Monday, October 20, 2014

Ohio's increasingly complex deer hunting regs reflected in to-date harvest figures

Statistics are truth-tellers though sometimes knowing this reality can result in even greater doubt than if you were lied to.

It’s been a slow-go for Ohio’s ever-so-long archery deer-hunting season. For me, anyway, it would seem.

To date I have hunted for a combined 41 hours from four ground blinds split between three Northeast Ohio counties. During this time I have seen two deer, including a small doe that my new crossbow has managed to prove itself.

Absent were any deer seen in four separate stints in a Geauga County blind and a like goose-egg seen during time spent in a Lake County igloo-shaped blind that I’ve nestled against the trunk of a plump cherry tree.

If it were not for one of two blinds set in individual central Ashtabula County woodlots my sightings would be less than tolerable for 41 hours of picket duty.

Burr, the chill of this year’s to-date archery hunting season has placed a deep freeze on my success. Yet that is me, and apparently not for Ohio’s bow-hunting clan as a whole.

For the season through Sunday (October 19) and heralding back to when the archery deer-hunting season began on September 27, Ohio’s deer harvest stands at 24,494 animals verses the corresponding 2013 to-date figure of 23,552 whitetails for a net gain of 4 percent.

Okay, here we’ll put in one of those record book asterisks (*) that statisticians are always so eager to toss out. That addendum is the result of a pretty good antlerless-only/muzzle-loading-only deer hunting season October 11 and 12.

During this season, Ohio deer hunters killed 6,613 animals compared to the 5,608 animals that hunters shot during the same season in 2013. So the muzzle-loading season did fuel the to-date kill by 1,005 deer.

Thus the overall harvest/kill figure is skewered by a larger antlerless-only/muzzle-loading-only season. I get that; I really do, too.

What I’m still puzzled over is the lack of deer I’ve failed to see along with reports from other archers I know who likewise are not encountering whitetails.

Some of the hunters are saying the hard mast crop – chiefly the fruit of the white oak trees, or acorns – is too abundant this year. And more than a few hunters contend the state’s coyote pack is out of control and has decimated the state’s deer herd.

Meanwhile just about every deer hunter is grumbling that the Ohio Division of Wildlife went too far for too long in selling too many antlerless-only deer tags.

That “sell-buy-sell-buy” attitude has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of fawn-producing does, hunters allege.

Of course, Ohio hunters were not compelled to buy (and use) these antlerless-only deer tags. It was our choice from the get-go, so pointing a finger at the Wildlife Division solely is not being exactly honest with ourselves.

And as a result we see harvest/kill increases where antlerless-only tags are still legal tender and either the status quo or declines in most counties were such permits cannot be used.

Examples: Up here in Northeast Ohio, the to-date deer harvest/kill for Ashtabula County where the use of antlerless-only permits is permitted stands at 761 animals. That figure is an 8.56 percent increase from the 2013 to-date total harvest/kill figure of 701 animals.

Much the same can be said for Lake County where the use of antlerless-only permits also remains valid. This year’s to-date harvest/kill figure for Lake County through October 19 is 209 animals. And for 2013’s to-date harvest/kill total the figure was 168. 
Here we are talking about a whopping 24.4 percent increase.

Yet for Lake and Ashtabula County’s neighbor, Geauga County, we see just the opposite in the to-date deer/harvest/kill figures. So far in 2014, 335 deer have been taken in Geauga County; or an 11.84 percent drop from the same period in 2013.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the use of antlerless-only deer tags is forbidden in Geauga County this year.

Meanwhile, some other illustrations where antlerless-only deer tags are not valid this year and the harvest/kill is down include Harrison County (down 5.56 percent), Williams County (down 10.36 percent), Jefferson County (down 12 percent), Belmont County (down 22.53 percent), and Washington County (down 10 percent).

Even so, not every county where the use of antlerless-only permits is invalid has seen a drop in their to-date deer harvest/kill figures. Examples here include Jackson County (up 11.78 percent), Guernsey County (statistically unchanged at 464 to-date this year and 467 to-date last year), Van Wert County (up 18.46 percent), and Muskingum County (up 3.78 percent).

Generally speaking, however, the numbers of counties where antlerless-only tags are invalid this year have thus far experienced declines in their harvest. That note is exactly the goal of the Wildlife Division’s deer-management biologists.

Consequently, it would appear that as Ohio’s deer management activities become more complex in order to address the state’s herd size patchwork so too have the rules become increasingly intricate.

All of which may or may not explain why I’ve seen so few deer after spending so many hours in hunting blinds in three different counties. I don’t know but I’m guessing that I’m simply being in the wrong blind at the right time.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn


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