Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Hunters delayed doe harvest to gun season

Athens, Ohio – If last year’s gun season would have opened with
the same weather as it did in 2007 – drenching rains across the
state that wiped out much of the first two days – it would have
been a nightmare scenario for Ohio deer managers.

It would have been particularly troublesome in the 38 counties
of Zone C in southeast and southwest Ohio. For it was there that
the lion’s share of the antlerless harvest took place during the
traditional, seven-day gun season. Harvest statistics show that a
large majority of hunters in that zone didn’t put the $15 bonus
tags to use during the first six weeks of archery season but waited
to hunt does with a gun.

“If we would have had a repeat of (2007’s) gun season, a lot of
those hunters (who waited) would have gone home empty-handed,” said
Mike Tonkovich, the DNR Division of Wildlife’s leading deer
biologist. “We’re leaving a lot of risk by doing that.

“Hunters aren’t using that six-week window of opportunity (in
early archery season) to fill those antlerless permits but they’re
trying to fill them in three days … Monday, Tuesday and Saturday of
gun season,” he said. “That could put us at risk if we end up with
even one or two of those days that end up as washes due to weather
… The gun is more effective than the bow, but it can’t beat out two
or three inches of rain.”

For at least 13,000 doe tag holders, there is clear evidence
that there was no attempt to fill them during early archery because
that was the number sold on Nov. 30, the last day for which they
were available. It stands to reason that those 13,000 buyers were
gearing up for the gun season.

“People were obviously waiting until the last minute to buy
those antlerless permits, which tells us they weren’t even hunting
with them yet,” said Tonkovich.

Harvest numbers are in the early stages of analysis, but the
indication is that the bonus tags will still be offered for gun
hunters in Zone C, but it is unlikely that program will be expanded
to other parts of the state.

All of next season’s deer regulations will be voted on by the
Ohio Wildlife Council in early April. That vote follows open house
sessions on March 1 for hunters in all five of the Division of
Wildlife’s districts.

The $15 doe tags were offered to gun hunters in deer dense Zone
C this past season in an effort to thin the herd.

Although bow season had not yet ended at the time of this
writing, early results show that the antlerless archery harvest in
Zone C increased 8 percent over 2007 and the gun kill for antlered
deer increased 22 percent. The overall increase in that zone was 17
percent, which was fortunate, said Tonkovich.

“We lucked out,”_he said. “But, we can’t depend on (luck).

“Clearly, archers were not pounding the deer at the rate they
could have been,” he said. “We can assume they were holding off,
based on (Zones A and B) there was the potential to kill a lot more
deer during (early) archery season.”

In Zone A, 20 counties in northwestern and western Ohio, the
antlerless archery kill was up 22 percent over 2007. Gun hunters
killed 5 percent more deer than the previous year. In Zone B – 30
counties in northeast, north central, and central Ohio – the
bowhunter harvest was 19 percent higher than 2007 and the gun kill
was up 3 percent.

The bottom line is that by allowing the use of antlerless tags
during gun season in Zone C, the Division of Wildlife effectively
managed to delay the doe harvest from archery hunters to gun
hunters.

“Overall, we’re pleased with the season, but still concerned
with the fact that we simply shifted the harvest (in Zone C) for
the large part,” said Tonkovich.

It’s for that reason, he said, that an expansion of the bonus
tag offering is unlikely. Tonkovich said he would expect similar
outcomes if antlerless tags were allowed during muzzleloader season
for example – hunters wouldn’t fill their tags during early
bowhunting or the regular gun season but would wait, in essence
giving themselves four days to fill the tag. For deer managers
charged with maintaining a balanced herd, that’s too risky.

“If those go unfilled, we’ve got two problems: Unhappy hunters
and fewer antlerless deer in the bag,” the deer biologist said.
“That’s the risk that you take the more you extend the valid dates
for the antlerless permits.”

The Division of Wildlife sold roughly 36,000 more $15 tags in
2008 (121,000) compared to 2007 (84,000). The overall antlerless
harvest, too, should be up significantly, checking in near the
121,000 mark for 2008 compared to 104,000 in 2007.

Still unknown is how much harvest increases can be attributed to
a venison donation program that as of the end of the year had
resulted in more than 33,000 pounds of donated meat to Ohio food
pantries. According to the DNR, participation in the program was up
60 percent over 2007, the first year it was offered in a limited
number of counties. Though he can’t put a specific number to it,
Tonkovich said the ability to donate a deer in those areas without
paying processing fees had to make a difference.

“I’m sure that stimulated the harvest in many of the zones,” he
said. “Look at the increase we saw in archery harvest in both
(Zones) A and B. There was no regulation change with the exception
of (the donation program being available). I’m sure that’s what’s
driving to a large degree the harvest in those zones.”

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