Deer kill in line with goal, DNR says

Athens, Ohio — Each side in the ongoing roil regarding whether Ohio hunters are shooting too many does will find ammunition in the preliminary final four-day statewide muzzleloading deer-hunting season.

This season ran Jan. 2 through Jan. 5 and a preliminary 13,726 animals were taken. That figure represents a 16.63-percent decline from the same season’s 2014 total of 16,464 harvested deer, which in itself was a marked decline from the 2013 season’s tallied harvest.

Least concerned of all that a decline is being noted in the harvest statistics’ book is the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife.

All for one simple, scientifically sound, biologically based reason: that being, all along the wildlife division’s main goal has been to reduce the state’s deer herd, which numbered in the several hundreds of thousands before the starting gun – and starting longbow/crossbow – were fired. Or at least that’s the agency’s spin on the subject.

Yes, poor weather played a factor in the muzzleloading season’s harvest drop, but then so did an entire possible bag of ingredients, wildlife division officials argue.

Among them were expanding opportunities for deer hunters that included a two-day October antlerless-only/muzzleloading only deer-hunting season.

Thing is, the just concluded statewide any-deer-goes muzzle-loading season continues to demonstrate the wildlife division’s commitment and success in reigning in the deer herd where necessary, the agency’s lead on Ohio’s deer management program says.

“We set out to do what we had to do: Get the deer populations within targeted goals,” said Mike Tonkovich, the wildlife division’s deer management administrator. “The bottom line is that we have fewer deer; there’s no magic about that.”

Nor secret, as the wildlife division has long maintained the necessity of aligning county-by-county deer populations with landowner preferences and the desire to provide recreational viewing and hunting opportunities, as well as do what is good for the herd.

“Part of the problem,” Tonkovich said, is that for too many years the wildlife division simply used a scalpel where a meat cleaver was more warranted. At least in much of the state and at least at one time, anyway, says Tonkovich.

Tonkovich also said that the agency, hunters, and landowners all must note how change comes about through a variety of means, each of which is a contributing factor in any deer-herd reduction process.

And in Ohio, the entire package is working, with Tonkovich noting that for the fifth year in a row the wildlife division was able to reduce the number of deer-damage permits it issues.

Such a cut shows that farmers are experiencing less crop damage simply because fewer deer are around to do the feasting,  Tonkovich said.

And to help assure that Ohio’s deer herd did not once more begin the climb to the glory days many hunters pine for, the wildlife division was shooting for a 5- to 10-percent decline in the total 2014-2015 all-deer-seasons’ harvest.

“And we’re pretty much right there now at 9 percent,” said John Windau, the wildlife division’s designated media spokesman on deer.

Such it is then that deer management becomes a delicate balancing act: ensuring that farmers aren’t being denied a profit because their grain and other crops are being eaten by an overabundant deer population, that fewer bucks are being struck by fewer Buicks, and at the same time striving to provide enough animals so that hunters don’t get bored while on their stands.

Thus, accumulating scientific data, assembling opinions from the various constituencies, and gauging what is best for the deer herd’s health are all items that will get stirred into the management policy pot later this year,  Tonkovich said.

“I suspect I’m going to be buying a lot of pencils to do a lot of figuring in the goal-setting process,” he said.

Even so, Tonkovich says that “pressure has been building for a long time” by a pretty substantial segment of the state’s deer-hunting community to put more animals back into the woods and fields.

Yet let everyone know that no one side will dominate the conversation, now or in the months to come, Tonkovich said.

“The squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the grease,” he said.

But squeaking the deer-hunting wheel does resonate, too. One issue that more than a few deer hunters want the wildlife division to jettison is the early two-day, antlerless-only, muzzleloader-only deer-hunting season.

However, that season’s future is “rock-solid,” Tonkovich said.

This sophomore season is already becoming very popular, one where a lot of hunters would much rather hunt during pleasant October than endure the cold, wind, and snow all too often encountered in early January, says Tonkovich.

“We have a changing population that isn’t hunting the way it did in 1985,” Tonkovich said. “There is high participation for this hunt.”

Still, Tonkovich said this interest appears to have stalled with the statewide four-day muzzleloading season.

Maybe poor weather played a factor this year, or perhaps hunters are just plum tuckered out after participating in one of the nation’s longest archery deer-hunting seasons, an (by some hunters’ opinion) accursed early muzzleloader season, an early youth-only firearms deer-hunting season, and a seven-day general firearms deer-hunting season, Tonkovich added.

Thus, the statistics for this year’s statewide muzzleloading deer-hunting season are striking if only because “there was no rhyme or reason” as to why one county saw an increase and another experienced a sharp decline, Tonkovich said.

While a few major deer-hunting players saw gains in their muzzleloader harvests – Ashtabula County (up 3.19 percent),  Trumbull County (up 5.41 percent), and Brown (up 5.15 percent) to name three, other counties did not. For example, Guernsey County’s kill was down 39.42 percent, Tuscarawas County’s was down 38.68 percent, and Harrison County’s was down 37.43 percent.

All of which means the wildlife division will once more be shuffling the deck chairs as it works to tweak the 2015-2016 deer-hunting regulations.

“Some counties may see fewer antlerless tags or fewer deer damage permits, or maybe a reduction in bag limits,” says Tonkovich.

But some sportsmen are not at all happy with a snip here and other nip there.

One can count Dennis Malloy among the disgruntled Ohio deer hunters who are unhappy with the wildlife division’s current deer management program.

Speaking for himself and not as an employee of a deer advocating organization, Malloy said in an open electronic exchange with a number of Ohio outdoors writers that “Sometimes no action is best… (W)e are tinkering Deer management to death.”

Importantly, Malloy said, if the wildlife division is under pressure by politicians to reduce the state’s deer herd instead of it being based on science “… then tell us – let us – the Sportsmen who pay the bills and vote – battle the Governor and (Natural Resources’) Director.”

“I have one main issue that is on top of them all,” Malloy said in the electronic string. “We need to find a way for more hunters to harvest one deer, before exploring ways for landowners or their designees to harvest multiple deer.”

While Malloy did say he lacks the final and defining solution to Ohio’s deer herd management strategy, he is convinced that deer population control, agricultural assistance, “or whatever new-fangled name” the natural resources department comes up with are equally without weight.

And so this exchange of conflicting views may come to a head Jan. 24 (after deadline for this issue of Ohio Outdoor News). That is when the wildlife division was to conduct public-participation “deer summit” open houses in each of its districts.

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