Thursday, February 6, 2014

UPDATED 2/7/14 w/Game hearing info: Ohio isn't playing around with new deer-hunting proposals

Some serious proposed deer-hunting rule changes were presented today by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and to the state's outdoors writers this afternoon.

And such significant impacts will involve more than simply the legal use of antlerless-only permits but also the number of deer a hunter can be shoot as well as the type of permitted hunting implements.

Under rules presented – and (again) just proposed for now – the use of antlerless-only tags will be prohibited in 27 counties. And some of these counties exist in the state's traditionally deer-rich southeast Ohio area, too.

Meanwhile another 15 counties will not only see an allowance of one antlerless-only tag but where hunters will still have the opportunity to kill up to four deer. In almost every one of these cases the county is either urban or suburban is scope. Among them include Lake, Cuyahoga, Trumbull, Franklin, Lucas, and Hamilton.

Draw a circle around the state's most populated cities and you'll locate these 15 counties.

Even so this all is a significant step toward the Wildlife Division's on-going efforts for a comprehensive county-by-county deer management strategy. It also is an approach that eventually may morph into a 22 to 27 zone system made up of adjacent like-harvest or deer-management-goal-oriented counties.

“Many of our counties are at or near our long-term goals while other counties are close,” said Wildlife Division chief Scott Zody during the hour-long teleconference. “Our goal right now, quite frankly, is to stabilize the herd rather than either grow or reduce the herd.”

The newly drawn proposed map showing in which counties hunters can buy and use antlerless-only tags as well as season allowances has the most checkerboard look in history.

Only in five counties can hunters shoot just two deer; both with an either-sex tag, or else one with either-sex tag and the other with an antlerless-only permit. These counties are Darke, Hancock, Auglaize, Fayette, and Madison.

Entirely new is that a number of traditionally go-to deer-hunting counties will fall into a category whereby the use of antlerless-only tags are forbidden. That is, if the proposal eventually passes muster with the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council, which has the final say in such matters.

Among the 27 counties where antlerless-only tags would be ineligible are Guernsey, Noble, Muskingum, Coshocton, Harrison, Washington, Meigs, Jefferson, and Geauga in Northeast Ohio.

And though deer hunters operating in any of these counties can still shoot up to three animals each and everyone of them will require tagging with a $24 either-sex permit instead of a $15 antlerless-only permit.

“We aren't going to say 'don't shoot a doe' in these counties,” Zody said. 'We're just not going to give them the added incentive of using a less-expensive antlerless-only permit.”

Counties such as Lake, Trumbull, Cuyahoga, Lucas and Trumbull will have a four deer bag limit and one of which can be tagged with the antlerless-only permit. In these counties their respective deer herds are still above target objectives and a little sweetener is needed to entice hunters to kill a doe early in the season and before the general firearms hunt, the state officials said.

As for the future use of antlerless-only permits, the Wildlife Division's crystal ball does not address whether that system has a termination point.

“A lot depend on where we go from here but I don't think you'll see them go away entirely,” Zody said..

Critical, however, will be on-going studies and discussions that could lead to modifying the sales and uses of antlerless-only permits.

Such strategies as permit quotas, applying for them rather than over-the-counter sales and such were employed in the past and may come about again, Wildlife officials said.

“We didn't get here by accident but by sound deer management practices, but we don't want to overshoot the runway,” Zody said.

Another significant change calls for allowing the use of rifles chambered for a rather long laundry list of so-called straight-walled cartridges. These cartridges include: .357 Magnum, .357 Maximum, .38 Special, .375 Super Magnum, .375 Winchester, .38-55; .41 Long Colt, .41 Magnumn, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .444 Marlin, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Long Colt, .45 Winchester Magnum, .45 Smith & Wesson. .454 Casull, .460 Smith & Wesson, .45-70 Springfield, .45-90, .45-110, .475 Linebaugh, .50-70, .50-90, .50-100, and 500 S&W.

Several of these calibers are permitted now but in handgun only form. Others – such as the .45-70 - .45-90, and the .45-110 are popular with the Cowboy Action shooting set.

“We want to emphasize that these are not high-powered calibers and no one is going to be allowed deer hunting carrying an AK-47,” Zody said. “We want to stress this point.”

Zody said this portion of the new deer-hunting proposals have been several years in the making and advanced by any number of Ohio sportsmen and gun rights groups. These organizations were tasked with studying the issue as well as securing a favorable nod from Ohio's agricultural community.

“The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation actually endorsed the idea,” Zody said.

However, Zody was equally pointed by nothing that hunters utilizing rifles chambered for any of these calibers will still fall with the legal usage parameters now required of sportsmen who use shotguns. That being, a rifle cannot hold more than three rounds, including one in the chamber.

“The rifle will either have to be plugged or else use dummy cartridges in the magazine,” Zody said.

A pair of last year's “new” rules will repeat themselves this year, officials said as well.

Not going away is the mid-October, antlerless-only, muzzle-loading only deer-hunting season. The fact that while the all-seasons' kill of antlered deer was down the number of bucks shoot during the archery season was actually up by two percent, Zody said.

That point is significant, Zody says, because it was the state's archery deer hunters who repeatedly opined they would see fewer – and thus shoot fewer – antlered deer.

“Clearly that did not happen,” Zody said.

Similarly staying put for now is the shooting hour extension for the various firearms and muzzle-loading seasons.

Not only was the allowance of gun hunters to stay afield until one-half hour after sunset a safe experience it also proved successful. Fully 6,246 deer were shot during that last one-half hour of the statewide firearms deer-hunting season.

Another, more minor change, is the starting day for the statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season. Instead of the more common practice that kicked the season off on a Saturday this time around it will be on a Thursday; done in order to better calibrated with the calendar, Zody said.

Also, the proposed dates for the various 2014-2015 deer-hunting seasons are Archery, including crossbow - Sept. 25-Feb. 1 (2015); Antlerless-only via muzzle-loader-only – Oct. 11 and 12; Youth-only general firearms – Nov. 22-23; General firearms – Dec. 1-7; Statewide either-sex muzzle-loader-only – Jan. 2-5.

The public will have several opportunities to comment on these proposals with the Wildlife Division having set aside noon to 3 p.m., March 2 for the annual game hearings.
These hearings will be held simultaneously at the Wildlife Division's District One, Two, Three, and Four headquarter offices, the Greene County Fish and Game Association clubhouse in District Five, the Lake Erie Islands Visitor Center in Port Clinton, and the Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station in Lake County.
Interested parties also will have the opportunity to make on-line comments beginning March 3.
The statewide hearing is set for 9 a.m., March 6 at the Wildlife Division's District One office in Columbus.
Meanwhile the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council will vote on the proposals at its April 9 meeting.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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