Among the more essential things to keep in mind as Ohio’s weeklong deer gun season opens this morning was articulated a few days ago by no less than a whitetail-counting expert.
“There’ll be no shortage of deer out there,” said biologist Mike Tonkovich, deer specialist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Tonkovich has for decades held the thankless job of helping make Ohio’s wild deer numerous enough to satisfy hunters and few enough to placate farmers. Despite the conflicting demands of his position, he oozed optimism about what still stands as the state’s biggest week for whitetail hunters.
Typically, some 35 percent of the state’s annual deer take occurs during gun week, the consequence of the popularity of bow hunting. Forty years ago, before crossbows and Star Wars-style compounds, the gun season accounted for 90 percent of the take.
Tonkovich’s confidence this year comes in part from the weather forecast, which calls for a little rain in places but no deluges and for temperatures throughout the state at or only slightly below the norm.
“If the weather stays decent we should have a pretty good turnout,” he said. “Colder temperatures and a little snow on the ground are OK.”
What exactly hunters will be turning out for has become in the last decade a serious question given the wildlife division’s largely successful efforts to reduce the deer presence to the carrying capacity of the landscape on the county level.
In short, many locations don’t hold as many deer as they did 10 years ago when numbers had grown to the detriment of many a plagued grower as well as to the deer themselves in some spots.
What hunters have going for them this year is the relatively low harvest last year, Tonkovich said, caused by some harsh weather on normally high-activity hunting dates. The resulting harvest of about 172,000 whitetails during the 2018-19 season fell considerably below the preseason projection.
The positive aftermath for hunters includes “a carryover effect,” Tonkovich said.
The more adult deer that make it through winter mean more fawns will be produced during the following spring and summer, a recipe for herd growth. And, of course, the previous year’s fawns become adults and join the larger number of surviving adults.
Through Tuesday, hunters had checked 81,674 deer, and that embraces the 6,234 checked last weekend during the dedicated deer gun youth hunt. The statewide total a year ago after the youth weekend stood at 67,881.
Part of the reason the numbers are skewed is the fact that both the youth hunt and gun week arrived a week earlier last year, so archers have had an extra week to add to the harvest totals. At the same time the fact that can’t be overlooked, Tonkovich said, that the higher numbers this year also reflect the size of the “carryover” deer population that escaped field dressing a year ago.
As for the most recent youth gun weekend, about 300 fewer deer were checked compared with a year ago. Still, the 2019 count surpassed 2017’s weather-constrained tally by about 1,200.
Given that hunter success stayed within the range of most recent youth hunts, this year’s “harvest was pretty darn good,” Tonkovich said.
Coshocton led all counties with 263 deer checked during the youth hunt, followed by Tuscarawas with 243, Holmes 210, Knox 202 and Ashland 167. Licking led central Ohio counties with 149, followed by Fairfield with 43, Union and Pickaway, both with 32, Delaware 29, Madison 17 and Franklin seven.
Gun week runs through next Sunday. At its conclusion, hunters may no longer take antlered deer on public land through season’s end in early February.