Changes have reshaped Ohio’s deer hunting seasons

Ohio hunters checked 70,413 deer during the weeklong gun season that concluded Sunday.
Ohio hunters checked 70,413 deer during the weeklong gun season that concluded Sunday.

Ohio’s deer gun week numbers look fairly stable through a two- and four-year window, though the view leaves out significant historical perspectives.

Hunters, most wielding rifles and shotguns, checked 70,413 whitetails during the seven-day season that closed last Sunday at one-half hour after sunset. The deer take lines up closely with last year’s count of 71,659. The difference, some 1,246 fewer whitetails, represents a year-to-year decline of about 1.7%.

Biologist Clint McCoy, a deer specialist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, rated the weeklong results as “average,” which he attributed to favorable weather.

“We saw relatively good hunting conditions for most of the state for the majority of the week,” he wrote in an email. “Unlike last year, we didn’t get widespread snow, but we avoided rain for the most part and temperatures remained relatively favorable.”

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The wildlife division prefers to compare season totals with averages compiled the previous three years. The three-year average being 65,288, that standard suggests about a 7.8% increase during 2021 gun week.

While noteworthy, it’s all a substantial comedown from gun week a decade ago and longer when the seven-day totals ended up north of 100,000 for a string of years.

Change, though, in the number of hunters, in the number of deer and in hunting habits, access and effort has reshaped Ohio’s deer seasons.

The wildlife division reports that while some 75% of deer hunters take a shot during gun week, a lot of deer hunting takes place earlier in the season, leaving gun hunters considerably fewer deer to target than once had been the case.

As late as 1995, three out of four deer checked were taken during gun week, McCoy wrote, and 10 years later — during some of the peak years for the state’s deer population — well over half the whitetails taken were tagged during gun week, creating a festive atmosphere at sometimes crowded check stations.

Crossbows and technology are among the suspects that put an end to the communal party.

Gun hunting, in fact, through the end of 2021 gun week accounted for fewer than half the deer taken in the state since the start of archery season in late September. The archery count stood at 80,178 through last Sunday, while the gun week numbers and youth gun weekend take totaled 78,047 deer.

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By the time Ohio’s deer seasons end in February, the gun week count is likely to fraction where it has for some years, accounting for “for only an average of 37% of the season total since 2013,” McCoy wrote.

All-season gun results as a percentage of the take, however, will get a boost during Saturday’s and next Sunday’s weekend reprise of the gun hunt. Muzzleloaders get a four-day shot in January.

Another sign of change is that straight-walled cartridge rifles, made legal in 2014, accounted for 49% of the deer checked during gun week, a bump from last year’s 44%. Shotguns accounted for 43% this year, down from 47% in 2020. Muzzleloaders took about 6%, archery equipment about 1% and handguns less than 1%.

All-season totals through Tuesday, meanwhile, stood at 158,609, slightly ahead of last year’s count of 157,194 after gun week.

Coshocton led all counties with 2,403 whitetails checked during gun week, followed by Tuscarawas with 2,204, Muskingum 2,107, Ashtabula 2,039 and Knox 2,023.

Licking, eighth among all counties, led central Ohio with 1,712, followed by Fairfield 765, Delaware 441, Union 380, Pickaway 259, Madison 234 and Franklin 159. All central Ohio counties exceeded last year’s numbers.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Outdoors: Ohio deer hunting numbers leave out historical perspectives