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Proposal would eliminate deer zones in favor of county count

Posted on February 28, 2013

Columbus — Among the sweeping changes proposed for this coming deer season is a switch to county-based bag limits instead of zones.

Zones would be eliminated under the proposal submitted to the Ohio Wildlife Council in February.

But, as far as deer management goes in Ohio, it really isn’t a change at all, said Mike Tonkovich, the state’s deer project leader.

“The fact of the matter is that we’ve always managed deer at the county level,” Tonkovich said. “The zones really represented a collection of counties with similar needs. In some cases, we would put counties in zones for sake of simplicity and sometimes compromise our ability to fit the county with the right bag limit.

“There’s never been a zone approach to managing deer so this will allow us to continue to send a message to hunters that we do manage deer at the county level,” he said.

If this proposal sails through as expected, only two types of permits will be sold: an either sex permit and an antlerless permit.

“It’s broken down into three different bag limits depending on which county you’re in,” Division of Wildlife Chief Scott Zody said. “So, you’re bag limit is either going to be two deer, three deer, or four deer depending where you’re at. The total bag limit if you want to jump counties (and hunt) is nine deer. And one buck.”

The reason for the change in philosophy is simple numbers, Zody said.

“We’re starting to hone in on the county by county population goals,” he said. “So, in those counties where you see a four-deer bag limit, those are the counties where we’re still well above our population goals.

“In those counties where you see a (three-deer bag limit) they’re closer to goal but we would like to continue tweaking that population,” Zody said.

“The (two-deer zones) are counties where we’re at or below goal so we don’t want to overpressure them,” he said.

Last season, a hunter could take up to 18 deer if he or she wanted to jump zones and maximize the bag limit in each. In hindsight, that wasn’t realistic, Zody said.

“We knew that a six-deer bag limit in most counties was unrealistic,” he said. “There were very few hunters out there who were actually harvesting more than three deer in any given year. The vast majority of hunters harvest one and there are some who harvest two. We wanted to bring the bag limits more in line with reality.”

The proposals, which will be voted upon by the wildlife council in April, would discontinue the state’s urban hunting zones.

“hat we’re doing is eliminating the urban zones altogether,” Zody said. “Since we’ve now gone to statewide use of the antlerless permits, the incentive is no longer there as far as getting hunters to hone in on those urban zones.”

Still, the proposals would seem to be a significant change for a lot of hunters

“The strategy is getting hunters used to county by county management,” Zody said. “For the past six or seven years, we’ve been in a herd reduction mode. Now, we’re into a partial herd reduction but partial stabilization mode because we’re seeing success in particular counties.

Part of the strategy is to reduce the reliance on damage control permits, Zody said.

“Any time we can reduce the number of deer that have to be taken out through damage control permits and increase the opportunities for hunter harvested deer is a good thing,” he said.

Tonkovich said deer management in Ohio boils down to two separate populations of deer.

“I see two types of deer in every county,” the deer biologist said. “One that we can manage through hunter harvest and one that we cannot. What we’re doing with the bag limits is we’re affecting the management of that population that we can manage through hunter harvest. The deer damage permit issue could receive some (positive) spillover from what we do.”

Are Division of Wildlife officials worry that permit sales could plummet as a result of the changes? It is largely out of the control of wildlife officials, Tonkovich said.

“If we continue to do the right thing, permit sales will stay where they’re at,” he said. “If they don’t, it will be due to forces beyond our ability to affect those changes in sales.”