, forecasters say, and continue to approach and even exceed seasonal averages as the week goes on.

Of course by then it will come too late for the season.

Thus, not only will the season's all-time record harvest of 25,006 deer set in 2009 remain secure, last year's so-so muzzle-loading kill of 21,555 animals won't be surpassed.

Coupled with expectant stiff breezes and nastily uncomfortable wind chill factors will become a frigid reality.

Then there will be snow, both on the ground and what is forecast to fall.

Consequently, the weather conditions almost everywhere in Ohio will almost certainly discourage all but the most hardy (or desperate) of Ohio's estimated 250,000 black-powder enthusiasts.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn