Doug Anderson enjoys stalking deer with a bow or a gun, but the most fun he's had hunting this season came Saturday, without him firing a shot.
The resident of Troy Township, just on the Athens side of the Washington County line, took his 12-year-old nephew, Joe Allen, of Portage, hunting for the first time on Saturday, the first day of Ohio's white-tailed deer muzzleloader season. And the first shot the boy fired brought down his first deer.
"He was all excited; he was all pumped up," Anderson said. "It took probably six or seven minutes for him to get settled down enough to where I thought he could shoot it."
Anderson and his nephew had taken up position in a deer shanty on property Anderson's family owns in Athens County. They were staking out a deer feeder that usually draws animals fairly quickly, so Anderson got a little nervous when half an hour went by and none had appeared.
But eventually several animals arrived, and Anderson helped Allen pick out his target and sight it.
When his shot hit, "he was hootin' and hollerin,'" Anderson recalled.
The boy's enthusiasm was contagious.
"It was way more exciting than by myself," Anderson said, noting he has a 2-year-old son he looks forward to teaching to hunt. "I can't wait 'til he's up there at that age."
After his nephew left, Anderson also took a doe of his own, adding to a county and state total harvest that so far is lagging behind last season's pace, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
As of Jan. 1, the most recent data available, hunters had taken 3,565 deer in Washington County, a decrease of about 3.4 percent from the same period last year. Statewide, the difference is a little more than 1 percent, with 190,725 deer harvested, compared to 192,868 in 2011-12.
Several factors are contributing to the lower totals, said Lindsay Rist, wildlife communications specialist for ODNR's Division of Wildlife, District 4. Efforts by the division to decrease the size of the state's deer herd seem to be paying off. In addition, the season started a week early because of the way the calendar fell, meaning deer might have been in different locations than they were during last year's season, Rist said.
"It's hard to pinpoint one exact thing," she said. "Some people chalk it up to the weather."
About a dozen deer were checked over the weekend at Hickory Grove Country Market on Ohio 339 in Vincent. Although hunters are no longer required to bring their kills to check stations, the social aspect still drives some to common gathering places, rather than registering online or by phone.
"A lot of people want to come in and show them off too," said Hickory Grove general manager Michael Abbott.
Muzzleloader season wraps up today. Deer-archery season remains open through Feb. 3.