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

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