Deer management is a balancing act

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white tailed deer

This week is, at least for Ohio’s most avid hunters, the most important week of the year. In fact, it also the most significant week for the state’s Division of Wildlife officials who are charged with managing the overall number of whitetail deer that live in Ohio.

Managing is the key word here and when it comes to deer, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Differing goals

Ask a deer hunter how the deer herd is doing, or more precisely, how the management team is doing, and the answer is always the same: There aren’t as many deer as there used to be and there ought to be more.

Now walk over to the next row of stakeholders and address the same question of landowners, farmers, or insurance representatives and the answer will always be 180 degrees in the other direction. Too many deer they say, with an emphasis on too many.

Management is often nothing more than limiting, or reducing, the number of deer — animals that, if given decent habitat, access to nutritional foods, and mild winters with few natural predators, can expand in numbers about as fast as a pen full of rabbits.

That’s why this week, the popular gun season, is so important to hunters and especially to deer managers.

Balancing act

Ohio’s deer management strategy is a difficult balancing act subject to pressure from various stakeholders as well as from the political side.

According to the Division of Wildlife, the strategy is built around maximizing recreational opportunities, which include photography, viewing, and hunting while minimizing conflicts with agriculture, vehicles, and other areas.

In recent years, biologists have been using farmer and hunter surveys to help set goals for managing the herd. Understand, of course, that maintaining the deer population is accomplished by harvesting the right number of deer through hunting.

Longer, plus more, seasons added to increased season limits usually equals more deer harvested. At least that’s the expectation.

So who actually makes the strategy work? Who doesn’t is a group of good old boys hunkered around a pop belly stove. Who does is a team of well-educated and dedicated biologists who study every aspect of the states deer herd. They don’t propose limits and goals based on guesses and bets but they do gather mountains of data with enough numbers.

Let’s look at a very small piece of the numbers pie. All Ohio deer hunting seasons amount to a lot of opportunity by archers, gun hunters, and special days for youth only. The number of deer harvested during the 2014 seasons was 175,801. That number increased by seven percent in 2015 to 188,335. That’s just the beginning.

Biologists break that number down by bucks, does, and button bucks. They also look at the results for each season. For archery hunters, they look at vertical bow and crossbow results.

They look at how non-resident hunters affect the numbers of bucks taken versus the number of does.

Next, the numbers are crunched county by county and whether landowner-hunters take a normal percentage of bucks and does.

After the numbers story tells its tale, it’s on to how the harvest affects the overall health of the state’s herd.

Moving target

Thus the management strategy appears to be constantly moving, a swift target at best.

One thing is very clear. The huge number of deer that roamed the Ohio landscape a few years back will never be back. That’s a management fact, but overall, Ohio’s deer management team is pretty good at what they do.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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