One of the most useful acts that you, as a deer hunter, can perform this autumn is to get out during the upcoming bow seasons and bag a doe.
Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania - among most states practically populated wall to wall with white-tailed deer - are encouraging antlerless deer harvest as a way to manage the numbers, distribution, and health of their respective deer herds. And bow season is the perfect time to do it.
Mike Tonkovich, deer biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, describes an all-too-familiar scenario: A bowhunter, when regarding Ohio's long four-month season, usually waits too long. He or she focuses initially on bagging a buck, defaulting to the I-always-can-take-a-doe mentality.
Unfortunately, Tonkovich notes, too often the season ends and that doe never is taken and it contributes to growing herds. The explosive productive capacity of deer in the absence of predators and in the presence of plenty of food is amazing.
Last year is a prime example. Despite a record-shattering all-seasons harvest of 237,316, the state's pre-seasons deer herd this fall is indexed at about 675,000 animals. That is up slightly from 2006 and even its bumper bag.
"There's no shortage of deer, that's for sure," the biologist stressed. "We killed 237,000 deer and we didn't appear to put a dent in them." He explained that it is necessary to crop off 30 to 35 percent of a deer population every year just to keep its numbers stable, let alone reduce them.
That means taking at least 202,000 to 236,000 deer this fall.
Ohio's lengthy archery season opens Saturday for an uninterrupted run ending Feb. 3, and opportunities abound. Neighboring Pennsylvania's main six-week archery season also opens Saturday, and Michigan's bow season opens Oct. 1. In all nearly 900,000 bowhunters are expected to participate in the venison-making bow seasons in the three states.
Some sound management arguments attend the take-a-doe early option, Tonkovich explained. For one thing, it reduces the numbers of mouths to feed later on, when winter food supplies run to the thinner side. That provides better nutrition for remaining deer.
Taking a doe early also improves the buck-doe ratio for the rut, or breeding season. Too, those hunters concerned about not mistaking an antlerless first-year button buck for a doe are aided by the early season, in that 18-month and older does are noticeably larger than button bucks and easily selected among antlerless deer.
In any case, the venison provided by such deer is unsurpassed in quality.
"A chunk of counties in northwest Ohio are up," Tonkovich said of this region's deer numbers. Those registering at least a 20 percent increase in numbers since 2006 include Williams, Defiance, Henry, Putnam, Lucas, and Ottawa. Counties with a 5 to 20 percent increase include Wood, Sandusky, Hancock, and Paulding.
Ohio now fields about 300,000 archery hunters, more than half of all hunters who pursue deer, according to the state wildlife division. Of that number, about 60 percent use the crossbow. Last year hunters using archery tackle took a record 67,912 deer, up 13 percent over 2006. Of that bag crossbow hunters took 38,489 and "longbow" hunters using all other vertically held bows, took 29,423. The latter was a record for vertical bows, which include compounds, recurves, and true longbows.
The wildlife division is putting its money where its mouth is this fall, in the form of permit discounts, when it comes to encouraging early doe harvest. A new antlerless deer permit, valid for the archery season from Sept. 29 through Nov. 25, is available for $15, well below the standard $24 fee. Those permits are available after purchase of a general hunting license and a regular either-sex deer permit. The new antlerless permit replaces the urban deer permit.
"By limiting the [discount-archery] antlerless deer permit to the first two months of the season, the division can safely evaluate it as a management tool, while encouraging hunters to commit to harvesting an antlerless deer early," Tonkovich summed.
After Nov. 25, hunters must use the standard $24 permit for any deer taken. But under the new discount-archery permit, hunters can take one additional antlerless deer in Zone A (20 counties northwest, west), up to two in Zone B (30 counties, northeast-central-southwest), and up to three in Zone C (38 counties, southeast-south). Details can be seen on-line at www.wildohio.com. Click on the "frequently asked questions" link.
The antlerless permits also are valid for special controlled (draw-only) deer hunts, hunting in urban units, and also in the youth deer-gun season if the young hunter is using archery tackle. Hunters can check the aforementioned Web site to determine whether they were drawn for any of the special deer hunts, though most notices should already have been mailed.
Ohio's traditional "shotgun" deer season is set for Nov. 26 through Dec. 2, with the repeat of an additional shotgun weekend Dec. 15 and 16. Archers also may hunt during that season. The statewide muzzleloading rifle season is set for Dec. 27 through 30, and a special early muzzleloader season at Wildcat Hollow, Salt Fork, and Shawnee public hunting areas is set for Oct. 22 to 27, the latter by permit.
In neighboring Michigan, the state deer herd is equal in size or slightly larger than the 1.6-million-plus of 2006. Despite a bowkill of some 125,000 out of an all-seasons bag of 456,000, the state's herd also keeps on producing.
The archery season runs Oct. 1 through Nov. 14, the day before the firearms season of Nov. 15 through 30. Then Michigan's bow season resumes Dec. 1 through Jan. 1. Some 310,000 bowhunters are expected to participate.
Given the numbers, "it looks real promising," said Rod Clute about the season's forecast. He is the deer specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The biggest need for herd reductions - and that means taking early antlerless deer - continues to be in southern Lower Peninsula, where deer outnumbers those of the northern lower and Upper Peninsulas combined. Details on all Michigan deer seasons are available on-line at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
In Pennsylvania some 300,000 bowhunters, about one deer hunter in three, are expected afield at some time during the state's main six-week season, Sept. 29 through Nov. 10. Bowhunting resumes Dec. 26 through Jan. 12.
Drought in some areas and gypsy moth caterpillar defoliation may make it easier to pattern deer movements to food and water, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said.
The state has not issued a state herd estimate for several years, last reporting 1.3 million deer, but it no doubt remains sizable. The game commission is amid a controversial (but frankly necessary) deer-management and regulatory revamping aimed at bringing herds into balance with available habitat, region by region, and at improving the buck-doe ratio to a more healthy level.
For more information on the Pennsylvania seasons, visit on-line at www.pcg.state.pa.us.