RAVENNA, O. - If you think that getting your name drawn for a controlled deer hunt - a special deal in a fenced-in area - is going to be a mere cull, like shooting fish in a barrel, think again.
Especially when the hunt is at the sprawling Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant and Training and Logistics Site. “Ravenna,” as it is simply known among Ohio deer hunters, comprises 21,419 acres - almost 33.5 square miles.
And get this: Only two hunt partners are allowed per hunting zone of 50 or more acres, there are 1,500 to 1,600 deer on the arsenal, and the place is loaded with prime deer cover. It is a dream blend of bramble thickets, chest-high fields, overgrown fencerows, woodlots, swamps, beaver ponds and the like.
A hunter couldn't ask for more. But neither could a deer
Which is why, last Saturday, 300 hunters bagged just 81 of them. The deer mostly won.
“I was hoping to get 110 or more,” said Tim Morgan, the arsenal's natural resources manager. He is the coordinator of the hunts, six of which are being held this fall. The last two are Saturday and Nov. 25.
Morgan said there is very little migration of deer in or out of the site, which he estimates has a winter carrying capacity of about 670 deer, or 20 per square mile. At least that is the ideal goal.
“If I can get it down to 800, I'm happy,” said Morgan. The U.S. Army, which owns the property, coordinates the hunts closely with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Morgan said that “it's not just a numbers game. We're trying to reduce the doe (antlerless) population.” That would reduce next year's fawn crop, and improve the buck/doe ratio and amount of browse available for each deer.
So far, Morgan added, the current herd is not overbrowsing the property. Just that occurred on the NASA Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, before annual controlled hunts were resumed there on a regular basis in the early 1990s to reduce herd growth.
In 1994, when the population was way high on Ravenna, 18 hunts on Fridays and Saturdays netted 1,700 deer. But Morgan said that such a big program necessitated shutting down security patrols and training programs, and that was not deemed acceptable in the long run.
Hunters fortunate enough to be drawn for Ravenna hunts nowadays are allowed to bring a partner, and considering the size of the hunter “herd” participating each Saturday, the pre-hunt and post-hunt processing is done with military efficiency.
“We've had three safe, highly successful years,” said Morgan of hunts conducted under his watch. However, he added, “I'm not killing enough deer each year to stop the herd growth.” The last two seasons the special controlled hunts have harvested about 400 deer a year.
Which is why the last three hunts this year all are for antlerless deer only, with hunters allowed to take up to two deer each. That didn't happen much, at least last Saturday, given the success ratio of only slightly better than one in four.
Three of the deer taken were bucks, shot by mistake, and the hunters had to turn them over for processing and donation of the venison to charity. They also used up their buck tags for the year as a result. Ohio law allows only one buck to be taken per hunter per license-year, regardless of season or place.
Of the 300 hunters allowed afield, 81 were volunteer escorts, individuals connected with the plant. An escort is assigned to each pair of hunters, to advise them about better areas to hunt in their assigned zones and to supervise.
The escorts were a great help in getting hunters started on what to them may be a new hunting territory.
One of the escorts, John Mayer, of Garrettsville, O., is a retired, 34-year veteran of the ammunition plant. He used to organize and supervise hunts in the old days (Ravenna has been hunted since 1952).
John sat in his truck, or stood outside with his cane, all day. He patiently awaited the hunters in his areas of supervision, and would tell them arsenal deer stories when they would return to their vehicles for coffee or lunch.
The other wildlife - including beaver, squirrels, mallards, wood ducks, and tundra swans - at Ravenna, though not hunted, certainly was watchable and contributed immensely to the experience:
It all made for a fine day afield, the kind that may end deerless, but leave you good-tired.
The after-dark bite for walleye on the south shore piers and rocky shoreline is well under way. Anglers took 200 fish on Huron pier Friday night, 150 Saturday and 100 each night since, said Jerry Modic at Huron Bait and Supply.
They are casting crankbaits, such as Rat-L-Traps, Husky Jerks, and Rattlin' Rogues, Modic said.
Daytime pier angling for yellow perch also remains excellent at Huron pier, and when winds allow, boat-anglers still are taking excellent catches of walleye three to four miles offshore.
Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.