Bonus tags could be extended this fall

Columbus – Do not expect any major changes in Ohio deer hunting
regulations for 2008-2009, though a handful of minor tweaks may be
in store.

That includes some minor changes in the bonus antlerless tags
that were first offered this past season.

The just-ending deer seasons – the last of them, bowhunting,
closing Feb. 3 after a four-month run – were very effective at
increasing the antlerless deer harvest, according to the DNR
Division of Wildlife.

State deer biologist Mike Tonkovich said he is particularly
pleased with the increased doe take, though the expected overall
tally of about 230,000 does and bucks is off somewhat from the 2007
record of more than 237,000.

Through the end of December, Tonkovich said, hunters in the
archery, muzzleloader and shotgun seasons had totaled nearly
224,000 deer, some 145,000 of them being antlerless deer.

The antlerless total thus already is about 3,000 higher than in
all of 2007-2008, which means efforts to reduce the herd will start
paying off.

The early archery harvest – the first six weeks of the season –
produced an antlerless harvest (32,640) of nearly 8,500 more than
the same period in 2006 (24,179).

“Archers are getting out there and really getting after the
deer,” said Dave Risley, the Division of Wildlife’s administrator
for wildlife management and research.

During the same six-week period last fall, Ohio hunters actually
harvested fewer bucks (22,267) than in 2006 (23,665).

Fewer of the does simply means fewer deer overall, or at least a
curbing of herd growth. The Division of Wildlife is trying to
reduce over-target deer numbers in the 38-county Deer Zone C, where
in recent years the limit has been three deer.

Tonkovich expects a final all-seasons bag of about 230,000,
including about 149,000 antlerless and 81,000 antlered deer. That
would compare to last year’s figures of 141,395 antlerless and
95,921 antlered deer. But, he adds, “the job’s not done on
(reducing) antlerless.”

With 14,000 fewer bucks being taken this year, Tonkovich expects
more mature racks in the woods next fall.

“The Buckeye Big Buck Club entries should be up next year,” he
said. But that won’t stop him from making recommendations that keep
the antlerless harvest at a high level.

Herd size statewide has been running 650,000 to 675,000 during
the last two years and managers say it needs to be brought down to
conserve habitat, maintain healthy individual animal growth, and
control crop damage and highway collisions.

“We need to get down to 200,000 deer,” Tonkovich said, meaning a
herd size that produces an annual harvest close to that number.

The rules-making Ohio Wildlife Council was set to hear the
wildlife division’s formal deer proposals on Feb. 6, which gives
time for public airings at open houses March 2 and a statewide
hearing March 6 before final OWC consideration April 2.

Among possible changes in the deer rules would be an expansion
of use of the special $15 antlerless tag, introduced last fall for
archery-only use before shotgun week, which opened Nov. 26.

The reduced-price tag, down from the regular $24, was very
effective in encouraging bowhunters to take a doe early, Tonkovich
said. In fact, he expects a record archery harvest of 73,000 or
more, partly because of the reduced-cost tag.

Tonkovich said one suggestion would be to allow use of the
reduced-cost antlerless tag in the shotgun season, though sales of
the tag would be stopped before the season opens. The reasoning,
the biologist explained, is to encourage hunters to commit to
antlerless early.

“You need to reach them when they’re excited about taking a
deer,” he said.

Too often a hunter’s interest wanes after bagging a buck, but
taking a doe early leaves the buck “carrot” still dangling, he
said. Another alternative is to allow the reduced-cost tag very
late in the year, when interest in hunting wanes or shifts from
deer.

In any case, the rules for using the $15 tag need to be
streamlined, Tonkovich agreed. Far too many hunters were confused
about the convoluted wording of where and when they could buy and
use them, and too many hunters bought $15 tags for shotgun season
only to find they were worthless then.

Reprinted by permission of The Blade of Toledo, February
2008.

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