Armed with more options than ever, Ohio’s deer hunters are taking to the woods with everything from Medieval Era longbow technology to Nineteenth Century-style buffalo rifles to the latest jazzed-up shotguns and state-of-the-art revolvers.
Equipped with its frequently maligned virtually real time deer check-in system, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has at its disposal an equally quick read out of the six forms of implements that Ohio’s successful deer hunters employed to bring home the venison.
And there are stirrings that seventh option may appear down the road, the use of big-game-capable air rifles seeing the okay given in several states.
For now, with two year’s worth of data regarding the allowance of a legal assemblage of straight-walled rifle cartridges, the Wildlife Division is able to provide reliable apples-to-apples hunting implement usage.
What the data shows is that during the statewide general firearms deer-hunting seasons (combining last year’s seven-day season and tacked-on late December two-day season) that sportsmen and sportswomen had no fewer than six available deer-hunting implement options: shotguns, crossbows, longbows, muzzle-loading rifles, rifles chambered for specifically designated so-called “straight-walled” calibers, and an also restricted list of calibers associated with handguns.
The Wildlife Division has likewise assembled list of similar deer-hunting implements used by qualifying youngsters during the statewide two-day youth-only firearms deer-hunting season.
What the back-to-back data demonstrates is that the fewest number of deer killed during the firearms seasons are taken with longbows, followed by crossbows. For the former implement type, the 2014-2015 season the number of deer killed was 211 and for the latter the figure was 349.
The 2015-2015 season saw the number of deer killed with longbows increase to 261 while the figure associated with crossbows rose to 544.
Perhaps the best speculative explanation regarding hunter usage of any archery implement during a firearms hunting season focuses as much on the “where” as to the “why.”
In any number of communities across Ohio, gun hunting is forbidden though the use of archery tackle is legal tender. Consequently, a hunter looking for a quiet tree stand or ground blind sit in an archery-only community may very well decide against joining the gun-toting army in rural Ohio.
“I would say that’s a safe assumption,” said Clint McCoy, a Wildlife Division’s deer biologist. “It certainly makes sense.”
Possibly, too, McCoy ponders, is that the small number of deer being taken with handguns is due to the challenge such implements offer to their users than to the firearms’ effectiveness at bagging an animal.
Historically, McCoy says as well, handguns have not been a major player during any Ohio firearms deer-hunting season. This past year the Wildlife Division recorded only 577 animals being killed by hunters using handguns; a drop from the 511 animals killed with such implements the previous firearms season.
Indeed, of the six forms of hunting implements now permitted during Ohio’s firearms deer-hunting season, the handgun ledger was the only one to post a decline.
The use of muzzle-loaders continues to hold steady, too, the Wildlife Division’s computer-generated numbers note, even as a percentage of the overall kill as well as the raw numbers of deer actually shot.
For the 2014-2015 firearms deer-hunting season, 8,471 deer were taken with muzzle-loaders, a figure that grew to 8,376 animals for the 2015-2016 season with nearly identical percentage-of-total deer taken.
Likely of no surprise to anyone is the growth in the number of deer being shot with rifles enshrined in the Wildlife Division-approved list of straight-walled calibers. For the 2014-2015 firearms deer-hunting season, 5,359 deer were killed using such permitted weaponry.
However, for the two combined 2015-2016 firearms deer-hunting seasons that number rose to 8,376 deer. Perhaps more telling is that the percent-of-total deer taken with rifles chambered for approved calibers climbed from 8.18 percent in 2014-2015 to 11.41 percent last year.
“I believe that there will be an upper limit/leveling off in the number of deer killed with but we’re still in a growth period. At least for the moment,” McCoy said.
In terms of straight-walled rifle caliber preference, a Wildlife Division deer hunter survey showed that 48.1 percent of the surveyed hunters who returned forms said the .45-70 Government was their selected caliber, 28.2 percent indicated it was the .44 Magnum, 13.8 percent shouted out the .444 Marlin, 3.4 percent picked the .357 Magnum, and 2 percent chose the .45 Long Colt.
Still at the apex of the type of implement used by Ohio’s deer hunters – and likely always will be – are shotguns and their many forms of projectiles. In sheer volume the number of deer killed each year by hunters utilizing shotguns dwarfs every one of the other five legal implements.
Even when combined the five other allowable implements the data comparison proves it’s not even a contest. For the 2014-2015 firearms deer-hunting season, shotguns accounted for 50,499 animals killed – or 77.12 percentage-of-total deer taken.
The comparative figures for the combined two 2015-2016 firearms deer-hunting seasons were 54,490 animals, and 74.25 percentage-of-total deer killed.
As for the future, there may be some activity advancing across the deer-hunting landscape to allow the use of large-caliber air-rifles; something of a misnomer since such implements are far removed from a Daisy Red Ryder BB-gun.
For now, only four states allow the use of air rifles for the taking of big game: Arizona, Missouri, Michigan, and Virginia.
Also, New York is looking to amend its hunting rules to allow similar usage, the stipulation being that such an implement have a minimum bore diameter of .30 inches, have a rifled barrel, and have a powering apparatus that can propel a projectile with a minimal muzzle velocity of 650 feet per second.
Manufacturers are all ready looking for an expanding marketplace, too. Crossman, for example, has introduced what it calls the “.357 Bulldog” model under the firm’s Benjamin line; a futuristic-looking air rifle that includes sound suppression, optics, a Picatinny-style rail for accessory mounting, five-shot magazine capacity, and a rifle capable of sending a 145-grain Nosler bullet downrange at 800 feet per second as measured from the muzzle along with 200 foot pounds of energy.
Whether Ohio expands its allowance of air rifles for hunting squirrels, rabbits and other small game animals to the taking of deer is more a matter of law enforcement than deer management-biology, however, says McCoy.
Even so, McCoy said that he recently field a quarry from his counterparts in Kansas as to whether Ohio permits the use of air rifles for deer-hunting.
Thus perhaps at some point Ohio deer hunters will have yet one more option - or big-boys’ toy, if you wish – to choose from in deciding what to take into the field.
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 is 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.