Deer hunting. There’s not an app for that in Ohio — yet.
But Ohio wildlife officials moved part of the tradition — deer check — online five years ago and some hunters in Akron are still grousing over the change, fearing that it has boosted poaching.
“It’s like a thief who knows there’s no witnesses,” one hunter said Saturday during a deer hunt summit at the Ohio Division of Wildlife Office at Portage Lakes. “There nothing to prevent that thief from stealing.”
For decades, all Ohio hunters had to haul each of the deer they killed to one of 450 check stations across the state so the deer could be tagged and recorded by the state Division of Wildlife.
The outposts were a hodgepodge of mom-and-pop stores, gas stations and restaurants whose owners volunteered to do the checks, mostly because they hoped the hunters would bring in new business, said Michael Tonkovich, Ohio’s deer program administrator.
The check volunteer would clip a metal tag on the deer’s ear — a signal to all that the hunter was following Ohio’s rules — log the information, and send the hunter on his or her way.
As Ohio’s deer population swelled, so did the lines of hunters waiting to have their deer checked, making some check station volunteers unhappy because they couldn’t serve their other customers, Tonkovich said.
Some hunters were unhappy, too, especially in rural areas because the nearest deer checks could be 30 miles away. And often the deer checks had no regular hours of operation, so there were hunters who would make the drive, only to be turned away, he said.
“We had a guy send us five $20 bills taped to a piece of paper and a note saying he couldn’t find a deer check and hoped that was enough to cover the fine,” Tonkovich said.
The answer in Ohio and 26 other states is an online system.
Hunters now check their own deer, using their mobile phones, computers or an old-fashioned dial-in system.
Some hunters contend the system gives a free pass for poachers to cull as many Ohio deer as they want because kills are self-reported. But wildlife officials assured hunters Saturday that there’s been no spike in poaching with the self-reporting.
The state has five years of data showing that the number of deer hunters who are checking themselves matches the aerial checks wildlife officials do of the herds.
Wildlife officers said the online system has also helped them catch poachers because they have access to real-time information.
One officer nabbed a deer hunter skirting the rules during fishing season last summer when the man bragged to the officer about deer he had killed. When the officer ran the man’s name through the online deer check system, he found out the man had falsely reported one of the deer under his son’s name.
“There’s always been some poaching,” Tonkovich said. “But this hasn’t made it worse.”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.