Hunting deer either in the morning or evening ought to be decided by more than a flip of a coin or playing a game of rock-paper-scissors.
Some science must enter the equation. That is exactly the route the Ohio Division of Wildlife recently undertook, too. The agency utilized data collected from the required deer check-in responses; an astonishing figure of 175,000 and which represents successful deer hunters.
So much for the rock-paper-scissors thing. Then again, the summation of assembled data may simply prove that whether it’s a sunrise deer hunt or a sunset one, hunter participation remains at best a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Assembling the information and then figuring out a way to make sense of it all fell on the shoulders of Mike Tonkovich and Clint McCoy, the Wildlife Division’s deer management policy spear points. The two scientists utilized the recorded deer-kill times that 175,000 successful Ohio hunters posted in one fashion or another via the Internet or telephone.
The material eventually became the basis of a chart -graph with a horizontal set of numbers starting with “zero” and running in two directions and in 30-minute increments both before sunset and after sunrise. Each of these horizontal directions ended with the maximum number of five hours.
Further inscribed are separate graph lines for “All-Sunset,” “Bow-Sunset,” “All-Sunrise,” and “Bow-Sunrise.” Both “Alls” enfold the various forms of firearms and muzzle-loading rifles while “Bow” is self-explanatory.
A vertical left-hand column features the actual percentage kill, tabled in two-percent increments and running up to 20 percent.
Likely to no hunter’s surprise - and certainly not for Tonkovich and McCoy - is how the findings point to an “All-Sunset” peak roughly 30 minutes before sunset, or about one hour before the end of legal shooting time, which is 30 minutes after sunset. As for the “Bow-Sunset,” this subset’s peak comes roughly 15 minutes later.
Much the same applies to the sunrise lines as well.
Here, the chart-graph denotes how the “All-Sunrise” line climbs rapidly from the legal daily start of 30 minutes before sunrise, peaking roughly 30 minutes after sunrise, and then slowly tapers off.
Tonkovich pointed out too that archery deer hunters experienced a virtual identical deer kill climb starting 30 minutes before sunrise.
However - and perhaps importantly so - the “Bow-Sunrise” peak is not so much a summit but rather a plateau that begins about 30 minutes after sunrise and continues for nearly another hour.
“The ‘Bow-Sunrise”’ peak is much more sustained than it is for “All-Sunrise,’” Tonkovich said.
“This could be the result of bow hunters knowing they have the rest of the day to hunt; that they’re not up against the sunset ‘wall.’ Bow hunters simply may be staying out longer,” Tonkovich said.
An anomaly appears along the “All-Sunset” line where the marker shows up as something of a washboard pattern. So intriguing was this seemingly bizarre point that Tonkovich said he and McCoy cruntched the supporting data at least twice.
“It’s speculation, but maybe gun hunters are rounding off to the nearest half-hour; you don’t see that with archery hunters,” Tonkovich said.
In all four categories the slides are substantially sharp the further from sunrise the graph’s horizontal 30-minute increments travel. The same applies to the sunset provision, only in reverse.
That said, Tonkovich noted that 53 percent of the deer check-in receipts were reported during the one-half hour after sunset to five hours before sunset period. The 30-minutes before sunrise to five hours after sunrise time period accounted for 46 percent of deer killed.
Thus the successful deer kill tilt goes to the p.m. side of the ledger, whether it was “All” or “Bow” Tonkovich said.
“This may mean that hunters are taking more time in the evening than in the morning to hunt,” Tonkovich said.
All of which might also drive one to conclude that more hunters simply are skipping out of work early rather than reporting to work late. And that brings about whether the statistics are sufficient evidence of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tonkovich opined that deer hunters may have bitten into the apple sold to them by the outdoors media that the best chances of shooting a deer are during the two so-called “golden hours,” or the times on the cusp of either sunrise or sunset.
Consequently, many of Ohio’s reported deer are being killed - not because that is when the animals actually are on the move - but rather because “hunters kill deer when they can,” Tonkovich said.
So while the data gleaned from the 175,000 deer check-in receipts has provided some clues regarding hunter behavior, the raw information remains a barely mined treasure trove of potentially valuable insight. Not so much about managing deer but rather, educating hunters, Tonkovich said.
Included in potential further data refinement Tonkovich says is a work-up of deer activity and then superimposing that information over the corresponding deer hunter activity.
Such an analysis might even help answer the question of whether sitting tight around lunchtime during the gun deer season when most other participants are headed for the nearest food mill really helps the savvy and patient soloist, Tonkovich said.
”I’d also like to refine this data to see how it stacks up during the rut,” Tonkovich said.- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.