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Sam Owens | Staff Photographer Chris VonBargen works in solitude as he mounts a deer head for a customer at his Nelsonville taxidermy shop, Wild Reflections. VonBargen opened for business last year, thereby becoming a part of Ohio’s almost $800 million hunting industry.

Bucking The Trend

Nelsonville resident Chris VonBargen wanted to be a taxidermist since he was a small child. Last year, he decided to join Ohio’s almost $800 million hunting industry and opened Wildlife Reflections in Nelsonville.

“Hunting is huge around here, so I figured (the popularity) would go over,” VonBargen said.

Although the number of deer killed decreased throughout Ohio this white-tail deer hunting season, Athens was one of only three Southeast Ohio counties that experienced an increase.

From September to early February, Ohio issued about 11,000 fewer hunting licenses and hunters statewide killed almost 20,000 fewer white-tail deer than last year, said Lindsay Rist, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources District Four Division of Wildlife.

The numbers of hunting licenses accounts for all types of hunting, but 80 percent are for deer hunting, Rist said.

About 100 more deer were killed in Athens County, a slight increase from 4,256 in 2010 to 4,385 in 2011.

Despite a decrease in deer hunting this year, Ohio wildlife officials are not worried the $859 million hunting industry will be affected.

A hunting license costs $50, meaning Ohio’s 467,000 hunters spent about $23 million on licenses, according to the ODNR.

“We sell hunting licenses and deer-removal permits, and both are really popular,” Rist said.

With an $859 million economic impact, Ohio ranks eighth in the country for hunting sales, which include equipment, fuel, food, lodging and other hunting-related purchases, said Vicki Ervin, spokeswoman for ODNR Division of Wildlife.

“Ohio’s 1.5 million hunters and anglers spend $5.3 million a day, with a total annual spending estimated at $1.9 billion,” Ervin said.

Despite the decrease statewide, deer hunting has maintained its popularity in Athens County.

Carla Jarvis, account clerk at Strouds Run State Park, said deer hunting is the most popular form of hunting in the park.

“People hunt squirrels and turkeys, but deer is the most popular,” she added.

VonBargen said he stuffs and preserves a long list of species but that deer are the most popular. The cost to preserve a deer ranges between $250 and $450 based on size and quality.      

Strouds Run also experiences economic benefits from hunting.

“We have 30 cabins and they are all booked through next (deer-hunting) season,” Jarvis said.

The cabins can be rented for $85 a night, which could bring in $413,100 to the park if each cabin were rented for all 162 days of the hunting season.

Ohio University student Jared Weiss, a sophomore studying engineer technology and management, assuages the cost of lodging by staying with friends.

“Economically speaking, I don’t spend a whole lot. I’ve had the same gear for years,” Weiss said, adding that he spends about $50 a season on ammo, camouflage and deer calls. 

Even though it is a lucrative industry, hunters are not able to directly profit from deer they kill.

“You aren’t allowed to sell deer meat in Ohio,” Rist said. “If hunters don’t keep the deer for personal use, many people donate them.”

Rist said most people donate their deer meat to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a national organization that donates venison to food banks, including ones in Athens County. The venison is processed by a health inspector and then sent to the food banks.

Though the numbers of licenses and deer killed have been declining since 2008, Rist and others in ODNR are not worried about the industry.

“The numbers change from year to year,” Ervin said. “We have pretty liberal regulations, and it’s a good sign that the numbers reduced because they are reducing in places were we want them to.”

VonBargen said he was not truly able to gauge Wildlife Reflections success because it has been open for only one season. But he thinks deer hunting will remain popular in the area and that his business will continue to succeed.

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