Deer bagging may get a boost

Mike Klesta

Deer bagging limits in Portage County may be increased from one to two deer per season. The Ohio Wildlife Council will vote on the proposed bagging changes April 6.

Deer hunting, the most popular form of hunting in Ohio, is affected directly by the limits. The deer population is charted much like the ebb and flow of tides.

Dave Risley, executive administrator for wildlife management and research at the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said Portage County had been at the one-deer bagging limit for the past five years. The last two years saw significant increases in the deer population, so it makes sense to up the limit.

Despite the proposed increase in bagging, there is still a state-wide one buck limit.

“The only way we can manage deer population is by shooting does,” Risley said.

The number of bucks killed doesn’t affect the deer population. Does have the babies.

Years ago, when the White-tailed deer population was in its infant stages, hunters were told not to kill does in an effort to boost population. Risley said some of that mentality has carried over, and some older hunters still won’t touch the females.

Last season, more than 450,000 hunters bagged 217,000 deer. Risley said the Ohio Wildlife Council will meet periodically in the upcoming months to discuss the proposed changes.

Risley said the limits are decided on a yearly basis and are based on a few criteria:

A target level is set county by county.

Look at deer to vehicle collisions.

Look at land area.

Consider sociological issues.

Every year Risley’s department looks at preliminary data to decide if a particular county is above or below the “target.” The target isn’t as meaningful as one might think, Risley said. In Portage County, currently there is a 0.32 bucks per gun per square mile ratio. Risley said his department wants to eventually switch from the obscure measure to a deer per square mile measure.

Statistically, students don’t hunt as much. The number of hunting licenses obtained by 18-year-olds drops off significantly and doesn’t fully recover until the 30s. Risley attributes this to an issue with time.

“In college you have a plethora of diversion,” Risley said. And recent graduates are busy “working their butts off” for the first few years. It isn’t until they settle down with a family that they can return to the hunt.

“Smokin” Dave Armstrong owns the Armstrong Farms processing plant in Wooster. He butchers 150 to 200 deer per season for hunters who don’t have the time or the facilities to process the meat.

Armstrong said he hopes the increase in bagging limits will have an effect on his business. He works two jobs and devotes as much time to deer processing as he can, but he wouldn’t mind seeing some more carcasses come through his door.

Risley said a lot of hunters do have backyard butchering operations, but it’s simply easier to go to the processor.

“You can have your deer processed and get a beef tenderloin. It’s great,” Risley said.

Armstrong offers skinning, smoking and cutting of deer into steaks, burgers or jerky. A buddy of his takes 10 to 15 minutes to skin the animal, and Armstrong cuts it up in 15 to 20 minutes.

Armstrong Farms offers variety packages for $100 or simple butchering for $50.

Contact public affairs reporter Mike Klesta at [email protected].