Stock car races, baseball games and family picnics get rained out. Deer hunts are not supposed to be on that list.
Hunting is a foul weather sport by nature. You step outdoors in fall and winter and you tangle with the elements as much as with the wits of the wild game. But this year there was more foul in the weather than many of Ohio's deer hunters had ever encountered before.
Ohio's gun season for white-tailed deer began recently, and it opened in the middle of a deluge. In many places around the state it poured from start to finish on opening day. That is customarily the day when the most hunters are in the fields and woods around the state, and when they enjoy the most success.
The initial count for one very soggy Monday opener showed Ohio hunters had brought back about 23,600 whitetails, which was down nearly 40 percent from last season when the weather was in a much more cooperative mood.
Hunting in the rain was not the issue. It was the intensity of the rain that made it nearly impossible to hear or see much in some parts of the state, while most of Ohio had a bigger issue with the volume of rain.
The system dumped two or three inches of rain in some sections of the state, within about a 48-hour window. All of that precipitation landed on already saturated ground in many areas, so flooding was a major issue.
Many individual accounts from deer hunters revealed their high level of frustration. Guys who had scouted prime deer habitat for months, meticulously mapped the areas, and put together a solid plan of attack for opening day saw nothing but water at first light.
Large tracts of woods where deer have been found in significant numbers were inundated. They looked more like the Okefenokee Swamp that straddles the Georgia-Florida border. Meadows that held so much promise a month ago were now rice paddies with shin-deep water.
An informal survey revealed that not many hunters stayed home, despite the lousiest of conditions. They just had to alter their plans on the fly, hunt areas they were not familiar with, and therefore just roll the dice and hope to have an opportunity. But very few successful deer hunts have been based on hope.
Some hunters resorted to cross-dressing, outdoors-style. They slipped off their boots, pulled out the fishing waders, and made an effort to keep dry while traversing the brushy flood plains of area rivers.
Others searched for any high ground, which in this part of the state is hard to come by. Many reported encountering streams and ditches that they could normally step across, but were now these raging torrents of coffee-colored froth.
By noon, some deer hunters just gave up. Despite the prevailing theory that all that water would push the whitetails into a much smaller area, and theoretically increase the odds for success, the opposite scenario played out. Fewer deer were seen by most hunters.
The committed hunters pressed on. The rain eventually stopped, but the water was very slow to recede. Some hunters came back the second day better prepared for the unusual circumstances.
Conditions normally improve as winter moves in, and Ohio's creative deer permit program will offer additional opportunities for deer gun hunters, while the growing legion of archery hunters enjoy more than three months of hunting time.
The 2011 deer gun season will be one for the record books not for the number of deer taken or for any unusual amount of trophies. It will be one where the rain gauge was the primary factor impacting hunting success rates. Ohio's deer hunters learned that you can have the best plan around, but sometimes you just get rained out.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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