Cairo — According to officials from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the deer population is abundant in this area of Ohio.
Randy Boyles and Kraig Shafer, both longtime Allen County residents and hunters, disagree. From their perspective the state allowing too many antlerless deer to be taken during hunting season has damaged the local population.
“The first time I went deer hunting was with my dad in Pennsylvania,” Shafer said. “I was 19.”
“The first time I went deer hunting was with a bow up in Michigan, in about ‘67,” Boyles said. “Would have been about 50 years ago.”
Craig Barr, an Allen County wildlife officer, said that was common practice for hunters back in the 1960s and ’70s. They went to those two states to hunt because there were so few white-tailed deer in the state at that time.
Before settlement, Ohio was mostly forested and was home to many large predators and game species, such as mountain lions, wolves, elk, white-tailed deer and bison,” Meredith Gilbert, a communication specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Department of Wildlife, wrote via email.
Most of those forests had been removed and the land had been restructured for agriculture purposes by the 1850s. As the forests went so did the predators and game species. By 1909, the white-tailed deer was declared extinct in the state, according to Gilbert.
Deer Repopulation Efforts
In 1922, 800 acres of land was set aside and a massive corral was built on the land to create The Theodore Roosevelt Game Preserve. Some 200 white-tailed deer were purchased by the state of Ohio from residents. A decade later, 1,000 deer were released into the wild from the preserve to begin repopulating the state, according to Gilbert.
By 1943, there were enough deer that the first official hunt since 1903 was held in Adams, Pike and Scioto counties, where hunters killed 168 bucks. By 1995, the deer population rose to an estimated 550,000. By 2007, there were about 675,000 white-tailed deer in Ohio, according to Gilbert.
Every few years ODNR will mail out surveys to state landowners and farmers asking for their input on deer populations, said Clint McCoy, an ODNR deer biologist. This is how ODNR officials decide what regulations they will enforce during the next few years for deer season. In 2015, for the first time, ODNR included hunters in the survey.
To increase deer populations, ODNR officials put regulations in place protecting button bucks, male deer who have not grown a full rack. By protecting juvenile deer for one hunting season, the idea is, there will be that many more bucks for the next season, McCoy said.
“It has been commonplace of hunting antlerless deer in Ohio,” McCoy said. “It’s taboo in other states.”
That’s where the problem arises for Boyles. ODNR doesn’t have set bag limits for deer hunting. Bag limits change every few years after the surveys. When the bag limit is three or more, and doe are fair game, people tend to kill more of them than bucks, Boyles said. There are fewer females for breeding season, which means there are fewer deer the next year.
Jim McNamara, owner and operator of McNamara Taxidermy, has been in the business for 42 years. He said he’s seen an increase in the quality of white-tailed deer health. Their racks are bigger and their bodies are healthier than they were when he began, he said.
Why They Hunt
“When you spend a day in the tree stand you’ll see activity most people will not see except on National Geographic,” Boyles said.
“I had a squirrel try to take a bite out of my bow,” he added. “My bow was hanging in the tree and he came down to check it out. He knew it wasn’t supposed to be there. He opened his mouth to take a bite out of it. I said, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ and he took off into the next tree and yelled at me for the next 20 minutes.”
“I had an owl land next to me one day,” Shafer said. “He was so close I could touch him. Needless to say he didn’t stay there long.”
“You would not believe how many times you’re sitting in a tree stand and think, ‘I wish I’d brought my camera,’” Barr said. “It doesn’t matter how many deer you kill. It’s about who you’re there with. I like being out there and being part of it. I feel like I’m part of the world. I’m a predator. I like knowing where my food comes from. I would rather go to my freezer than the grocery store.”
Because all the natural predators of the white-tailed deer were driven out of the state it’s up to humans to control their population so it doesn’t get out of hand, the three hunters agreed. If their numbers became too great they would begin dying from starvation and disease.
Modern Hunting Season
After the 1943 hunt, wildlife officers couldn’t decide when or if another hunting season should be held and how, if held, it should be run, McCoy said. A few other random hunts were held until 1961 when a new biologist was appointed and he formed a committee to study the Ohio deer population more closely, he said.
The first mandatory licensed deer hunt in Ohio was held in 1962, McCoy said. Hunting was not open to all 88 counties though until 1979.
Ohio deer hunting is a $40 million industry.
“According to our surveys, between 80 and 90 percent of people who hunt in Ohio hunt deer,” he said.
A significant amount of that money goes to financing ODNR and its conservation efforts thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which was passed in 1937, and the Dingell-Johnson Act, passed in 1950. The Pittman-Robertson act taxes the sales of guns, ammunition and all other gear used for hunting. The Dingell-Johnson act does the same things, only for fishing equipment, McCoy said.
Without the revenue collected from the taxes generated by those two acts, ODNR could not function nor do any of the conservation and repopulation projects it does, McCoy said. The revenue is also used to keep ODNR itself functioning.
“That’s what anti-hunters don’t understand,” Boyles said. “They don’t pay anything to pay for the animals they want to protect. We do.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362.