Want to know about Ohio deer hunting? Here's the scoop.
The Buckeye State is consistently one of the top deer hunting locations in the United States. Every hunting season Ohio hunters shoot multiple Boone and Crockett class whitetail deer there.
It's easy to see why the state has become a go-to hunting destination.
From season dates, bag limits, and hunting licenses to the best public land to seek out the big bucks, we'll tell you everything you need to know about hunting there this year.
Ohio's deer hunting seasons are very straightforward.
Deer Archery - September 29 - February 3.
Deer Gun Season (Two seasons) - November 26 - December 2 and December 15 - December 16.
Deer Muzzleloader - January 5 - January 8.
Youth Deer Gun - November 17 - November 18.
The statewide bag limit for Ohio is six deer. Ohio only allows each deer hunter to take one antlered deer a year, so make sure it's the one you want before you shoot! It's also worth noting deer bag limits varies from county to county and public land hunters are limited to just one antlerless deer.
As with most other states, you can either buy a license in person from various businesses or you can call or order online at wildohio.gov. Online is generally going to be the most convenient and you can print your license from home. As of now, it doesn't appear Ohio allows you to keep a digital version on your phone.
Residents of course, will pay significantly less than non-residents. First you need to buy a basic hunting license, which costs $19 for adult residents and $10 for youth. With non-residents the license cost is the same for youth, but adults pay $141.50. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy the three-day (tourist) license, because it's not valid for deer.
There is also a "reduced-cost senior license" available for $10 and a resident free senior license. However, you need to have been born before or on December 31, 1937 to get the free one.
After you have your hunting license, you must purchase deer permits. An either-sex deer permit costs $24 for adults and $12 for youth. If you're a non-resident parent, Ohio also gives the option of buying an adult AND youth either-sex permit for $41. Kudos to them for that.
The reduced-cost senior either-sex permit is $12. Hunters who qualify for that free license we mentioned earlier also qualify for a free either-sex permit and a free antlerless permit.
The nice thing about Ohio's antlerless permits is that the cost is fixed at $15 for adults and youth both resident and non-resident. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources really wants people to shoot more does.
Ohio is one of many states that has recently legalized crossbow use for everyone. Just make sure it has a minimum 75-pound draw weight. Of course, the standard longbows and recurves are also legal. Ohio mandates a minimum 40-pound draw weight for those.
Muzzleloaders must be .38 caliber or larger, and muzzleloading shotguns must be 10 gauge or smaller.
Firearms are where things get a bit tricky for Ohio. This is one of many midwestern states where hunters were prohibited from using rifles for years. Your only options were to use a 10 gauge shotgun or smaller. But in recent years, more options have opened.
Hunters are now able to use pistol-oriented, straight wall cartridges for whitetails. These straight wall cartridges must be a minimum of .357, but you can go to a maximum of .50. That is, if you can find a straight-wall round that size. It seems Ohio's primary concern is that they just doesn't want anyone deer hunting with cartridges that have a shoulder.
Whatever firearm you use, Ohio is strict on how many rounds you can have in your gun. You are limited to just three rounds. And yes, that includes both the magazine and the chamber. Make your first shot count!
Ohio is a chronic wasting disease-positive state. As such, the ODNR Division of Wildlife has imposed strict deer management and carcass disposal rules that hunters need to know about, especially if they're visiting from out of state.
CWD is an always-fatal neurological disorder that can be easily spread through carcass parts. Make sure to check your home state's rules because many states CAN and WILL NOT hesitate to confiscate your hard-earned deer and hand you a ticket if you violate the rules!
To prep your deer for out-of-state transport, make sure the meat is de-boned and wrapped. CWD mostly hides out in the head and spine, so you aren't allowed to take that with you. If you shoot a buck, get the skull or skull cap completely cleaned of brain matter. You're allowed to have a cape for a shoulder mount, but you can't have any lymph nodes, teeth or skull tissue present.
This may seem like a lot of extra work, but CWD is caused by a prion that hides out in these parts of a deer. And if the prion leeches out of the carcass into the soil, it can be transferred to another deer starting the ugly process all over again. It's a debilitating deer disease and you don't want to spread it to your herd.
If you're hunting in what Ohio calls a disease surveillance area (DSA), you may be subject to a mandatory deer check and testing of your harvest. Make sure to check ahead of time to see if you're hunting in such an area.
Where to hunt
Now that we've got all the legal stuff out of the way, let's talk about something more fun. Where to hunt!
Let's start in Portage County, Ohio where the world famous "Hole-in-the-horn" buck was found. In case you've never heard of it, this massive non-typical was found dead near Kent in 1940. It then spent 40 years in total obscurity in a bar until it was discovered and measured in the 1980s. The result? A staggering 328 2/8 inches non-typical! It is still the second largest whitetail ever recorded. For the closest public land to there, check out West Branch State Park.
In general, the southern and western parts of the state seem to produce the biggest Buckeye bucks. Greene County produced the massive, 304 6/8-inch Mike Beatty buck in 2000. Not too far away, in Highland County, Brian Stephens shot a 232 5/8-inch monster in 2004. Just south of that, Jonathan Schmucker, an Amish hunter, shot a 291 2/8-inch buck that nearly broke the Internet when pictures of it went viral.
And don't forget about the Brad Jerman buck, a rare typical to break the 200-inch barrier. Jerman shot his 201 1/8-inch monster in Warren County in 2004. It's safe to say the areas around Cincinnati and Dayton are big buck hotspots!
Check out Caesar Creek State Park and Wildlife Area and the Spring Valley Wildlife area for public hunting opportunities near where these monsters fell.
Many of the southern parts of the state have been subject to mining operations and are now fantastic places to go during deer season. Try the Crown City Wildlife Area in Lawrence and Gallia Counties or the Poston Plant Lands in Athens County. These lands are owned by AEP (American Electric Power), but are open to hunting. Most of AEP areas are in the southern part of the state, but there is also the Conesville Coal Lands in the central part of the state. These areas do require extra permits to hunt, so make sure you do your homework before you go.
The great thing about Ohio is that there is really no shortage of public hunting areas. With a little extra work, you can find a place to hunt well away from the crowds.
When it comes to hiring outfitters to guide you, they are easily found on Google, but you do want to be careful and do your homework before they charge your credit card. Unfortunately, Ohio is loaded with high fence canned hunt operations and it isn't always obvious that is the services they are offering on the page.
When looking for an outfitter, there are two things to look for to avoid the high fence operations. The first is a bunch of photos of bucks that are just plain ridiculous in size. Sometimes it's just dead obvious the deer aren't natural, especially when there's five or more photos of 200+ inch non-typicals from the previous season. I don't care how good the guides are, no one is going to lead someone to a buck like that every year in a wild setting!
Another thing to look for is a guide that has Ohio deer license information. That's a giveaway that these are real guides and a legit, fair-chase hunt. Expect to pay anywhere from $1,200-4,000 depending on the timing of your hunt and the length of the trip. Most seem to be located in the central and southern part of the state.
Ohio, land of the giants
If you need any more convincing Ohio is one of THE places to go for giant whitetail deer, look no further than the Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett record books. You'll see the state on the list again and again. Whether you're in it for a long vacation during archery season or just dropping in for a few days during muzzleloader season, an Ohio deer hunt is sure to be one to remember.
Good luck to all the Ohio hunters this season!