AKRON --- The annual statewide Division of Wildlife open houses each spring historically draw good numbers of concerned outdoorsmen and women to the District Three headquarters in Akron. The participation numbers at the DOW's northeast Ohio offices are usually the highest in the state.
But, that wasn't the case this past Saturday, as a sparse crowd took advantage of one-on-one opportunities with biologists and managers. With no hot-button issues to be decided and few regulation changes to the hunting, fishing and trapping laws, the sportsmen spoke with their no-shows.
"I think outdoorsmen are generally satisfied. The lack of people showing up tells me there's nothing important they want to discuss," said Scott Peters, the District Three wildlife manager supervisor.
In most years, open houses are ripe with hunters wanting to know what the Division of Wildlife is going to do with the deer population, or they want to make suggestions for hunting season changes, or maybe they have a fishing or trapping question.
Saturday's event in Akron was mostly widow shopping, as the folks who showed up were pretty content. That, though, doesn't mean the state doesn't have some new ideas.
"There's three big changes," said Peters. "No. 1 is the stakeholder planning process that we're rolling out. No. 2 is the 20 counties in southeast Ohio that are going from 2-deer counties to 3-deer counties, and No. 3, is simplifying the straight-wall cartridge rules."
The proposal to include all straight-walled cartridges between .357 and .50 cal. as being legal for deer hunting simply makes it easier for hunters and law enforcement to understand and follow. The increase in deer bag limits for the 20 southeast Ohio counties is a way to slowly cut into that region's growing population.
As for the rollout of the new 10-year deer plan, that's far more complicated. However, Peters wrapped it up succinctly.
"There are 21 different groups who are a part in coming up with the plan," said Peters, noting meetings started nine months ago. "It'll be a series of checks and balances, no one group will overpower the other. We have groups like the Quality Deer Management Association, the deer breeders association, the Farm Bureau, the Ohio Bowhunters, and other state-wide groups."
The Division of Wildlife will set the parameters and "frame" the issues that will be brought before the groups.
"It's going to be a two-year process to get to the point where it can be enacted," said Peters.
"We're doing this for a reason. We're bringing all these groups to the table for a reason."
As for this past year's deer harvest, which at 182,169, was off 5 percent from the year before, Peters said state biologists are satisfied with the numbers.
"We didn't see the 5 percent increase that we predicted, but there's always a variation of percentage points up and down," said Peters. "The mast crop, weather conditions on certain days of the hunting season .... but if you go back to the 2014-15 hunting season, you can draw a straight line across (in terms of harvest totals)."
The 2014-15 final harvest total was 175,745.
Will we ever see another season like 2009 when a record 261,260 deer were harvested? Probably not. But then again, the state is looking for consistency, not record numbers. Wildlife managers are focused on a healthy deer herd that maximizes recreational opportunities, or you could say, provides Ohioans with the bestbang for their buck (pardon the pun).
Hunters are either tired of going to open houses to discuss their concerns, or happy with the way things are going.
Playing on a TV at the open house was a video loop of chief Ray Petering explaining that maintaining an open dialogue with the sportsmen and women of Ohio was important to the Division of Wildlife. The DOW provided the opportunity, but the sportsmen didn't take advantage.