Deer management, bag limits on table at open houses

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  • Managing Ohio’s white-tailed deer herd is akin to trying to hit the bull’s-eye on a half-dozen targets simultaneously, and in the proper order.

    It is a tricky balancing act done on an obstacle course because deer are both secretive and mobile, and their population is impacted by weather, farming practices, the availability of habitat, hunter success rates, disease, and a variety of other wild cards.

    The stewardship of that deer herd is assigned to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, through the Ohio Wildlife Council, and the latter group is currently mulling over dates for the 2014-15 season and proposed changes to deer bag limits.

    The public gets its chance to sound off on those issues at a series of open houses held throughout the state on Saturday, March 1 from 12-3 p.m. at ODNR district offices, including the Wildlife District Two Office at 952 Lima Ave. in Findlay. Ohio deer hunters and other interested parties can also comment online at the at wildohio.com Web site through March 2.

    Mike Tonkovich, the deer program administrator for ODNR who works out of the office in Athens, said the goal of the deer management program has been consistent: To try and provide enough deer to hunt and enjoy, but also not so many that they can cause undue human hardship in terms of collisions with vehicles and excessive crop damage.

    “We’re always working to find that delicate balance,” Tonkovich said, “but exactly where that is at, nobody really knows.”

    Tonkovich said a concerted effort to reduce the size of the burgeoning deer herd that took place from 1993-97 was likely a bit too successful, so by 1997 the state “probably had fewer deer than we thought.

    “We were conservative in our approach after that, so we slowly increased bag limits, but it wasn’t enough, and the population got out ahead of us. We had a serious game of catch-up to play.”

    From 2007-12, the regulations remained fairly stable and progress was made, Tonkovich said, with reductions in the overall size of the deer herd.

    When Ohio’s archery season ended Feb. 2, closing the books on all of the 2013-14 seasons, Ohio hunters had checked in 191,459 whitetails. That was down from the 218,910 deer checked during the 2012-2103 hunting season, but the drop was expected after liberal bag limits had been in place for several years.

    “We began dialing back the regulations in order to reduce the antlerless deer harvest,” Tonkovich said. “The goal is to try and find that magic combination that will not grow the deer population, but allows us to find stability.”

    The plan going forward calls for additional calibration of the system on a county-by-county basis. Ohio will have essentially 88 mini-deer management units, each with data-driven, distinct bag limits.

    “We’re in a better position each year to make more informed decisions on these things,” Tonkovich said. He hopes to see a large turnout at the March open house events — hunter feedback is essential to the herd management process.

    The bag limit proposals the council will review reflect the reduction in the deer population that many Ohio counties have experienced as deer numbers have moved closer to the target levels set by the state. As currently proposed, the 2014-15 regulations would reduce the harvest in 44 counties, increase it in five counties, with the other 39 counties remaining the same. Under the proposals, antlerless tags, which were introduced as a means to reduce the size of the deer herd, would be eliminated in some counties.

    A statewide hearing on all of the proposed rules takes place at 9 a.m. on March 6 at the ODNR District One office at 1500 Dublin Rd. in Columbus. Following the public input period, the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council is expected to vote on the proposed rules and season dates on April 9.

    WHITETAILS UNLIMITED BANQUET: The Sandusky River chapter holds its 2nd Amendment Freedom Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the American Legion on Buckland Avenue in Fremont. The social hour with games and raffles starts at 5 p.m., with steak and chicken dinners served at 7. Proceeds from the event are designated for conservation and will benefit the Darr Memorial Wetland Project. For tickets or information, contact Keith Kralik at 419-202-9544 or Dennis Malloy at 330-507-9489, or visit the www.whitetailsunlimited.com Web site.

    Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.