Two-day antlerless muzzleloader hunt pitched for October

Columbus — Among the new proposals for Ohio’s deer season is a two-day muzzleloader hunt in October for only antlerless deer.

This hunt, if approved, will essentially replace the two-day gun weekend held two weeks after the regular gun season. The extra weekend started several years ago, but the number of participants and the kill has decreased every year.

“Because we are limiting the use of the antlerless only deer permit up until the start of gun season, we looked at it as an opportunity to provide hunters the opportunity to harvest an antlerless deer with a firearm,” explained Scott Zody, chief of the Division of Wildlife.

The dates of the hunt, which will be voted on in April by the Ohio Wildlife Council, would be Oct. 12-13.

If a muzzleloader hunt is a good idea, why not have a full gun season in October for antlerless deer?

In a February teleconference with reporters, Zody said the Division of Wildlife wanted to “ease into this instead of jumping into it.”

The second weekend in October has historically been a low point in the season’s archery kill, Zody said. Seventy-five percent of annual harvest during this particular time period has been in the form of antlerless deer
“During the two-day weekend for firearms we were seeing a reduction in pressure and a reduction in harvest,” Zody said “We thought possibly by introducing this muzzleloader hunt, that it might gin up some interest in participation.”

“The whole purpose of the antlerless permit is that we want hunters to harvest deer and harvest them early,” he said. “This gives them a chance with a firearm in their hands well before the peak of the rut.

The Division of Wildlife acknowledges that it is taking a bit of a risk by eliminating the two-day shotgun weekend later in the season.

“In some respects, we’re taking a little bit of a gamble,” Zody said, “that the deer we were harvesting during the (bonus) weekend will shift to the antlerless only muzzleloader season.”

Even if the numbers are relatively comparative, it will be considered a management win just by killing deer earlier in the season, Zody said.

“That’s 20,000 extra deer that we’ve taken out that won’t meet their fate (in collisions with automobiles),” he said. “Quite frankly, it could also improve the activity during the rut later on in November.”

Division of Wildlife deer project management leader Mike Tonkovich said the state couldn’t afford to hold both an early muzzleloader hunt and a later shotgun weekend.

“What we’re going to see is just a shuffling of deer,” Tonkovich said. “The more we slice and dice seasons, we’re simply spreading out that opportunity to multiple seasons, which in the end is not what we really want to do if harvest is our goal.”

Still, Tonkovich acknowledges that a muzzleloader hunt in October might not be ideal for bowhunters, who must also take antlerless only deer during that weekend.

“There’s no question that there will be a contingent out there that will not be happy (with the muzzleloader hunt),” he said.

Tonkovich said the division solicited opinions from hunters on the establishment of the season and the response was favorable overall within the ranks of those who hunt both with a gun and with archery tackle.

“I think the majority speaks very clearly that this is something they’re interested in,” Tonkovich said.

The timing of the muzzleloader hunt was a well-thought out proposition, said Zody.

“We had a lot of discussion internally about when does it make sense to put it in,” the wildlife chief said. “We looked very hard at the harvest rates and the dates of harvest. The numbers showed that this was a rather low harvest weekend for archery hunters.

“As far as an early two-day muzzleloader season affecting the movement patterns of deer or screwing up the rut, we do not believe that is the case at all,” Zody said.

Some worry that the fall foliage will be too thick to effectively stage the hunt in October.

“That is absolutely one of the considerations that we kicked around and that’s why we decided to go with muzzleloader only,” Zody said. “I still think that having an early opportunity like this is going to provide some good access for people to go in and harvest some (antlerless) deer.”

Tonkovich bristled at the suggestion that Ohio is starting to look like Pennsylvania in the setting of its deer seasons.

“We’re not modeling anything after Pennsylvania,” he said. “We’re trying to find that balance of being effective managers while also providing opportunity.”

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