Tuesday, October 7, 2014

UPDATED Ohio's wildlife officials work to ensure good compliance of new deer-hunting rules

Ohio’s archers made up for lost ground this past weekend in the number of deer killed since the season opened September 27.

On Opening Day, Ohio’s quiver of archery deer hunters shot 2,095 deer. This figure represents a 15.22-percent decline from the 2013 Opening Day bag of 2,471 animals.

However, the to-date tally in the obviously still-young archery deer-hunting season now stands at 9,666 whitetails. For same 2013 to-date period the figure was 8,697 deer.

Another way of putting it is that Ohio’s archery deer hunters experienced a nearly 11-percent increase in the to-date statewide whitetail harvest.

Yet this news was only one component addressed during an Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife teleconference with a number of Ohio outdoors writers.

This conference call was held late this morning (October 7) and included several of the agency’s chief wildlife management, law enforcement and public information administrators.

Among some of the conference call’s other touched-upon highlights were the changes made in the use of antlerless-only deer-hunting permits, the inclusion of certain straight-walled rifle cartridges during the statewide general firearms deer-hunting season, the threat of disease in the herd and associated impact on hunters.

Along with other sundry deer-hunting rules and regulations that are now in play or will as the rest of the deer-hunting year comes into view.

“We feel pretty good about the rules,” said Ken Fitz, the Wildlife Division’s law enforcement administrator.

Of concern to the teleconference’s agency-associated collective voice was the matter related to the use of antlerless-only permits. No wonder since such documents are legal to use in some counties but are not permitted in others.

Here is a for instance: In Northeast Ohio deer hunters in Lake, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Trumbull and Portage counties all can use at least one of the less expensive antlerless-only tags up through when the general deer-gun season begins December 1st.

However, no antlerless-only permits are eligible for use in Geauga County, which is surrounded on all sides by the aforementioned other counties.

Yep, the Wildlife Division fully understands this new wrinkle in the rules very possibly will add a layer of confusion as to what, when and where something is legal to use.

All in spite of Fitz’s optimistic “we feel pretty good about the rules,” too.

Thing is, Ohio has just concluded a six-year run of generally stable hunting regulations and nothing is more consistent than change.

“We can’t do our jobs without the tools, and change is one of those tools,” said Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division’s white-tailed deer management administrator.

Tonkovich said during the teleconference that adjustments, changes and accommodations are all necessary in order for Ohio to remain flexible in its ability to best management the state’s deer herd.

“And I believe that our deer hunters understand this,” Tonkovich said as part of the agency’s “adaptive management” strategy.

“The herd is not the same throughout the state,” Tonkovich also said.

Neither are the new deer-hunting rules. Gone now is the requirement that a slug shotgun or a straight-walled caliber-eating rifle must be plugged so that the firearm can handle only two rounds in a magazine and one round in the chamber.

Even so, a deer hunter is still limited to a maximum of only three rounds in a firearm at any one time.

Good luck with enforcing that one, though Fitz does say his staff of county-assigned wildlife officers and other commissioned staff will be afield, watching to see how many cartridges or slugs a hunter slips into a firearm, ejects from a firearm or else cuts loose at a deer.

“It won’t be as easy to enforce,” Fitz did say in something of an understatement.

In terms of the number of citations issued during the 2013 statewide general firearms deer-hunting season, having an unplugged shotgun ranked forth at 89, or just one citation less than hunting without written permission (90 violations) but far more than the failure to wear florescent/hunter orange at 32 citations issued.

Just how many such tickets will be issued this year under the new system is anyone's guess right now.

With the advent of the use of certain straight-walled calibers and the yes/no use of antlerless-only permits the field offers will have some wiggle room in how to deal with game law violators, Fitz said as well.

“I’m not going to second-guess what our officers do,” Fitz said.

Still, in the end it is up to each individual deer hunter to know the rules, regardless of how clumsy, how arcane, how unenforceable they may seem on the surface.

That is why – said Suzie Vance, the person in charge of the Wildlife Division’s public information section – it is important for all Ohio deer hunters to bone up on the rules; old as well as new.

And these requirements are found within the Wildlife Division’s 44-page “Ohio Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2014-2015” game law digest.

Either that or else if some rule still stumps a hunter that person can call the Wildlife Division’s Call Center hotline at 800-945-3543.

The Call Center’s hours of operation will be expanded for this weekend’s early antlerless-only/muzzle-loader-only deer hunting season. The hours will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., both Friday and Saturday (October 10 and 11), and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday (October 12).

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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