250,000 whitetails: a hard mark to hit

DNR

Staff Reports

Athens, Ohio – The prospects of taking a quarter million deer
off the Ohio landscape this year were looking good right up until
Dec. 22.

That was the day after the bonus gun weekend had ended with a
harvest nearly 7 percent less than a year ago.

“In my little part of the world, I didn’t hear a lot of activity
– hunters driving by, shots being fired from a distance,” said DNR
Division of Wildlife deer biologist Mike Tonkovich. “If you weren’t
a hunter, you really wouldn’t have known it was a hunting season.
It was just really quiet.”

Compared to last year’s bonus weekend, kill numbers were down in
four of the state’s five wildlife districts with the fifth
(southwest Ohio) running about even with last year’s numbers.

Still, all is not doom and gloom when it comes to the total deer
kill, which should still top a state record, Tonkovich said.

A week earlier, Tonkovich would have said it was almost a sure
thing that the deer kill for the first time would top a quarter of
a million. That was counting on a total harvest of about 40,000 in
the bonus gun weekend and muzzleloader season.

“I’m not discouraged, though,” Tonkovich said. “It’s still been
a great season.”

The silver lining is that the total archery harvest is projected
at 85,000 by season’s end on Feb. 1, well outpacing last year’s
78,639, Tonkovich said. Last year’s number was a record high for
bow kills.

“Archers have picked up the slack for whatever the reason,
whether they were chomping at the bit because of the warm October
or some other reason,” he said. “I don’t know what sparked them,
but something did.

The archery harvest is the mechanism that will put the new
record in the book, Tonkovich said. The key, so far, was a
three-week stretch between Nov. 10 and Dec. 1 when bowhunters
killed 23,000 deer. For that same period in 2007, the archery kill
was 14,000.

Plus, sales of the $15 antlerless permits were up 46 percent
when the sale of those ended Nov. 30.

Tonkovich predicted at the beginning of the season in late
September that the overall harvest would be around 250,000.

Gun hunters killed 116,798 deer during the traditional weeklong
season and then added 16,382 on top of that during the bonus
weekend, Dec. 20-21. Muzzleloader season (Dec. 27-30) statistics
were not yet available by press time for this issue. Archery season
runs through Feb. 1.

Combining the results of the gun season harvest with those from
the early muzzleloader season, the first six weeks of archery
season, the bonus gun weekend, and youth deer gun season, a
preliminary total of 195,220 deer have been killed so far this
season. That number compares to 185,675 harvested last year at this
time. In all, hunters took a total of 232,854 deer during all of
last year’s hunting seasons.

The modern day record for deer harvest was set in 2006 when more
than 237,000 deer were killed. Ohio first topped the 200,000 mark
in 2002 and that number, with some exception, has been inching up
year by year.

But, Ohio’s deer herd keeps on growing with each season as well.
Last year’s preseason herd estimate was 650,000, and even though
hunters killed more than 232,000 during the 2007-2008 season, this
year’s preseason herd count stood at about 700,000. In the final
analysis, it seems Ohio’s guns and bows can’t keep up with deer
reproduction.

A quarter of a million deer in the bag in 2008-2009 would take
the heat off a bit, Tonkovich said, but the only place to go from
here is up. The Ohio Farm Bureau, the state’s most powerful
lobbying organization, has said it would like to see a herd of
about 250,000.

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