Personal late-winter deer survey shows decent numbers of whitetails
“We only got 81, you must be poaching.” Thus I teased my deer-hunting buddy, Jim, when I told him about a recent evening’s casual deer survey that my spouse, Peggy, and I had conducted.
The poaching remark, of course, was just a good-natured jest, a light rebuttal to a report several days earlier that Jim and his son, Brad, had spied 99 deer on an evening’s motor-route scouting for game.
We generally cover the same routes in western Sandusky County, well known between us after more than 45 years of hunting, in late winter to see for ourselves just how many deer we may have out and about the local landscape. This is a food-short time of year for all wildlife, including deer, and their dawn-and-dusk browsing habits find them scrounging in any untilled corn stubble or winter wheat or other green cover.
Frankly, for a couple of townships in a northwest Ohio agricultural county, 81 or 99 deer spotted in just 45 minutes of backroad cruising is a pretty good telltale that we are not exactly depleted deer-wise. That is especially so considering that many does will be dropping one to three fawns each in the next two to three months.
Such late-winter or early-spring surveys along the same routes, year after year, are pretty good indicators of deer herd status locally. They tell more than just raw statistics that report, for example, that Ohio has 600,000 or 700,000 deer, or whatever number state deer biologists can be coaxed into acknowledging. Such personal scoutings also help show that much of the complaint or frustration over poor deer hunting prospects may have a lot more to do with deer distribution in given areas and counties and not so much raw overall deer numbers.
My point here is that my buddy and I often see deer clustered – sometimes 15, 20, or more at a time – in select areas. These usually are browsing areas just outside stretches of larger woodlots and brushlands, both of which are becoming increasingly scarce. Chalk it up to urban sprawl – McMansion “farmettes” are sprouting up relentlessly in rural areas. Not to mention the ongoing expansion of “clean” industrial agriculture that leaves little or no winter cover and which continues to bulldoze and burn remaining brushrows and small woodlots.
Many of the winter “refuge” areas where we see so many deer, moreover, are off-limits to deer hunting, for whatever reasons. Deer get pushed there especially during the gun seasons, and they stay put till almost fawning time.
In any case, you might try an evening scouting cruise in your own bailiwick. There may be more deer around than you think. The problem, of course, is gaining access to those deer during hunting season.