LIMA — It is time once again for hunters to grab their guns and orange camouflage jackets.
Ohio’s deer-gun hunting season begins at 8 a.m. Monday and will run through Saturday. Deer hunting remains a popular activity for sportsmen statewide, and Ohio’s white-tailed deer continue to provide hunters with opportunities for success.
While the Ohio Department of Natural Resources acknowledges that gun hunting is still the most effective tool for managing Ohio’s deer population, a shift in hunting habits has started a new trend for hunters.
Gun hunting versus bow hunting
Allen County Wildlife Officer Craig Barr said he’s noticed that the number of local gun hunters has been trending downward in recent years.
“I’ve been here since 2006, and in that time I’ve noticed that people’s hunting habits have changed a lot over time,” Barr said. “More and more people are bow hunting.”
The trend is occurring not only in Allen County, but across the state. Barr said in 2015, 44 percent of deer were harvested by bow hunters. A decade ago, just 25 percent of deer were taken by bow hunters.
Despite the recent trend, Barr said gun hunting season is still the ODNR’s best tool for managing the deer population. But could the number of bow hunters one day overtake the number of deer hunters?
“If the trend keeps going the way it has been, then yes,” Barr said. “There’s really no way to predict this, but that’s the way it is trending now.”
Each season, every county in Ohio determines a target goal for the amount of deer to be harvested.
Barr said in Allen County, the target goal is not an exact number. Instead, local deer biologists look at population trends that are determined from surveys taken by hunters, landowners, farmers and others.
Statewide, Barr said he expects the number of deer harvested this season to be up from last year. However, this may not be the case in Allen County.
“I’d suspect Allen County is going to be down,” he said. “We’ve had such warm weather during bow season, so I think that has hurt things a little bit.”
Barr said the number of deer in Allen County may also be down, which would further explain why the number of deer harvested this season may be less than in years past. But Barr said this is largely by design.
A few years ago, the bag limit — the number of deer that may be harvested in a season — was reduced from four to three in Allen County. But no matter in which county you live, hunters are only allowed to kill one antler deer per season.
“That’s part of the three,” Barr said. “You can kill one buck and two does or three does, but no more than one buck or antler deer statewide per licensed year.”
Barr said the reason the bag limit was reduced is because Allen County was close to its target goal. This year, Allen County is approaching its goal for antler deer, but so far it is down fairly significantly on antlerless deer.
Still, Barr suspects that more than 1,000 deer will be harvested this year in Allen County. In 2015, 1,102 deer were harvested.
Barr said the number of deer harvested in a given season varies wildly by county. In Coshocton County, for example, 5,700 deer were harvested last year. In Ottawa County, just 424 deer were killed.
“Every county is not the same, so we’ve got to set some standards for each individual population around the state,” he said.
Hunting has a more than $853 million economic impact in Ohio through the sale of equipment, fuel, food, lodging and more, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation publication.
Ohio ranks fifth nationally in resident hunters and 11th in the number of jobs associated with hunting-related industries.
Beyond the economic impact, Barr sees the deer-gun hunting season as a way to benefit all Ohioans, not just those involved with the industry.
“Our motto is we manage the state fish and wildlife resources for all Ohioans, not just hunters or fishermen,” he said. “We are privileged with the task of managing those populations for all Ohioans to enjoy.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima.