MECCA - The first day of deer gun season was looking pretty good to Zack Bush of Warren as he walked into Monty's Mosquito Lake Carry-Out to check his take, a hefty eight-pointer, on Monday.
Bush, 16, said he's killed 12 or 13 doe, but never a buck - until now. The animal was running straight at him when he shot it in the front shoulder.
"I made a little push," said his dad, Joe Bush, who startled the buck, making it head in that direction. "It didn't get to walk far.''
Tribune Chronicle / Bonnie L. Hazen
Zack Bush, 16, of Warren, holds up the head of his first buck on Monday, the first day of deer season, outside of Monty’s Mosquito Lake Carry-Out. Zack Bush and his father, Joe Bush, right, have been hunting together since he was 5 years old.
Joe Bush, 46, estimated the buck's weight at about 180 pounds.
He said he taught his son to hunt when he was 5 years old, and the pair have been hunting together ever since. Both said they enjoy everything about the sport, especially the peace and quiet that comes with hunting in nature.
"It's the only time I get any peace," laughed Joe Bush.
Allen Byler, 57, of North Bloomfield, said even if he doesn't get a chance to shoot anything, he enjoys the sport for the relaxation it brings.
"I just like to get out in the woods, getting out there and enjoying the outdoors," he said. He's been hunting deer and turkey every year since his uncle introduced him to the sport more than 40 years ago.
Byler stopped by Monty's on Monday to check a doe he shot around 8 a.m. He said last week's snowfall helped him to bag the yearling, who Byler estimated was around 18 months old.
"I appreciate the snow, because boy, was it much better this year," he said.
The spot where he hunts is near a ravine; usually the animals congregate in the ravine but this year they were gathered up on top, he said. The doe he shot separated from a group of 10 and headed toward the road, where he was able to get a clean shot.
The largest he's nabbed was an eight-pointer with an 18-inch spread, but he said the small doe will be better eating than a buck.
"I make use of the meat and I never shoot more than I can eat," he said as he tagged the kill.
Jamey Emmert, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said between 80,000 and 90,000 deer are expected to be checked this week in Ohio. Last year, 471 were checked in Trumbull County on opening day alone.
Emmert said hunting only puts a small dent in the deer population and is vital to keeping their numbers in check.
"We don't have any natural predators besides human hunters and vehicle accidents, (so) there's nothing that would bring that deer population down," she said, adding that things would be pretty grim without hunting.
"We would have more vehicle accidents, we would have way more crop damage," she said, which in turn would push up the price of some produce and make other crops hard to acquire.
"Disease and starvation in deer could potentially be awful, so for all those reasons, hunting, especially here in Ohio, is especially important.
"People always ask, 'Why can't you let nature take its course?' Nature isn't any less brutal. Many of the deer harvested in Ohio are on average only four years old ... but they've lived a happy life, free range, probably fed a pretty darn good diet," Emmert said. "We're lacking proper habitat to support a deer population that's not properly managed. We're trying to keep the numbers maintained ... we want to keep both humans and the deer healthy and safe."
Emmert said representatives of the Ohio Division of Wildlife were stationed at 80 processors throughout the state on Monday and also will collect data today and Saturday - the three busiest days of deer hunting season - to weigh and age the deer, gauge their overall health and get a handle on how the deer herd is doing as a whole.
The division used to be stationed at check centers such as Monty's, but this year many hunters are checking their takes online and over the phone.
Keith Hershberger, 26, of Warren, who stopped by Monty's to purchase a second tag, said he had planned on calling in his doe but checked it in while he was there since it didn't take much time.
The shop's manager, Mary Mansfield, said by shortly after 11 a.m. she had only checked two does and a small buck. For the past 19 years, she said she would have seen 50 by that time on opening day.
"Everything's being changed. They do it online now, they do it themselves," she said. However, many hunters tell her they still prefer to bring them in person.
"They'd still rather come here; they'd rather us check it in for them," she said.
Joe Bush said he doesn't like the new system.
"How are they going to get an accurate count? You've got people out there that's shooting deer and not tagging them. I'd rather do it this way," he said.
Emmert, however, said the new system works to their advantage. A new mobile-friendly website allows hunters to check their game within minutes of the kill, allowing that information to be instantly available.
"In the past it was a very slow, lengthy process," she said, explaining that 200,000 pieces of paper once took months to process. "Now everything's digital. We're trying to make it as convenient as possible," she said.
With a recent decline in the number of hunters, Emmert said online checking is one way to encourage residents to participate in the outdoor recreation by making it more convenient.
Some hunters used to have to drive more than an hour to get to a check station, she said, but now they can check their deer and turkeys from home.
"Making things more convenient is not going to turn someone into a poacher. People are dishonest for far deeper reasons than just an easier way to check the game. There's a lot of advantages to this new system. We have very strict laws and there's no exception; once you have your game you must by Ohio state law check your game. If you don't, you're taking a chance.
"I think the majority of hunters are honest people that understand that the information is very valuable to us and they take pride in participating in that venture," she said.