Athens, Ohio — With an ever-swelling quiver of weaponry being made available, Ohio’s deer hunters will have unparalleled options this year.
Whether these hunters will eagerly embrace going afield with a rifle firing one of 27 different straight-walled cartridges or head out with a handgun, use a crossbow/longbow/compound bow, a muzzleloading rifle, or stick with a tried-and-true slug-firing shotgun remains an unanswered deer camp question.
Yet letting history be something of a guide, few of these hunters will heft a handgun and fewer still will succeed using some form of archery tackle.
Even muzzleloader rifles are something of an anomaly during the statewide general firearms deer-hunting season, according to statistics compiled by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
And statistics is what properly fuels how the agency’s deer-management program and its sub-routines function. Just ask the wildlife division’s officials whose job it is to make the tough decisions.
As it stands, the 2013 general firearms deer-hunting season saw only 277 deer killed by longbows, 483 with crossbows, and 805 with handguns. Even muzzleloading rifles accounted for just 11,093 deer shot during the 2013 general firearms deer-hunting season.
That leaves the bulk of that season’s deer popped by the use of shotguns, be they firing the old-style Foster-type rifled slugs or the much more popular sabot-encased slugs. This form of projectile accounted for 62,750 deer, says Mike Tonkovich, the wildlife division’s deer management administrator.
So, whether or not Ohio’s newly approved adoption of the designated set of straight-walled rifle calibers will send more state resident hunters into the field, such is not likely to occur, says Tonkovich.
“There is a mountain of data that strongly suggests hunters will simply swap out one implement for another; a ‘this for that,’ exchange,” Tonkovich said.
As to if the addition of allowing straight-walled rifle cartridges will prick the interest of nonresidents who otherwise took a pass on hunting Ohio because of its shotgun rule, “that’s a great question but not an easy one to answer,” Tonkovich said.
Bolstering his belief that nonresidents probably won’t plant their deer-hunting flag in Ohio simply because of expanded firearms usage opportunities, fully 60 percent do so during the state’s archery deer-hunting season, Tonkovich said.
Consequently, the minority of Ohio’s nonresident deer hunters are afield during either the statewide muzzleloading season or else the general statewide firearms deer-hunting season.
Thus, Tonkovich simply does not see a legion of nonresidents coming here because Ohio will allow the use of a couple dozen straight-walled rifle calibers. Some of these are so obscure that one may wonder how long they’ve been laid to rest in the graveyard of black-powder rifle caliber history. Among the approved calibers that leave some dedicated gun cranks scratching their heads are the .45-110, the .50-70, and the .50-90.
Of course, some oldies remain goodies. With modern-era rifles being crafted from modern-era metals capable of handling more robust smokeless powders, several of these gray-beard calibers take a back seat to no one.
Take the .45-70 as one such example. Early handicapping suggests this caliber may very well be the most popular straight-walled caliber seen afield this coming firearms deer-hunting season. Surprising in no small measure given that the .45-70 was adopted by the federal government way back in 1866.
And this caliber has undergone some considerable tweaking. Take the Hornady LeverRevolution brand as a perfect illustration. This particular brand includes a 325-grain bullet whose pointed snout is plastic (the better to be used in tubular magazines).
At 100 yards, a .45-70 LeverRevolution cartridge has a speed of 1,729 feet per second and arm wrestles with 2,158 foot pounds of energy. Out to 200 yards and those figures are 1,450 and 1,516, respectively.
Even the LeverRevolution’s .45-70 product drops only 4.10 inches at 200 yards.
But the .45-70 must share the podium with several modern-era calibers. The .500 Smith & Wesson, and the .478 Linebaugh each possess impressive ballistics.
Yet the statistics generated by the ever-evolving stable of sabot-rifled slugs available today in every shotgun gauge from the 12-gauge on down to the .410 are nothing to sneeze at either.
A shotgun slug’s high weight retention, speed, and energy (Hornady’s popular 12-gauge SST’s 100-yard ballistics of 1,641 feet per second and 1,793 foot-pounds of energy) all rival or sometimes can exceed those provided by the approved straight-walled rifle calibers.
Neither are the bullets launched from today’s muzzleloading rifles any kind of wallflower when it comes to whacking a deer.
Fueled with 150 grains of TripleSeven black-powder substitute, PowerBelt’s .50-caliber, 270-grain Platinum Aero-Lite bullet is still traveling 1,828 feet per second at 100 yards with 1,855 foot pounds of energy.
So, who likely will and who likely won’t convert from the knowns of shotgun/muzzleloaders for the unknowns of straight-walled rifle cartridges?
Depends on who you ask, even within the hierarchy of the wildlife division.
“No, I don’t believe I will,” said Scott Zody, the wildlife division’s chief, when asked if he plans to buy and use a rifle chambered for one of the approved straight-walled calibers.
Instead, Zody says he’ll stick with his muzzleloading rifle, even during the state’s general firearms deer-hunting season.
Not needing to reconsider is Tom Rowan, one of the wildlife division’s assistant chiefs.
A gun crank of the highest order, Rowan was a component of the group that rifled through the maze of potential calibers to come up with the current assembly of approved picks.
Among other partners in the caliber selection process were members associated with the Buckeye Firearms Association and members of the Cowboy Action community, each person seeming to have a rational reason for suggesting a caliber or two.
“I want to harvest my first Ohio deer with a rifle by using my .38-55,” Rowan said, adding that particular chambering is found in a commemorative lever-action firearm he owns.
And though Rowan admits that while his caliber of choice is a bit outside the orbit of more commonly known and approved straight-walled versions, several others are not. Besides the .45-70, other likely popular calibers very well may include the .44 Magnum and two of the list’s true heavyweights: the .375 Winchester and the .444 Marlin, Rowan said.
“I really think you’ll also see a lot of .357 Magnums being used by kids during the youth-only gun season,” Rowan said. “If shots are kept to around 50 yards, several of the smaller approved calibers will get the job done.”
As to whether hunters will go afield with a particular form of rifle, Rowan believes that lever-action rifles will dominate. That is a belief typically shared by firearms dealers I contacted in an informal poll.
Virtually to a dealer, these business people said they’re seeing an increased interest by potential buyers for a rifle, although almost to a person, those inquiries are for lever-action rifles.
Still, the last volley regarding what possible other straight-walled calibers will find approval has yet to be heard. It is more than plausible the list may see growth in the years ahead, said Rowan.
As for eventually allowing AR-style semi-automatic rifles, well, one step at a time, says Rowan.
“We have to move conservatively,” Rowan said, deflecting for now the question as to whether “black rifles” will one day find their way into Ohio’s deer-hunting woods.