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

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