Ohio hunters just miss record deer gun season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Although the weather last week was unpleasant for travelers across the state, the cool temperatures helped contribute to the second-highest deer season ever.

"It looks like things really went well. The weather was just great for hunting," said Carol Wells, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife District 4.

Across the state, 133,163 deer were harvested during last week's deer gun hunting season -- 34 percent higher than last year's total of 99,599 and the largest total ever in a one-week season.

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The state record was set in 1995 when Ohio had a two-week gun season that produced 137,811 deer.

Preliminary numbers show that 2,351 deer were checked in and tagged

in Lawrence County -- up from 1,920 in 2001.Counties reporting the highest numbers of deer brought to Ohio check stations last week included Tuscarawas, 5,056; Washing-ton, 4,869; Guernsey, 4,844; Athens, 4,697; and Coshocton, 4,484.

"The past few years have been unseasonably warm and rainy," Wells said. "This year I found that the hunting was a lot better and more enjoyable."

The opening-day numbers of 45,296 deer harvested was only 29 shy of the state's record of 45,325 in 1994.

In 2001, the opening day harvest was 41,257.

Despite the high numbers of harvesting, local deer processing businesses were not as successful as they had anticipated.

Todd Smathers, owner of T & S Deer Processing in Waterloo, said that the cold weather kept people from worrying about the meat going bad and has kept business slow.

"The killing was way up but the processing industry was way down," he said. "It was not what I expecting, but you have to take the good with the bad."

Although business is starting to pick up now that the season is over and hunters cannot process all the deer they killed last week, so far Smathers has processed only 54 deer. Last year, he processed 112 in the first three days last year.

Overall, the week was fairly safe with 12 hunter accidents reported that involved gunshot wounds --

five of the incidents were self-inflicted. None of the cases were in Lawrence County, Wells said.

"When you consider the fact that there were 450,000 hunters out for deer week, (the numbers) are pretty miraculous," she said.

The only fatality occurred in Belmont County after a man fell down a hill and his rifle discharged into his abdomen.

Another severe case involved a 14-year-old Ross County boy who was wounded above his eye and is in critical condition in the Children's Hospital in Columbus, Wells said.

Although 12 injuries is the highest total since 1996, it is still below the average of 15 that was constant throughout the early 90s, she said.

Wells said most cases come from "people just not thinking or not expecting that it could happen to them."

A law passed four years ago that limits rifles to those that hold three slugs or less may also have contributed to the safety, she said.

As bow season continues and primitive weapons season kicks off later this month,

Wells wants to remind everyone that safety is the number one thing.

"We want to remind everyone to be careful and follow all safety rules."