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READY. AIM. COSHOCTON!

Coshocton County is in the Crosshairs of Ohio Hunting

Hunters across the United States are recognizing Coshocton County, Ohio as the place for game. It’s often ranked as the top county in Ohio for deer kills and is consistently ranked in the top-three. But it’s really open season year-round for a variety of prey.

Hunting animals is what put man atop the food chain. It was essential to his evolution. Meat-eating supercharged human brain activity by giving it the calories needed to advance. Man’s brain uses far more energy than any other muscle in the body. Once this incredible energy source was introduced to his diet, man surged ahead of all living creatures on Earth. Today, man still has an incentive to hunt that dates back over two million years – food.

“In my family, we don’t kill it unless we are going to eat it,” said Scott Hosier, an avid hunter and fisherman.

Some hunters donate the extra meat that they hunted to area food banks and pantries.

“Hunters in the county have donated as much as 20,000 pounds of venison (deer meat) per year to feed the hungry,” said Dewey Thompson, Coshocton Chapter Coordinator for Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

Deer damage to property within Coshocton city limits was so problematic, a committee was formed to resolve it. Thompson, an avid hunter, helped lead the effort. Together, the committee convinced the city council to lift a ban on bow hunting. Soon thereafter, bow hunters donated more than 500 pounds of meat to the local Salvation Army.

Thompson learned about the Farmers & Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH) mission and got involved. This mission enables hunters to feed the hungry when more deer and other big game are harvested beyond their use. Partners of FHFH provide for the processing and delivery of nutritious meat to hungry people through food pantries and other missions who help feed the poor.

Before long, Thompson was approached by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. They needed help culling the burgeoning deer population which was wreaking havoc on area farmlands and elsewhere. The Coshocton FHFH supplied 12,000 pounds of drop tagged deer to participating butchers that year for donation to the hungry. Before deer bag limits were dropped, Coshocton’s FHFH chapter was donating upward of 20,000 pounds of meat annually.

But Coshocton wasn’t always burgeoning with wildlife.

“Decades ago, deer weren’t here like they are now,” Thompson said. “At the beginning of the 20th Century, deer were practically gone from these parts. And turkeys were totally gone!”

Turkeys were re-introduced to Coshocton County in 1954.

“I didn’t see my first wild turkey until 1976,” Thompson said.

In the 1960s, businesses closed for the first day of squirrel and rabbit season. Thompson was seven years old when he learned how to hunt squirrel with his dad in Coshocton County. He used a 22 rifle. But when Thompson’s kids turned seven, they were hunting deer and turkey.

One of the reasons why hunting went from famine to feast in Coshocton County in recent decades is because of the repurposing of land. Old farms and mining properties have had nature reclaim them. Strip-mined land reclamation projects have transformed the terrain into extensive grassy brush lands. After plenty of brush, woods and water sources took hold, bigger game returned to the area.

“Deer and turkey hunting in Coshocton today is as good as it gets,” Thompson said.

The terrain in places can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the hunters. Past surface mining has left a rugged landscape so access can be a little more difficult. Serious hunters love this because they know that they can get deeper back and away from others who may be deterred by it.

A unique combination of the landscape and Electric Powered All Purpose Vehicles (EPAPV) allows disabled hunters to obtain access to places where just several years ago they would not have thought possible. A permit is needed to do this. It requires an application process and a physician’s approval. There are periodicly organized hunts where others help out the disabled hunting parties.

“Hunting isn’t easy,” Said Hosier. “It takes a lot of work.”

First, you need to scout the area before the season starts. Scouting is a huge part of the process. You need to track where the deer are eating, drinking and sleeping by following their signs through the woods. Next, you’ll need gear. This includes things like a tree stand and climbers to get up a tree until you find a clear shot range.

“But the work really starts after you kill something,” Hosier said. “No doubt the deer will run 200 yards in the opposite direction of your truck.”

You need to find the deer, field dress it and haul it to the truck. When you field dress it, basically you gut it by removing its heart and lungs, etc. After you tag game, you can now check it by phone instead of a check station. This allows you to “bone it” on the spot and load game bags. Keep in mind, you not only have to drag the deer back but you need to haul all of your gear with you, too. If it’s dark, you can easily become disoriented and have trouble knowing where to go. Once you leave the woods, you still have work to do. If you don’t go to a meat processor, you’ll have to skin and butcher the deer yourself. Then, you pack the freezer!

Hosier learned to hunt pheasant and rabbit from his dad and grandpa when he was a kid. He used a double barreled shotgun side-by-side 20 gauge when he was about nine years old. It was his grandpa’s gun.

“One of my sons got his first deer when he was seven years old using a 20 gauge shotgun,” Hosier said. “When he was nine years old, he got his first deer using a crossbow. But I’ll never forget his first turkey. I called it in but my son accidentally wiggled his fingers. These birds see everything! The turkey took a wide path around. Twenty or thirty yards is an ideal distance but this one went a good forty yards away and stopped. I used the turkey call again. When it looked around a tree, my son got it! Forty yards out at eight years old and he got it! I didn’t even warn him that we use three-inch shells for turkey hunting. It’s a bigger load than the shotgun shells he was used to using at that time.”

Another reason that Coshocton County has become a destination for hunters near and far is the vast public lands made available through the years.

“Handshake permissions on private properties aren’t what they used to be 10 or so years ago,” Thompson explained.

What’s left of the private lands has largely become a pay to play arrangement. Prime properties are leased by out of state hunters who primarily hunt for themselves. It’s rumored that a famous racecar driver bought 5,000 acres here just to use during deer season. Hunting property has become a competitive business.

“I used to pay a land owner with a block of cheese but those days are gone,” Thompson laughed.

Nowadays a lease may cost about $50 per acre so if you want to lease 100 acres, that’s $5,000 for one year or in a lot of cases, just one week in the fall for deer gun season. There’s even a web site, HuntDeerInOhio.com, offering to sublease acres for hunting. In addition, there are serious consequences for trespassing and poaching. Ohio has a hotline to turn in a poacher. Simply call 1-800-POACHER. What used to be a $50 fine is now up to $1,000 plus three days in jail. So hunters don’t even want to risk it with laws with such teeth. As a result, outfitter groups have sprung up to specialize in recreational hunting. So, you can lease property, seek an outfitter for a guided hunt or explore the large sects of public lands.

Elsaan Outfitting is becoming one of Ohio’s premier upland gamebird hunting preserves offering sportsmen of all ages an ultimate experience in hunting upland game, as well as sporting clays.

“The opportunities to hunt public land is spectacular in this area,” Thompson said. “I’d say that east of the Mississippi, this is as good as it gets.”

There is an abundance of public lands to hunt in Coshocton County totaling approximately 40,000 acres. These include Woodbury Wildlife Area, Muskingum Watershed Conservation District (Wills Creek and Mohawk Damn areas), American Electric Power Conesville Coal lands, and some smaller Division of Wildlife lands (Simco Wildlife Area and Mohican River Wildlife Area). Print and carry hunting permits are available online at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov.

“Coshocton County is great for deer hunting because of the amount of public land,” said James “Andy” Hershner, Wildlife Area Supervisor at Woodbury Wildlife Area, managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “You simply don’t have to worry about knocking on doors to get great hunting opportunities here. There is plenty of space to spread out.”

Hershner oversees the management of Woodbury Wildlife Area plus Tri-Valley Wildlife Area, Dillon State Park, Powelson Wildlife Area and other public lands. Woodbury Wildlife Area grew considerably to nearly 20,000 acres with the purchase of land formerly owned by the Peabody Coal Company.

There is a diverse mixture of habitats at Woodbury Wildlife Area. It ranges from expanses of legumes and grasses to virtually undisturbed woodlands. The area is made up of 35% open land, 8% brush land, and 57% woodlands. In addition, you’ll find 42 wetlands and 116 ponds.  Wildlife includes whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrel, cottontail rabbits, and managed dove fields. Waterfowl and small game are mostly hunted by local hunters. Deer and turkey attract many non-resident hunters. There has been a significant increase in non-Ohio resident hunters in the past 5-10 years for whitetail deer due to the number concentrated in this area. Culling the herds is needed to prevent overpopulation. This provides for healthier deer remaining and a healthier habitat all around.

“Coshocton County has been listed as having the leading population of deer in the state and is consistently ranked in the top-3 counties for deer kills annually,” Hershner said.

There is hunting for all seasons here. Archery hunting has grown a lot due to the longer season which allows more selectivity.

“You get to hunt the rut (breeding season) when bucks get a little careless and make themselves more visible,” explained Hershner.

Deer archery season runs from the end of September through the beginning of February. Deer gun season is from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the following Sunday. Muzzle-loading season spans several days in early January. It is a primitive weapons season so firearms must be loaded from the muzzle as was typical of early settlers when they hunted for deer. Squirrel season is from early September to the end of January. Rabbit season runs from early November until the end of February. Spring turkey season (Gobblers/males-only) spans the end of April to Mid-May. Fall season is for either sex and runs from early October until the end of November.

Woodbury Wildlife Area also has a Class-A shooting range. This public shooting range allows hunters to site-in their firearms. It is staffed and requires a permit to use it. There are approximately 50 shooting benches. The ranges are 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. Trap and skeet shooting is available for shotgun hunters. There is also an archery course. Maps of the Woodbury Wildlife Area are available at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/woodbury.

“My first turkey hunt was in Coshocton. It was a great time,” said Hosier. “When I go on a hunting trip with others and stay overnight, it’s fun to hang out with so many characters.”

There are a variety of lodging accommodations in Coshocton County. These feature hunting cabins, lodges, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds. Some are for hunter’s-only. Campgrounds provide primitive sites for hunters-only and require a hunting license to stay there from the second Friday in October through the second Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Hershner started hunting with his dad when he was about eight years old. He began using firearms after he turned ten years old.  There is an apprenticeship program that allows minors to hunt with a licensed adult hunter. The apprenticeship license lasts up to three years. Then they have to pass the hunter safety course. Hunters must pass a hunter safety course.

“Being licensed is part of what you need. You should also have a knowledge of the animal you are pursuing and the effort needed to pursue it.” Hershner said.

He also emphasizes further safety by becoming familiar with laws and regulations and knowing how to handle the firearm or weapon you use.

“Hunting teaches patience and discipline,” Hershner said. “It certainly teaches ethics because there is typically not someone watching over your shoulder to do the right thing.”

He enjoys being out in nature when the sun comes up or goes down. It’s when wildlife is most active.

“It is enjoyable to watch the natural world come alive in the morning and shut down at the end of the day,” smiled Hershner. “Hunting is my escape. Eighty percent of hunting is by myself. It’s nice just to take time out to go your own pace and absorb something.”

One of the most important things to prepare for hunting is to make sure you are adequately equipped and clothed. You need to be prepared to stay outside in different weather and environments long enough for something to happen.

“The three biggest things that’ll work against you is to be cold, wet and hungry,” warned Hershner.

Hunters don’t have to worry about getting basic supplies and ammunition in the Coshocton area. Most stores (hardware stores) in the area probably carry shotgun shells. In the town of Coshocton, there’s Woodbury Outfitters which is a local retail store that will meet your hunting needs.

But one thing you can’t buy is good luck. Sometimes hunters feel a touch of humility when they tell their stories about the one that they missed or the one that got away.

“Whenever I part with my kids in the woods, it’s my tradition to say, ‘Good luck, shoot a buck. Oh no, not a doe,’” concluded Hosier.

That said, Coshocton County, Ohio abounds with good luck for hunters. After all, there are plenty of bucks – and other game – to go around.

By Rocco Satullo, your Tour Guide to Fun!