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While the 2016-17 whitetail deer harvest in Ohio was off slightly from a year ago, officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife feel only a few tweaks are needed to hit target levels.
Last week, the DOW presented deer regulations to the Ohio Wildlife Council on Wednesday for approval, then Thursday conducted a state-wide conference call with outdoor writers to discuss the proposals.
Hunting dates for archery, youth deer gun, deer gun and muzzleloader seasons will remain in line with last year's dates, and bag limits and regulations will stay the same in Wayne and Holmes counties.
However, a handful of northwest Ohio counties (seven in all) will see a reduction in bag limits from three deer to two, while 21 counties in the southeast deer hot zone will move from a two-deer county to a three-deer county. The change in the southeast is intended to slow the rate of growth, but still allow the herds to increase.
As always, though, writers and hunters are concerned about what is perceived to be a lack of deer on the landscape.
Wildlife officials said the key factor to look at is the percentage of does harvested.
"The total harvest declined, but what percent of the harvest was antlerless?" said Dave Kohler, the DOW's administrator for wildlife research. "If it's below 60 percent, then the herd is growing. The herd is growing in those counties, but there will be a two-year lag before you'll notice an impact in the harvest."
Wayne and Holmes counties lie in a group of counties where, although the bag limit is three deer, antlerless permits are not valid.
"We can manipulate the antlerless harvest through regulations," said Deer Project Leader Dr. Mike Tonkovich. "In 2015, we protected a lot of antlerless deer. More does, means more fawns, and the button bucks that survived will be hunted as 1 1/2-year-old bucks in 2017. That's when they will show up in the harvest. Same thing in 2018."
Tonkovich went on to say that Ohio can't sustain a buck harvest if there are no does to produce them. He believes Ohio hunters will reap the benefits of regulations in 2015 and 2016 in the next two hunting seasons.
Tonkovich also stated that researchers, officials and sportsmen need to look at 2-3 year, or even 5-year averages when gauging the health of Ohio's deer population. And once again, Tonkovich pointed out that currently Ohio manages deer on a county level, and "deer are not evenly distributed across the county."
Holmes County is a prime example of that, with a large portion of the the county's deer herd living in the western portion.
Officials also decided there was no need this year to hold deer summits, but they could return in 2018.
Some other regulations sent to the Wildlife Council for approval last week included:
Deer hunting season dates: Deer archery: Sept. 30, 2017-Feb. 4, 2018
Youth deer gun: Nov. 18-19, 2017
Deer gun: Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2017; Dec. 16-17, 2017
Deer muzzleloader: Jan. 6-9, 2018
Proposed to allow any straight-walled cartridge rifle with a minimum caliber of .357 to a maximum caliber of .50 be allowed for hunting deer in Ohio. There have been three seasons of hunting deer with straight-walled cartridge rifles in Ohio with no biological impacts to the herd or additional hunter incidents. Defining the allowable rifles would make the rule easily understood and easily enforced, while also being inclusive of a great number of rifle options.
Waterfowl -- changed the Canvasbacks bag limit from 1 to 2, and reduce the Pintail bag limit from 2 to 1.
Change the youth waterfowl regulations from 15-under to 17-under to fall in line with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services regulations.
Add Allen, Champaign, Crawford, Fulton, Hardin, Henry, Logan, Paulding, Preble, Putnam and Wyandot to the list of counties open for fall turkey hunting.
Move the Sandhill Crane from the state endangered list to the state threatened list.
The Ohio Wildlife Council will vote on all proposals after receiving public input. Open houses to receive public comments about hunting, trapping and fishing regulations and wildlife issues will be held on Saturday, March 4. Locally, the open house will be held at the District Three Office in Akron, at 912 Portage Lakes Dr. Hours are noon-3 p.m.
Outdoor Editor Art Holden can be reached at 330-287-1650 mornings, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.