Weather boosts total of deer kills

Earlier crop harvest aids hunters


FINDLAY — Ohio’s opening week of deer gun season ended on Sunday with harvest numbers down slightly statewide, but up significantly here in the agriculture rich northwest corner of the state.

Throughout Ohio’s 88 counties, hunters checked in 86,964 whitetails for the full week of gun season, compared with 90,282 deer checked in for the same opening week in 2011. Those numbers reflected a drop of 3.68 percent, which John Windau from the Division of Wildlife office said is consistent with a shrinking deer herd in the state.

“We did anticipate the numbers would be down statewide, because we have been actively working to reduce the deer population,” he said. “There’s a limit to what the land can sustain in terms of whitetail numbers. We can’t expect the harvest to keep growing, year after year because that kind of trend is just not sustainable.”

In northwest Ohio, two critical factors brought about a spike in hunter success in the gun season — great weather and farmers taking advantage of the opportunity to take corn crops off earlier than last year.

The very wet fall weather of 2011 combined with the wind to make for a tougher hunt, and the soggy ground prevented the agricultural interests from getting crops to market until much later in the season.

“Last year, the weather before deer season and leading into the season had a big impact on hunter success,” Windau said. “We grow a lot of corn here, compared to the rest of the state, and last year much of it was still in the fields when the season opened. The ground was just too wet for the farmers to get in there.”

Although most of this year’s deer harvest has already taken place, Ohio will offer two additional days of gun hunting for whitetails Dec. 15-16, and once that weekend completes the current season and hunter effort statistics are reviewed, Windau said a more accurate picture of the season will be available.

He stressed again that Ohio’s strong deer harvest numbers in recent years might give hunters a distorted view that the herd will continue to grow in size and the total deer kill will follow that growth.

“I think a lot of hunters are just looking at the short term and not being realistic about this,” he said. “We haven’t been taking this large a number of deer for that many years. Hunters are used to seeing record or near record numbers every year. They expect there to be a deer around every corner, and that’s just not going to be the case.”

On opening day of the gun season on Nov. 26, hunters checked in 29,297 white-tailed deer, which represented a 24.1 percent increase over the 2011 opening day harvest of 23,600 that came on a rainy, blustery day.

The top counties on opening day were the usual leaders from Ohio’s east-central hill country — Coshocton, Muskingum, and Tuscarawas. Each of those three saw more than 1,000 deer checked in on opening day alone.

Ohio wildlife officials expect close to 420,000 hunters to take part in the gun season. The Buckeye State ranks eighth in the nation in the volume of hunting-related sales annually, producing an economic impact of about $859 million on the sale of hunting equipment, fuel, food, lodging, and other associated purchases.

Michigan’s firearms deer season numbers are due to be released later this week.

TURKEY SEASON: Ohio hunters harvested 1,338 wild turkeys during the fall season, which ran from Oct. 13 through Nov. 25. That represented a drop of 2.5 percent from the previous year when the statewide harvest was 1,372 wild turkeys. In 2010, the fall wild turkey harvest was 1,425. The top counties for wild turkey hunting success in the state in the recently completed season were Ashtabula (61), Coshocton (56), Geauga, and Tuscarawas (53 each). Wildlife biologists estimate that Ohio has a wild turkey population of about 180,000.

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