Could any sign of fall's arrival outshine the sights and sounds of football on a crisp Ohio afternoon? Most definitely, if you're among the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who have anxiously awaited Ohio's other great autumn tradition: the start of our fall hunting season.
Like football, hayrides and warm pumpkin pie, hunting is a true slice of Ohio heritage in the fall, a season of memories that are somehow made stronger by the mellow scents and vibrant colors of autumn. And, if you're like me, fall hunting season recalls a personal heritage as well - fond memories of days in the field with family and friends, a favorite dog perhaps, pursuing the thrill of the hunt.
That's why, for so many in Ohio, the first days of September can never come soon enough. This year, September 1 marks the start of fall hunting season for squirrel, mourning dove and Canada goose - as well as for teal, rail, moorhen and snipe. Squirrel season lasts for five months, while doves can be hunted into December, providing ample opportunities for these highly favored game species.
Starting October 11 through the end of February, hunters can pursue one of Ohio's most challenging game birds, the ruffed grouse - a quarry in which many hunters measure success by the number of flushes and not by the number of birds in the bag. The reddish-brown speckled birds can be found in a mixed habitat of opening, brush and forest. Wildlife biologists say the strongest population of these large, chicken-sized birds exists in the wooded hill country of eastern Ohio.
Ohio's two most popular game species also appear on the October schedule: white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Thanks to strong wildlife management, the Buckeye State is one of the Midwest's most popular hunting destinations for these two species. In fact, state wildlife officials expect that as many as 200,000 bowhunters will participate in Ohio's deer archery season, which begins October 4 and ends January 31. And, nearly 500,000 hunters are anticipated to be in the woods for the state's deer gun season from December 1-7.
As the tapestry of fall color peaks across Ohio, hunters will be able to turn their sights to hunting for other upland game, such as pheasant, rabbit and quail. Seasons for those species open across the state on November 7. In late fall, waterfowl hunters will hear the call to Ohio's waters and fields to pursue a variety of ducks and geese.
Autumn is one of the best times to introduce a young person to the enjoyment of hunting. Special youth-only hunts will be held this fall for most of the popular game species. Hunters age 17 and younger - and their non-hunting chaperones - will have the woods and fields all to themselves on selected days. Look for October 25-26 and November 1-2 to hunt rabbit, pheasant and quail, and November 22-23 for white-tailed deer.
Those planning on hunting this fall in Ohio are required to purchase a hunting license along with any specialty permits needed for deer, wild turkey and waterfowl. Hunting licenses cost $15 for an adult and $8 for hunters under the age of 16. First-time license buyers should know they must pass a hunter education course before heading into the field.
If you don't have access to private land to hunt, don't worry! A variety of hunting opportunities can be found at more than 90 state wildlife areas, 20 state forests and other public hunting areas across the state. Maps of those areas, information about hunter education courses, hunting regulations and more are all available on the Internet at ohiodnr.com or by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE.
Well-stocked with your license, maps and information (and a solid understanding of hunting safety, laws and ethics), you'll be ready to enjoy what promises to be another fine fall hunting season in Ohio. For me, it hasn't come a moment too soon.
Not long ago, I received a priceless family keepsake - my grandma's .410 shotgun. With it, she and my grandpa enjoyed many crisp autumn mornings, hunting squirrels in the hills of Ross County. Because of her love for nature and outdoor pursuits, I cherish my grandma's shotgun, not only as a wonderful memento, but also as a link to my family's hunting heritage.
You can relive your own hunting memories this season or start a whole new tradition for your family. Take time in the coming weeks to enjoy all of the things that have made fall hunting season so special for generations in Ohio - the camaraderie spent with family and friends in the field, the smell of the autumn air and the colors that decorate our woodlands. And, please remember to hunt safely!