On heels of record kill, officials hope easing bag limits will further reduce population
Sunday, February 8, 2009
By Dave Golowenski
For The Columbus Dispatch
Doe, as the song says, is a female deer. But 700,000 deer on the Ohio landscape amounts to something more in tune with a Homer Simpsonesque D'oh!
The survival of does, which collectively grow fawns without the need for more than a few bucks on deposit, is the primary reason for a deer population explosion that has led to crop destruction, habitat degradation and vehicle accidents in some parts of the state.
Hunters took a record of 248,515 deer -- the count is preliminary and might climb -- during the 2008-09 season that ended last Sunday, said Mike Tonkovich, a deer-management specialist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
"That certainly puts us among the top five states in the Midwest," he said.
The previous Ohio record was 237,316 deer taken in 2006. About 232,000 were harvested last year.
The goal, however, is not to set records but to manage numbers, Tonkovich said.
The recent deer season's kill could cut the statewide population to perhaps 650,000 to 675,000 after the spring birthing season, he said, but it's too early to predict next year's numbers.
"If we've turned the corner on the deer populations in some parts of the state, I'll be ecstatic," Tonkovich said.
Such a reduction from 700,000 won't bring the number down to the wildlife division's long-term goal of between 500,000 and 600,000. Hunters likely will have to take another large chunk of the herd next year to further whittle the population, Tonkovich said.
Eventually, as the numbers fall and hoped-for equilibrium is established, record harvests should become rare.
An initial glance at the regulations for 2009-10 proposed last week to the Ohio Wildlife Council, which has the final say, seems to indicate an escalation of the war on does. For instance, the wildlife division wants to allow a hunter who buys the required permits to take as many as a dozen does while hunting in the state's three deer zones.
Realistically, few hunters are expected to go the limit.
In 2006, Tonkovich said, fewer than two out of 1,000 hunters took five or more deer.
He said changes in regulations proposed for next season were made for simplicity's sake rather than to mount a campaign against cervid motherhood.
"We've had too many calls" questioning regulations, he said, "too many complaints."
One example of simplification is a proposal that would arrange bag limits so that as many as six deer taken in urban zones and during special controlled hunts would not count toward zone bag limits.
The potential tally unfolds thusly:
• Zone limits would no longer be "additive." That means a hunter using regular $24 permits could take a single deer in Zone A plus two deer in Zone B plus three deer in Zone C, for a total of six.
• Early archery limits would allow hunters who purchase $15 antlerless permits to take an additional deer in Zone A, two deer in Zone B and three in Zone C. That's six deer on top of the regular zone limit.
Antlerless permits, which can be obtained after the purchase of a regular deer permit, would allow a hunter to take does during the first part of the statewide archery season, which is scheduled Sept. 26 through Nov. 29, and during the opening week of the gun season in Zone C. The antlerless permits also could be used in one of several urban units, which include Franklin and southern Delaware counties, and during controlled hunts sponsored by the wildlife division.
The important exception is that only a single buck may be taken in Ohio, no matter the circumstances.
The deer hunt would pan out this way:
• Archery season would run Sept. 26 through Feb. 7.
• The statewide deer gun season would run Nov. 30 through Dec. 6 and Dec. 19-20.
• The statewide youth gun season, open to hunters age 17 and younger when accompanied by a non-hunting adult, would run Nov. 21-22.
• The statewide muzzleloader season, in a significant change, would run Jan. 9-12.
• The special area muzzleloader hunts would be scheduled Oct. 19-24 at Salt Fork, Shawnee and Wildcat Hollow. One deer of either sex may be taken, and either a regular or antlerless permit must be used. The deer would count toward a hunter's zone bag limit.
Zones would remain unchanged.
The wildlife council will consider the proposals and vote April 2 on whether to implement them.
In the meantime, open houses will be held at the five wildlife district offices -- including the Columbus office at 1500 Dublin Rd. -- on March 1. The open houses provide the public an opportunity to discuss proposed hunting and trapping regulations with wildlife officials. A statewide hearing will be held at 9 a.m. March 5 at the district office in Columbus.