Al Smith - Animal population estimates not an exact science

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When it comes to animal populations, some people think an exact science is used. To a degree, such data is. And yet, there is guessing going along with such estimates and surveys.

A wildlife biologist once told me that accurate deer population estimates are difficult to come by. He even admitted he was not real comfortable with population estimates he generated and less so with ones he had no part of. The reasoning for that was simple. He no idea what assumptions prior estimates might be based upon. He also indicated, "The tools of the trade have changed over the years and without knowing what tools they used, I have no idea if I'm doing an apples to apples or apples to oranges comparison."

With this in mind, hunters who received information concerning a deer survey, should participate. This helps the Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) in a variety of ways and not just in deer population estimates.

This is the third year of the survey, which has been tweaked each year.

At least 24,000 deer hunters were mailed a diary/log (Deer Hunter Survey A1 Panels.pdf) to track their hunting trips this fall. They will receive the actual survey the week of deer gun season (Nov. 27-Dec. 4). For the first time this year, the DOW is exploring the use of email as a means of reaching sportsmen. Emails were delivered to two groups of 10,000 hunters recently. One group is current WildOhio eNewsletter subscribers and the other received the email from Jamey Graham, northeast Ohio district public relations coordinator, via Zoomerang. These are legitimate surveys.

With all this in mind, the Ohio deer herd is estimated to be 750,000, which is what it has averaged the past three years.

Hunters are as opinionated as any group and when you get a few together or let them sound off, you will get a variety of views.

Some still are not pleased with the new deer reporting system, which utilizes a temporary tag, then a permanent tag with the hunter calling (877-824-4864) or going online at www.ohiogamecheck.com to report his harvest by 11 p.m. on the day of the kill. License agents also will process game check transactions, but will not visually inspect or permanently tag deer on behalf of hunters.

This new method has led some hunters to believe poaching will becoming easier, especially by someone who processes his own deer. Graham understands such concerns, but disagrees the system encourages poaching.

"Dishonesty encourages poaching and no matter the system, criminals will continue to break the law," she said. "I believe we have a strong base of honest, ethical hunters who know how important it is to acknowledge biological data by contributing their information via game check. We have always had poaching and we will continue to face such issues. We have always relied on honest hunters to provide us tips leading to poachers and that will remain the same."

She added, "Since our wildlife officers have access to game check info in real time now, that is a huge difference, too. In the past, officers had to wait sometimes as long as six months before they could compare game check results because it took biologists that long to process hundreds of thousands of forms."

Dr. Mike Tonkovich, deer project leader for the DOW, does not foresee a problem with the new system.

"Cheaters will cheat. The new system will not make cheaters out of good people, which I like to believe accounts for 99% of our hunting public. If anything, I believe the new system will bring some back that may have 'strayed' because of the inconveniences of the old system," he said.

When it comes to harvesting deer, there still are plenty of hunters out there who oppose bow hunting, especially those who use a crossbow, and those who do not like liberal laws allowing youth to hunt.

I read recently in a Michigan outdoor magazine where a hunter was totally opposed to that state's new law allowing 10-year-olds to hunt. He thinks this will lead to adults killing deer and having their kids tag them. He cited that some hunters in the past would kill deer and have their wives, moms, etc., check them in. Granted, such instances do happen, but I've seen plenty of youths out in the field and many are out their with dad or mom in a blind or a treestand with a bow. This is fantastic for the future of our hunting heritage.

I still laugh whenever I hear that bow hunting is less effective than gun hunting because most bow hunters only wound deer and do not really kill them. What a wives' tale! You will never convince me that it is easier to shoot a deer with a bow be it a crossbow, compound bow or longbow. Many bow hunters have to bring their quarry within 20 yards for a clean shot. Gun hunters do not have to do that.

Bow hunting is popular and still growing for a number of reasons. If bow hunters were not killing deer, they'd give up such a method.

According to the Ohio DOW, there are an estimated 500,000 deer hunters in the state. There are an estimated 345,000 bow hunters in the state with 160,000 using a longbow while 185,000 use a crossbow. A total of 420,000 shotgun hunters and 265,000 muzzle loader hunters participate in deer gun seasons. Those numbers add up to more than 500,000, but one must remember several hunters use a bow, a shotgun and a muzzle loader. Count this hunter among them.

Among other interesting estimated DOW numbers are the type of deer harvested in the past two years. More hunters took does in the past two years than bucks. During the record harvest season of 2009-10 when 261,260 deer were taken, does accounted for 134,256 of them. A total of 93,905 bucks were taken that season as well as 33,099 button bucks. During the 2010-11 season, 122,569 does were harvested while 86,017 bucks were taken and 30,889 button bucks were taken.

During those two years, Ohio hunters have had liberal limits, including use of the antlerless deer permit. Button bucks are counted among those permits.

(Al Smith is outdoor editor of The Crescent-News. Contact him at outdoor@crescent-news.com)

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