Deer harvest down again

Deer in WinterAthens, Ohio — If you participated in this past weekend’s two-day firearms deer hunting season and failed to see any animals, you were not alone.

And if you actually saw – and shot – a deer, consider yourself fortunate.

The kill for this year’s two-day hunt was down 14 percent from the same season in 2011, which itself was down 20 percent from 2010’s two-day gun hunt.

Statewide, 14,365 deer were killed during the just-concluded two-day season. That compares unfavorably with the 16,977 animals shot last year and the 21,376 killed during the 2010 two-day season.

Next year, hunters may get a two-day, antlerless-only, muzzleloading-only season, possibly in early October, state wildlife officials are saying.

The fact Ohio hunters shot 14 percent fewer deer during the weekend “really surprises me,” said Mike Tonkovich, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s deer management administrator.

“I was really expecting to see increases both with this season as well as our seven-day general gun season,” Tonkovich said.

The reasons are many, including items out of the control of deer-management officials, Tonkovich said. Among them are the weather and a worse-than-expected die-off of deer caused by EHD.

“Northeast Ohio was been hit hard by EHD, and we’re still getting calls about deer that have died from this,” Tonkovich said.

Likewise, Tonkovich said “it’s clear to me that there was light hunting pressure.”

The Friday before the two-day gun season, Ohio’s overall deer kill was 700 animals ahead of where it was last year at the same time.

“People may be hunting harder to see the same number of deer,” Tonkovich said.

Yet Tonkovich said he and his agency fully understand how some Ohio deer hunters may become so annoyed by seeing fewer deer they may turn their backs on buying one tag next season, let alone two.

“That’s possible, but the bar has been raised,” he said. “We let the deer population become larger, but hunters need to keep in mind that we have a job to do, and that includes bringing the level of quality deer to what we saw in the 1980s.”

At some point in the not-too-distant future, hunters and other constituencies – such as the state’s farmers – will have to come to terms with what they want in the way of a deer herd, Tonkovich said.

“We’ll have the opportunity to make a decision – whether people want to see more deer or better quality deer,” he said.

And as the Wildlife Division grapples with management strategies for next year’s deer seasons, several possibilities are open. Among them being an end to December’s two-day firearms deer hunt.

“That’s something that will be discussed, but it’s not a done deal,” Tonkovich said.

So, too, would be an exploration of creating a statewide two-day, antlerless-only, muzzle-loading-only season in early October.

Having an October muzzle-loading-only hunt would enable the Wildlife Division to continue to manage the state’s deer herd while offering archery deer hunters a firearms-free December, Tonkovich said.

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