Muzzleloader kill shows steady decline

Columbus – Leading the charge for a proposed move of
muzzleloader season into January is a trend toward lagging kill
numbers in late December over the past four seasons, according to a
state wildlife management leader.

In short, the popular muzzleloader hunt is losing its impact on
the total harvest, said Dave Risley, the DNR_Division of Wildlife’s
wildlife management and research chief.

“Over the last several years, muzzleloader (season) is
contributing less and less to our (overall) harvest,” he said.
“This trend can’t continue very long.”

In 2006, hunters killed 22,871 deer during muzzleloader season.
That figure fell just slightly in 2007 to 22,055, and then again in
2008 to 20,659.

Statistics show, however, that more and more hunters are
harvesting their deer with a muzzleloader during traditional gun
season. In 1998, just 2 percent of the total gun harvest came with
a muzzleloader. In 2008, that figure jumped to 12 percent.

“What is happening is more hunters are using gun season as their
muzzleloader season,” said Risley. “Hunter behavior is
changing.”

The proposal, which would move the muzzleloader hunt from late
December right after Christmas to Jan. 9-12, was a primary focus
for the Ohio Wildlife Council in early February.

Horace Karr, a council member from Meigs County, is concerned
that a shift in dates will displace more hunters.

“During Christmas vacation, a lot of hunters have that time off
and now you’re moving (the season) to a time when they don’t have
that time off,” he said.

Karr also said he is concerned that regulation changes –
stretching archery season, offering more antlerless tags – gives
the appearance that state managers are too enthusiastic about
killing more deer.

“I think my problem is that I’ve lived too long and I remember
the beginning of deer hunting when there weren’t so many deer,”
said Karr.

It was as recent as 1994 when all 88 counties were opened to
deer hunting. Risley said today’s times are much different.

“With our habitat and season structure, we can grow deer like
that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“I’m not concerned with overharvesting deer at this time,”
Risley had said earlier. “The reason why you see all of these big
bucks (being harvested) is because we don’t gun hunt during the
peak of the rut. That’s by design.”

In regard to moving muzzleloader season, Risley said some of the
early concerns center on the possibility that some bucks will be
shedding their antlers during the early January season. Risley,
though, said he’s comfortable that won’t be much of a problem with
the proposed change.

“If it was the end of January, we might see a little more
impact,” he said.

Division of Wildlife Chief Dave Graham said he has “mixed
feelings” about moving the season, but a positive element would be
that wildlife managers could guarantee the season would run through
a weekend. With the season locked into the same dates now, Dec.
27-Dec. 30, that hasn’t always been the case.

Division biologist Mike Tonkovich said state game managers need
muzzleloader season to play a greater role in deer management than
it has over the past few seasons.

“There’s a lot of potential to harvest antlerless deer by moving
the season into January and making it an autonomous season rather
than just an extension of the December gun season,” he said. “I
think (the move) would reinvigorate our hunters, and the break
(between gun and muzzleloader seasons) would bring deer populations
back to a sense of normalcy.”

Tonkovich said it makes sense to shift muzzleloader season if
for no other reason than to spread out the varying hunting
opportunities.

“Hunters need a break and the deer need a break and I think we
can accomplish both of those,” he said.

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