By JIM ABRAMS

Wildlife officers spent a little extra time with their families this week and likely tried to sneak in some hunting time, too. They knew that they’d soon be involved in one of the busiest weeks of their year. The Ohio deer gun season opens Monday, Dec. 2, and will run through Sunday, Dec. 8. After a brief hiatus, an additional weekend, Dec. 21-22, will conclude this year’s statewide gun season.

The deer population — which will never satisfy either hunters or farmers, albeit for different reasons — remains one of the healthiest in the nation. While hunters’ numbers themselves are down, it’s the whitetail that drives many to buy their licenses.

The generous archery season, which doesn’t end until Feb. 2, allows for an extended and less urgent opportunity for hunters to fill their freezer with venison while the late muzzleloader season (Jan. 4-7) furnishes hunters with those specialty arms a chance.

The popularity of bow hunting has led to increased accessibility to private land, especially in areas where a landowner might be hesitant to allow gun hunting. These unhurried and unharried bow hunts have resulted in more game tags being filled earlier, and those that don’t bag their deer early display an “I’ve still got time” attitude.

That has caused the deer gun season to evolve into something that is less hectic than many of those faced by officers of the past. While still undoubtedly very busy, officers are able to catch their breath between calls. Their most typical issues will be dealing with the minority of hunters who fail to get permission to enter a landowner’s property, those that fail to tag or check deer, use of illegal firearms or mishandling of them in a vehicle, failure to wear hunter orange, and having loaded firearms before or after legal hunting hours.

Wildlife officers will also be involved with investigating illegal and unethical jacklighting — the nighttime use of spotlights or headlights to kill deer — stopping by deer processors and answering public inquiries … but there’s one job they don’t want.

One of the rarest but most daunting tasks that the officers can find themselves embroiled in is an incident in which someone is injured by a gunshot. While hunting is one of the safest pastimes in which a person can become involved, occasionally a mishap can occur. Just as your sheriff, police and state patrol officers are prepared to handle serious traffic crashes, Ohio’s wildlife officers are trained for these situations.

Hunter injury incidents usually involve carelessness, illegal activity, disregard of normal safety precautions or a combination of any or all of these areas. It’s worth noting that most of these incidents occur within the injured individual’s hunting party.

While it’s likely that a wildlife officer will be first on the scene, Division of Wildlife detectives and a supervisor will quickly make their way to the area. You can also expect the local sheriff’s department to be on hand.

Presume that arriving officers will have an all-business attitude. They won’t be there to chat and talk about how the seasons are faring; they’re there to root out the causative factors and gather evidence. It will include evaluating and mapping the terrain, running ballistic calculations, interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence, and the eventual lab testing of guns, ammunition and blood, while creating a running documentation and photo journal of their work.

Depending upon the circumstance and seriousness of the injury, hospital visits, search warrants, visits to prosecuting attorney’s offices and arrest warrants could reasonably follow.

Thankfully, they’re not commonplace and hunting remains an exceptionally safe outdoor sport. Mandated hunter education training and proper mentorship have reduced the chance of these issues, and Ohio’s wildlife chief is looking forward to a great deer season.

“Ohio’s deer hunting seasons provide the perfect chance to get outdoors and experience the Buckeye State’s bountiful deer hunting opportunities,” Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker said. “Deer hunting is a fun way to enjoy nature while making memories. Hunters put healthy free-range food on the table, and venison is a highly-valued and sustainable food option for thousands of Ohioans.”

I fully agree with Chief Wecker. Ohio’s deer-gun season has spanned generations of sportsmen and women and is a time when many friends and families gather to celebrate the hunt. In 2018, Ohio hunters harvested 60,557 deer during the weeklong deer-gun season, plus 9,625 deer during the following gun weekend.

Wildlife hotline

Hunters can contact the Division of Wildlife toll-free hotline at 800-WILDLIFE (945-3543) with questions about hunting. In addition to normal business hours, special call center hours for deer-gun seasons include 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, to Friday, Dec. 6, for deer-gun season.

Poacher hotline

Help protect Ohio’s wildlife resources. Report any violations to the division’s Turn-In-a-Poacher (TIP) hotline by calling or texting 800-POACHER (762-2437). All reports remain anonymous and tipsters may be eligible for a cash reward.

“Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the forest and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.” — Fred Bear

Along the way:

Hunting is one of the safest recreational activities in America, thanks in part to state-mandated hunter education programs across the country. According to the International Hunter Education Association, hunting incidents are currently the lowest they have been in the history of tracking outdoor injuries.

Many current hunting accidents are related to tree stands. Please follow the best practices for firearm and tree stand safety every time you hunt. Not sure what they are? You can review material from the hunter education course with the online study guide at hunter-ed.com/ohio/studyGuide/20103602/

Do you think you know enough about tree stand safety? Take this 15-minute course that meets industry standards recognized by the Treestand Manufacturers Association at huntercourse.com/treestandsafety/

If hunting alone, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return home. It’s also a good idea to keep your phone handy.

Step outside:

• Once again, Ohio is taking the lead in efforts to keep an invasive species at bay. Wolverines, native to the colder climates of Michigan, are again causing some encroaching consternation. A special team of experts has been dispatched to tackle this daunting task, and with a combination of luck and phenomenal skill, they’ll rise to the challenge, block this persistent family of weasels on its own turf and preserve our Buckeye lifestyle.

• Interested in staying current on everything wildlife? Follow the Division of Wildlife on Twitter and Facebook for instant news stories, outdoor recreation ideas and local wildlife information. The Your Wild Ohio Hunter Facebook page provides hunting tips and useful information as you get outside this season. Visit wildohio.gov to find locations to hunt, fish, trap and view wildlife.”¯You can also follow the division on Instagram to view the best of Ohio’s wildlife photography.

• Attention, wildlife artists. The Ohio Division of Wildlife is again pleased to call for entries in the Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp juried art competition. The entry deadline is Feb. 7, 2020, for the 2021 Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp. Go to wildohio.gov for a copy of the contest rules, preliminary artist’s agreement and other related information. The competition is open to all artists age 18 and older who reside in the U.S., except for last year’s winner.

• Sunday: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186, Forest.

• Tuesday: Learn about deer management and the reasons for seasons at the Tri-Moraine Audubon Society meeting, 7:30-9:30 p.m., 4240 Campus Drive, Lima. Michael J. Tonkovich, deer program administrator for the Division of Wildlife, will be the featured speaker.

• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.

• Hunter and trapper education class listings — Information and registration available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com

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