Ohio’s Deer Herd - Spring 2022

Ohio’s Deer Herd - Spring 2022
May 24, 2022

By: Andrew Muntz, The O2 Podcast

In 1995 Ohio harvested 179,543 deer, a record harvest in the state at the time. In 2009 Ohio hunters took just over 260,000 deer, the highest recorded harvest in recent times. During the 2021 - 2022 Deer season, hunters in the Buckeye Statetook 196,988 deer. The numbers fluctuate over time, but what does that mean for us now?  Is this a time of panic because we are over 60,000 deer below our highest recorded harvest?  The term “panic” may be subjective in this situation.

When we look back at that 2009 record harvest, the state of Ohio had just that goal in mind. The population of the deer had grown much higher than what was desired and the state instituted certain programs to make that record harvest happen. After talking with Mike Tonkovich of the ODNR, the state has begun to see another increase in population. Although, during the most recent season, the harvest numbers landed right about where the state officials had expected, the state would like to see some herd reductions by harvesting more does. 

During the 21 - 22 season, the state instituted some cheaper permits in an attempt to get hunters to take more does, but it didn’t pan out as they would have liked. Ohio’s deer population isn’t managed at the state level through the ODNR, but at the county level. Each county has a different bag limit determined by those counties. Next year, during the 2022 - 2023 you will see bag increases in many counties in an attempt to reduce the herd size. Many things go into determining how many deer will be available to harvest in each county.   

Personally, I was surprised to hear that there is a lot of social science involved in this process. Each year surveys are sent out to hunters, farmers, and others that spend time outside. One of the main questions, “do you think there are - too many deer, not enough deer, or just the right number of deer.”  Well, as you can imagine, most farmers will tell you there are too many deer, and most hunters will tell you there are not enough deer! Luckily this isn’t the only factor for determining bag limits.

Antler diameter for 1.5 year old deer is a major determining factor. A healthy herd, will have 1.5 year old deer with large antler bases. It makes sense as this will mean that an animal generally has adequate nutrition and habitat. Likewise, deer that are malnourished will not have strong antler bases. Recently the antler diameter of the young bucks has been reducing, and this is a sign that the herd is growing larger than the ecosystem can handle. 

I’m big on archery hunting, and happy to report that archery hunters took 48% deer in 2020 - 2021, which ranked #3 nationally. This also makes sense as archery season is by far the longest running portion of the hunting season.  I think this is also an important aspect to consider because archery takes a major investment both in time and money (and patience!).  In the attempt to keep hunting relevant, we need people in the woods, both young and old, to enjoy more of that season!

We can’t talk about the health of a deer herd, without discussing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Most people know what CWD is now after years of public debate and management throughout the country.  This is a touchy topic, that some don’t want to even discuss, and others are pushing for more intervention. Ohio is not immune to this idea, as more deer tested positive for CWD in 2021 - 2022. The state of Ohio has implemented certain CWD areas, and in the 22 - 23 season you will see expanded seasons in these areas. In the disease surveillance area (parts of Hardin, Marion, and Wyandot Counties) the upcoming season will open for archery on September 10th. You will also have an early deer gun season from October 8 - 10.  If you have the opportunity to help reduce the population in these areas, please do and be responsible by having your deer tested.  I recently spent some time in these counties and I can tell you that there are PLENTY of deer to go around!

Finally, when talking about the deer herd and population, we can’t forget about our higher populated municipalities. Many cities across the state have excessive deer population, and the bag limits in these counties reflect that. The hard part is finding a place to help control that population. Do some investigating on nearby municipalities to see if they have any hunting programs available. More and more cities are coming to grips with the idea that they have a deer problem and will need help in getting things under control.

As we move through the off season, and familiarize ourselves with the new regulations for the upcoming deer season, a few things to consider.  Our herd has been growing in population, but not always in the health of the deer.  Whether it’s urban sprawl, habitat reduction, or disease, we are seeing issues with the growing herd. Look at the map for 22 - 23, find some of the counties that have upped their bag limits and get out there to help regulate the herd, and if you are able and willing maybe consider helping to improve habitat areas for our existing deer. 

Good luck in 2022 - 2023!!!

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