The recent cold snap finally produced enough frigid temperatures to harden the local ponds and lakes giving ice fishermen a long awaited chance to try their luck. However, as the temperatures drop, it is important to remember during those chilly adventures that “No Ice is Safe Ice.” While frozen lakes, ponds, and rivers may be alluring to outdoor explorers, ice is never 100% safe and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources urges outdoor enthusiasts to stay alert.

To promote a safe and enjoyable winter recreation experience, ODNR offers the following guidelines: Be Mindful of Changing Conditions: Ice conditions can change rapidly, especially during fluctuating temperatures. Warmer weather, flowing water beneath the ice, and other factors can weaken the ice, making it unsafe. Wear Proper Safety Gear: Dress warmly in layers. For those venturing outdoors, wear a life jacket, and carry ice picks, rope, and a throwable flotation device. These items can be crucial in case of an emergency. Stay Informed: Check local weather forecasts and ice conditions before heading out. Stay informed about any advisories or warnings issued by local authorities. Avoid Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can impair judgment and increase the risk of accidents. It’s best to save celebratory drinks for after safely returning from winter activities.

ODNR encourages individuals to take responsibility for their safety and the safety of those around them when participating in winter recreation. By following these guidelines, Ohioans can enjoy the winter season while minimizing the risks associated with icy environments.

• Hunters checked 12,712 white-tailed deer during Ohio’s four-day muzzleloader season that concluded on Tuesday, Jan. 9, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. This total accounts for all deer taken with muzzleloader and archery equipment between Jan. 6-9.

Over the last three years, the four-day season average was 12,255. During the 2024 muzzleloader season, hunters took 3,327 antlered deer (26% of deer taken), 7,797 does (62%), 1,284 button bucks (10%), and 304 (2%) bucks with shed antlers or antlers shorter than 3 inches.

Hunters have checked 203,608 deer with all implements during the 2023-24 season as of Tuesday, Jan. 9. That total includes 10,039 deer taken with a gun during the youth season, 70,118 deer harvested in the seven-day gun season, and another 15,469 deer checked during the two-day gun weekend. The total gun harvest, which includes controlled hunts, is 108,529. The bow harvest thus far is 95,079, with the archery season open until Sunday, Feb. 4.

This season marks the second time in the last ten years that the total season harvest surpassed 200,000 deer, the last being in 2022-23. A deer can yield approximately 60 pounds of meat. So far this year, hunters have added more than 12 million pounds of venison to freezers. As of Tuesday, Jan. 9, the Division of Wildlife has issued 412,956 deer permits.

Ohio is a popular destination for out-of-state hunters, and hunters from all 50 states have purchased licenses for the 2023-24 season. The states with the most nonresident Ohio hunters are Pennsylvania (7,537 licenses sold), Michigan (5,158), West Virginia (3,624), North Carolina (3,281), and New York (3,069).

Last year, hunters generated $1.9 billion in economic spending in Ohio, according to a recent report released by the Wildlife Management Institute, Responsive Management, and Southwick Associates. The research found that 5% of Ohio’s adults, about 500,000 individuals, participate in hunting, with 91% of those hunters taking part in deer hunting.

• Winter is an excellent time to watch for bald eagles, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Bald eagles begin courtship and nest-building activity in January and February, making now one of the best times to view them.

Ohio’s bald eagle population has increased dramatically in recent years, with an estimated 910 nesting pairs statewide in 2023. Look for eagles near their preferred aquatic habitats such as rivers, wetlands, and lakes. The absence of foliage makes winter a great time to spot eagles improving their large nests along waterways.

Bald eagles in Ohio typically lay eggs and incubate in February and March, nesting in large trees such as sycamores, oaks, and cottonwoods. Meanwhile, frozen lakes and rivers force the birds to expand their hunting grounds in search of fish and carrion, their foods of choice.

Winter provides viewing opportunities for immature bald eagles as well as adults. The white head and tail of the adult bird contrasts sharply with its dark body, a distinctive feature used to identify the species. An immature bird is more difficult to identify and has a mottled brown and white plumage for four or five years before attaining the recognizable field marks of an adult. A good pair of binoculars or even a spotting scope is recommended to spot birds at long distances.

All Ohioans can report active bald eagle nest sites at or on the HuntFish OH mobile app. By reporting locations when you find a nest, you help the Division of Wildlife biologists estimate eagle population dynamics and monitor trends, ensuring this and other species continue to do well in the Buckeye State.

The bald eagle was once an endangered species, with only four nesting pairs in Ohio in 1979. Thanks to partnerships between the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Ohio zoos, wildlife rehabilitation facilities, concerned landowners, and conservationists, its population increased. After much hard work and continued conservation, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, and from Ohio’s list in 2012.

Bald eagles are protected under both state law and the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, making it illegal to disturb bald eagles. When viewing these majestic birds, remember to respect the bird’s space and stay at least 100 yards away. Disturbing bald eagles at the nest site could lead the pair to abandon the eggs.

Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!

Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.