Deer Hunters are Changing

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

According to the Division of Wildlife’s harvest reports, hunters bagged a shade over 14,000 deer during last weekend’s two-day hunt. This was significantly more than last year at the same time, but rain one day and bitter cold the next probably had a lot to do with that. Regardless, I wasn’t part of the thousands of Ohio hunters who enjoyed this bonus weekend of deer hunting, but I did manage to see a decent amount of orange while driving to and from Lima on both days. I’m assuming they were trying to get the deer to move and evidently some were successful.

I think I’m going to have to reassess my views on deer hunters since numbers are showing that they have changed dramatically since the first 88-county gun season back in 1979, I believe. Back then, less than 10% of Ohio deer hunters bagged a deer with a bow or crossbow. The deer population was growing, but bagging a deer with a bow took a lot of time and a certain skill set to be successful. When the gun season opened in all 88 counties, there were a lot of instant deer hunters created in this neck of the woods. Most of them knew very little, if anything, about hunting deer, and all that was needed for a chance at filling a tag was a hunter orange outfit, a shotgun, and a box of shotgun slugs. It also helped if they were part of a large group.

Today, many former deer gun hunters have evolved and become serious about deer hunting. There are still groups of hunters hanging around who drive deer, but they haven’t gotten any smarter about deer hunting. Overall, these groups are declining. Gun hunters are finding that hunting from a tree stand has a lot of merit. Even more, many of those earlier gun hunters have switched to archery and stay away from gun hunting altogether. By 2015, 44% of all deer harvested in Ohio were taken by bow. In 2016, 49% of the deer taken in Auglaize County were bow kills and 47% of Mercer County’s deer harvest was by bow. So far in 2017, the numbers are very similar.

Why change? Hunter surveys provide a number of reasons why gun hunters have switched to bow hunting. First, many bow hunters are looking to harvest a buck, and many times a trophy buck. Although some nice bucks are taken during the gun season, many times luck plays a major role. During the bow season, deer aren’t being pushed and getting a shot depends on skill. For the most part, bow hunters are in competition with the deer and not with other hunters. Next, the archery season is roughly five months long eliminating the need to fill a tag with the first animal that walks by. Gun hunters have a week to “git-er-done.” That attitude brings out the quotes like, “If it’s brown, it’s down.”

Serious deer hunters don’t like crowded conditions, and they like to hunt during peak rut. There are always safety issues that some hunters don’t want to deal with, although the gun season is a relatively safe activity. Gun hunters are losing access to private land, and I imagine that a bow hunter has a better chance at getting hunting permission. Bow hunters also have the opportunity to hunt during better weather conditions. With a long season, there are obviously going to be more good hunting days. Although some bow hunters don’t mind cold weather, it’s a lot easier to spend time in a tree stand when you aren’t freezing to death.

Another interesting statistic is the ratio between the number of bucks and does taken by bow and gun hunters. For whatever reasons, bow hunters harvest more bucks than gun hunters, at least in Ohio. Across the state, bow hunters harvest about 10% more bucks than does. Probable explanations revolve around the fact that many bow hunters choose to kill a buck. Second, because of conditions, a good bow hunter will have more opportunities to get a shot at a buck and have more time to do it. Meanwhile, gun hunters in Ohio will generally kill twice as many does than bucks. Again, a short season doesn’t give a gun hunter the same opportunities, and the need to fill a tag probably affects the size and gender of the animal they bag. All deer hunters would love to brag about bagging a monster buck. Not many talk too loudly about the yearling they shot, especially if it fits in their hunting coat.

Some deer hunters have yet to bag a deer and they’ll have four more days when the muzzleloader season opens on January 6. And, if that doesn’t work, take up bow hunting. That still runs into February. Any way you look at it, deer hunting is Ohio’s most popular hunting sport. You make the choice how involved you want to get. Whatever you decide, enjoy yourself and be careful out there.