Ohio deer kill numbers up in 2022, but what will next year's hunting regulations bring?

Since the archery season’s start in late September, hunters in Ohio had killed 201,292 deer through Tuesday. And counting.

The deer hunt concludes at one-half hour after sunset on Feb. 5, though the opportunities during which bunches of whitetails are dispatched disappear after the four-day muzzleloader season that ended last week.

That fact granted, the likelihood remains small that a few weeks of above-average January temperatures will generate the required enthusiasm to push the 2022-23 take to the 2012 season level. That was the last time the kill topped 200,000.

Almost 219,000 whitetails were checked in 2012. Yet until this season, a decade had passed since the 200,000 threshold was crossed. The last two seasons came close.

More than a decade ago, the Ohio Division of Wildlife embarked on an effort to reduce deer numbers largely in response to demands made by the state’s powerful agricultural interests.

The division, despite the fact its funding is in great part derived from the sales of licenses and permits directly or indirectly related to deer hunting, found cause to seek a happy medium. The goal was to placate customers who wanted as many deer as feasible to maintain a strong hunt while satisfying those who would prefer to never see another deer on the landscape.

Hunters in Ohio checked more than 200,000 whitetails for the first time during the 2002 season, which began a string of years in which the take was enormous by recent standards. Numbers increased to 237,316 in 2006, 252,017 in 2008 and peaked at 261,260 in 2009.

Liberal limits designed to knock down deer numbers proved successful. The 2013 take fell to 191,503 and bottomed out in 2018, when 172,049 whitetails were checked. The 2018 total was down 82,267 from the 2009 peak, a tumble of about 34.2%.

Although direct cause and effect can be debated, the number of deer permits sold declined along with deer harvest numbers. Almost 625,000 permits were purchased during the record 2009 season. In 2019, permit sales totaled 393,367, a decline from the peak of 231,541, or about 37.1%.

Deer permit sales have increased slightly to a little north of 400,000 in recent years, including 406,919 during the current season. Nevertheless, the decline in license and permit sales from the top sales years represents huge shortfalls in potential revenue.

Would more deer attract more deer hunters? Can anyone predict the future? There are plenty of societal and social forces at work that are immune to any bureaucratic maneuvering.

What the division has in store in terms of regulations for next year and beyond surely will have some impact, and we’ll know more about that in a month.

As for the muzzleloader hunt, the 13,617 deer checked bested the 2022 total of 12,912 and emphatically topped the three-year average of 11,429.

Counties with the biggest take included Coshocton with 518, followed by Muskingum with 468, Tuscarawas 452, Knox 397 and Licking 390. Trailing Licking among central Ohio counties were Fairfield 149, Delaware 84, Union 75, Pickaway 52, and Franklin and Madison, both with 36.

Also contributing to the increase in deer season totals was the extra gun weekend Dec. 17-18, when hunters checked 15,163 whitetails, surpassing the 2021 total of 9,619 by a whopping 5,544, or 57.6%.

Coshocton led all counties during the gun weekend with 517 deer checked, followed by Tuscarawas with 513, Ashtabula with 473, Muskingum 431, Carroll 404 and Licking 403. Trailing Licking among central Ohio counties were Fairfield with 159, Delaware 102, Pickaway 92, Union 63, Franklin 53 and Madison 49.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio deer kill numbers top 200,000 for first time since 2012