Ohio hunters harvested nearly 214,000 deer in '23-'24 season
Ohio's deer hunting season ended Sunday, Feb. 4. Statewide, hunters harvested 213,928 white-tailed deer from Sept. 9, 2023, through the close of the season.
Local parks have controlled hunting programs to help keep deer populations in check. Hunters in Great Parks of Hamilton County's Controlled Bow Hunting Program collected somewhere between 200 and 250 deer, according to Kari Horn, natural resources manager.
"We had a completely safe year, no injuries," Horn says. "We had bow hunters from the West Side to the East Side, from Miami Whitewater Forest all the way over to Woodland Mound."
Great Parks holds a lottery each summer to dole out a limited number of spaces in its bow hunting program. Those who are selected must complete a state-approved Hunter Safety Education Course and pass a qualification shooting test. Horn points out there are strict rules for types of equipment and hunters are only allowed in their assigned areas.
Some 400 people applied for the 2023-2024 season and 353 permits were granted.
Hunting is only allowed in certain areas of certain parks, well away, Horn says, from public areas and marked hiking trails.
"If you were to go [hiking], for example, on the Kingfisher Trail [at Winton Woods], that does not go through any bow hunting areas at all. So, there's no need to post signage about that for folks that are on that trail. For areas where we do have bow hunting, where we have seen guests entering wooded areas that are not designated trails, we do have Wildlife Management Area signs posted."
Why allow hunting?
Great Parks reports more than 70% of its lands are forested. Having too many deer in those areas can cause problems with forest regeneration.
"For years, we've observed too many deer in the woods and they eat young saplings of our native hardwoods — oaks and hickories and other species like wildflowers — and that's why we need to make sure that we're managing deer so that we can make sure that we have healthy forest ecosystems."
The "deer browse line" at certain parks was stark prior to controlling. That's a visible line of demarcation where deer have eaten everything from the height of their heads to the ground.
Horn points out that prior to launching the Controlled Bow Hunting Program in the 1990s, deer density numbers were "off the charts." For example, before the agency started managing the deer population with controlled hunting, the deer density at Shawnee Lookout was estimated at 192 deer per square mile.
"That is far too many deer; that is a huge number," she says. "Our most recent survey there, which was in 2023, was about 40 deer per square mile. Our goal is really to get that around 20."
There's also the safety risk of deer getting hit by vehicles. Keeping deer populations in check reduces vehicle strikes, both within local parks and nearby communities.
"Deer don't care whose property they're on; they cross boundaries. By doing deer management, we're kind of hitting those two big concerns at the same time."