WEEK OF NOVEMBER 27
WEEK OF NOVEMBER 20
WEEK OF NOVEMBER 13
WEEK OF NOVEMBER 6
No Recount Needed...
Harvest Could Top 100,000!
With more than a month of archery hunting left, Oklahoma deer hunters can celebrate a new record harvest for the fourth straight year and 16th time in the last 19 years. Increasing populations, good weather for hunting, timing of the rut and increased opportunities to harvest antlerless deer all played a role in setting the new record. Biologists expect the final harvest total could top 100,000 when all the data is collected.
After tallying harvest totals through the recent deer gun season, personnel from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation registered a preliminary harvest of 93,327 deer. That is more than 10,000 deer above last year's total record harvest, and it does not include deer that will be taken in the late archery season, deer recorded in personnel books, deer taken on land enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program, nor deer harvested during controlled hunts.
"Obviously, I'm pleased with the new record, but what I am really pleased with is the increase in the number of does harvested," said Mike Shaw, the Department's wildlife research supervisor. "We won't know the exact numbers until January, but early indications show a much needed increase in the antlerless harvest, especially in the northwest."
Last year, the preliminary total after deer gun season was 74,818, and late entries boosted the overall total to 82,724. Based on the last couple of seasons, Shaw projected this year's final harvest will top 100,000.
"We have seen substantial increases in every region," Shaw said. "It looks like a lot of the increase can be attributed to an increase in the antlerless harvest. I want to thank hunters for that. We said we needed to harvest more does to offset skewed sex ratios and produce better overall herd health, and it appears that the sportsmen of the state responded accordingly."
Of the state's five geographic regions, the biggest increase in harvest came from the central region, where hunters took 31,635 deer. That's 6,407 more than 1999's total of 25,228. Hunters in the northeast region took 26,517 deer, an increase of 2,717 over the 1999 total of 23,800. In the southeast region, hunters took 14,801 deer, compared to 11,771 in 1999, an increase of 3,030.
Biologists believe populations are growing faster in the southwest region than anywhere else in the state, and hunters in that region harvested 10,671 deer, an increase of 3,130 over last year's harvest of 7,540. In the northwest, where every day of both the muzzleloader and modern gun season were antlerless days, the preliminary harvest was 9,703 compared to 6,479 a year ago, an increase of 3,224.
"I don't think we could have hit the rut any better than we did during this year's gun season," Shaw said. "That was key, as were the additional antlerless days. It looks like everyone took advantage of both.
"We also had favorable weather. It was warm during early archery season and a little wet in some areas at times during the muzzleloader and gun seasons, but we didn't have any sleet or snow. There were a lot of hunters out there enjoying themselves, and that's what it takes."
Final harvest totals will be available in January, when the Department tallies results from all outstanding sources. As it stands now, Oklahoma deer hunters can already celebrate their best season ever, and look forward to even better hunting in the future thanks to conscientious efforts to harvest antlerless deer.
Panhandle pheasant season looks promising
Pheasant season is open in the panhandle and good numbers of the colorful gamebirds are available to flush ahead of the state's sportsmen. For many, there is no better way to spend a day than to roam the uplands of the region looking for the stately bird.
"I expect a good season," said Danny Watson, wildlife biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "We had a good year last year, and we seem to have about the same number of birds this year. It is just a matter of getting out and hunting them."
Pheasant habitat in the panhandle consists primarily of row crops, such as milo and corn. Most of those crops have been harvested, but there's still plenty of milo stubble and cornstalks that provide good pheasant habitat. Some of the best areas are fields dedicated to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which are adjacent to the crop fields.
"There is a lot of land that is CRP instead of winter wheat," Watson explained. "When it was wheat it didn't hold that many birds, but now it does. Pheasants have responded to the habitat and to good weather the last couple of years.
"I have seen good numbers of birds on our public hunting areas, but they can be hard to hunt on WMA's. You can try your luck, but I encourage people to quail hunt on public land, and if they get a pheasant, that's a bonus."
In the panhandle, the daily limit for pheasants is three roosters, with a possession limit of six after the first day and nine after the second day. Persons who hunt in two states having separate daily bag limits may not exceed the largest number of birds that can be legally taken in one of the states in which they harvest the birds. Evidence of sex (head or one foot) must remain on the bird until it reaches its final destination.
Safety is also extremely important. In many instances, pheasants are hunted by large groups of hunters. Groups should discuss safety procedures before hunting. Everyone involved in the hunt should be aware of each other's whereabouts and determine individual shooting zones beforehand.
"It would help if everyone would wear a blaze orange cap or vest," Watson added. "It won't alert birds but it will alert your hunting partners. The main thing is to be safe and enjoy the trip."
The panhandle season runs from Dec. 1 through Jan. 1, 2001. Hunters should always ask permission before entering private property. Before going afield, be sure to pick up a copy of the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations, available at all hunting and fishing license dealers.
Furbearers offer exciting opportunities
Despite increasing populations and the promise of economic return, the number of sportsmen pursuing furbearers in Oklahoma continues to decline. There is no better time to reverse this trend than right now. Oklahoma is blessed with a rich diversity of furbearers allowing hunters and trappers ample opportunity to enjoy participating in this sport.
"Most furbearing species are plentiful, and bobcat populations are increasing in many parts of the state," said Russ Horton, central region senior biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Hunters and trappers have an important role in helping to maintain the health and well being of Oklahoma's furbearer populations. Those methods are the most effective tool to manage the resource, and it provides sportsmen extra opportunities to spend some quality time afield during the winter."
Oklahoma's statewide furbearer season runs Dec. 1 - Jan. 31 except for bobcat season, which runs Dec. 1 - Feb. 28. Due to a depressed fur market, the number of sportsmen pursuing furbearers decreased in 1999-2000. Likewise, the value of Oklahoma's fur harvest in 1999-2000 was $9,543 compared to $38,338 the previous year and $318,644 in 1996-97.
"From a management standpoint, harvesting furbearers benefits other wildlife such as ground nesting birds, especially wild turkeys," Horton said. "Bobcats prey on adult wild turkeys, and raccoons consume considerable numbers of wild turkey eggs. Opossums prey on tree-nesting birds.
"Controlling furbearers is a desirable wildlife management practice. It's also a good way to become more familiar with the areas you ordinarily hunt other game, and it's a great way to introduce a newcomer to the outdoors."
In 1999-2000, hunters and trappers tagged 76 bobcat pelts in Dewey County. No other county tagged more than 62 bobcats and only 1,303 were tagged statewide.
"There isn't any reason for these declines," Horton added. "The market has been down, but this is still a great resource. Hunting and trapping furbearers has been a long-time tradition, and with the current populations there is no reason for that to change."
Those wanting to take bobcats, raccoons or gray fox must possess a special bobcat-raccoon-gray fox license. It costs $9 for residents, $51 for non-residents. Resident lifetime license holders are exempt from having to purchase the license. The license is not required for those who chase furbearers with dogs but do not harvest them.
A trapping license is required for all persons who trap. Only resident landowners or tenants or their children who trap on land they own or lease (not including hunt leases) are exempt from purchasing trapping licenses.
Landowners or lessees may kill furbearers actually found destroying livestock or poultry without having a license, but they may not remove any part of the fur or carcass from the premises where taken.
Complete furbearer regulations are printed in the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations, available statewide at hunting and fishing license dealers.
Another record deer harvest expected
With an encouraging opening weekend gun deer harvest, Oklahoma deer hunters may see last year's record surpassed.
In an annual survey conducted after opening weekend of deer gun season, personnel from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation monitored 30 check stations across the state. Hunters checked in 5,368 deer at those stations, including 3,373 bucks and 1,995 does. That's a 2.44 percent increase over last year's opening weekend of deer gun season. The sample has proven to be a reliable indicator of statewide harvest success because the same check stations are monitored every year. However, this year the Department was forced to monitor different stations in the northeast region, which may have skewed the numbers for that particular area. The harvest data showed a decline in both bucks and does in the northeast, but is likely not as significant as reported.
"Even with the changes in reporting procedures in the northeast, we're seeing an overall increase in harvest statewide, " said Mike Shaw, research supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Excluding the northeast's statistics, the harvest is either up or stable in every other region.
When you add the harvests to date, including the first half of archery season and muzzleloader season, the combined harvest is up 17.3 percent, well on track to break last year's record 82,724 deer.
"Even though the opening weekend's gun deer harvest isn't as high overall as we had anticipated, we are encouraged so far by the amount of antlerless harvest," said Shaw. "We hope that even more deer hunters will continue to see the value in taking a doe instead of a yearling buck."
In the span of a mere generation, the Oklahoma deer management tables have turned. Along with trapping and transplanting whitetail deer beginning in the 1940s, the Department's restoration efforts were supported by a "buck-only" harvest strategy. Later in the 1980s and 90s, the Department liberalized antlerless hunting opportunities in order to maintain healthy buck-to-doe ratios. Today, biologists with the Department are encouraging even greater doe harvest to not only maintain sex ratios, but to curb population growth in areas with too many deer.
"For several years now, we've told hunters that if they were concerned with the future of deer hunting in Oklahoma to pass up young bucks and instead choose to harvest a doe," said Shaw. "And as a result of more liberal doe harvest regulations, we think the message is beginning to sink in."
In the northwest part of the state, hunters have the entire nine day gun season to harvest antlerless deer this year.
In central and northeast Oklahoma, hunters are encouraged to take advantage of antlerless deer hunting Nov. 25-26.
South of I-40, hunters are encouraged to take advantage of antlerless deer hunting the last day of the season, Nov. 26.
In Texas and Cimarron counties in the panhandle, hunters were able to take antlerless deer on opening day, Nov. 18.
Deer gun season ends Nov. 28. The rut appears to be in full swing. With continued forecasts for good weather, hunters should expect to enjoy excellent hunting for the remainder of the season. Check out the Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations for information regarding hunting in specific parts of the state.
Whooping Cranes Visit Hackberry Flat
Conservationists cheered with the news that a small flock of whooping cranes, one of North America's rarest bird species, made a recent migration stop at Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in southwest Oklahoma.
The temporary layover by the migrants is doubly significant. First because there are only 195 wild-born whooping cranes left on the planet; and second, because this type of visit is one reason why the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and its partners devoted themselves to restoring the historic wetland.
"We couldn't have written a script any better ñ we spent several years bringing back the wetland ecosystem which disappeared nearly 100 years ago, and the very year it's completed have it visited by one of the rarest wetland species in the country," said Mark Howery, natural resources biologist for the Wildlife Department.
As with much of North America's wildlife, settlement of the west took it's toll on whooping cranes. Birds were killed for food and the wetlands in which they nested and fed were converted to other uses. By 1941 the population had been reduced to just 15 to 20 birds. But compared to the whitetail deer, elk, and wild turkey, the whooping crane's comeback has been slow.
"Migratory birds are inherently difficult to manage because their range is so vast. Whooping cranes breed and nest each summer in northern Canada and winter on the Texas coast," said Howery. "You can't simply improve habitat at each end of the migration route without providing good stop-over points along the way. Having a high profile endangered species like the whooping crane visit Hackberry is really a testament to how important wetland restoration projects are for waterfowl and other birds.
The 7,120 acre WMA is ideally located within the Central Flyway to provide a perfect short resting haven for migrating whooping cranes. But the endangered whooping crane isn't the only wetland species to have discovered this migration oasis. Sandhill cranes, black-necked stilts, greater yellow-legs, phalaropes, and a host of other wetland species are also taking advantage of Hackberry Flat.
"At the right times of the year, Hackberry can be a gold mine for bird watchers," said Howery. "Of course fall brings vast numbers of waterfowl southward, but many Oklahoma birders are traveling to Hackberry in the spring months to watch and photograph several unique shorebird species not commonly found in the state."
Open to the public year-round, Hackberry Flat WMA is located south of Frederick in Tillman county. For more information on Oklahoma's endangered species, specifically whooping cranes or Hackberry Flat WMA, contact the Wildlife Department at 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105, 405/521-3851 or www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Thank sportsmen for comeback of wild turkey
As thousands of Oklahoma families sit down to a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, few may realize that Oklahoma is home to a thriving population of wild turkeys. In fact, it's very likely that Oklahoma's current population of wild turkeys is higher than it's ever been. A hundred years ago, however, the plight of wild turkeys was in serious doubt. By 1925, most Oklahomans believed that wild turkeys were extinct.
While crossing the Oklahoma prairie in 1832, Washington Irving documented large populations of wild turkeys near present day Oklahoma City and Norman. In 1869, General Philip Sheridan wrote about a similar turkey roost "that was more than three miles long" along the North Canadian River. In just a few short years, however, relentless pursuit by hungry pioneers and market hunters had decimated many local turkey flocks. A greater threat than overhunting, however, was massive changes in land use, which resulted in habitat loss. With settlement, forests were cleared to make way for small farms or logged to provide construction materials for in-state communities or commercial markets in the east.
In 1937, a piece of landmark federal legislation called the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration (Pittman-Robertson) Act was passed which, in the years to come, would have a dramatic effect on the future of many American wildlife species, and particularly the wild turkey. The Wildlife Restoration Program, which provided much needed funding for state wildlife agencies to restore wildlife habitat and populations, is arguably the single most productive wildlife undertaking in the world, according to Harold Namminga, federal aid/research coordinator for The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"What the Wildlife Restoration Program did was place an 11-percent manufacturer's excise tax on sporting rifles, shotguns, ammunition and archery equipment used in hunting, and a similar excise tax on handguns," Namminga said. "This money, ultimately paid by the consumer within the purchase price, is then redistributed to state wildlife agencies to match with their revenue from hunting licenses. This money was critical in bringing back the wild turkey and a host of other species from near extinction during the mid 1900s."
In 1948, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation made good use of Wildlife Restoration funding to embark on a ambitious stocking program to reestablish the wild turkey to it's former range. The birds were absent from central and western Oklahoma and were barely hanging on in the east with probably less than 1000 birds. The first stocking occurred with 21 Rio Grande subspecies trapped from the Texas panhandle and released near Laverne, OK, in Harper County. The flock quickly grew quickly and provided a nucleus for additional trap-and-transplant efforts in the 1950s and 60s. By 1960, the population had rebounded enough to allow for a limited fall hunting season.
A few short years later, the same effort was repeated in the woodlands of eastern Oklahoma with the eastern subspecies of wild turkeys obtained from Arkansas and Missouri. In several cases eastern birds were "horse-traded" for walleye fry from Department fish hatcheries. By 1975, enough birds had replenished the forests of southeast Oklahoma to allow a spring hunting season.
Today, huntable populations of turkeys exist in all 77 Oklahoma counties. In the year 2000, over 65,000 turkey hunters will pursue the birds in Oklahoma's fall and spring seasons.
It's ultimately hunters who are responsible for the comeback of the wild turkey. All of the Department's trap and transplant efforts of the 50s, 60s and 70s were an expensive undertaking and probably couldn't have been done on license revenue alone, said Harold Namminga.
"In this system, hunters not only paid for turkey restoration through their purchase of hunting licenses, but also by contributing to the Wildlife Restoration Program whenever they bought firearms and other hunting equipment," he said. "The North American system: Essentially that hunters and anglers pay for conservation, is without question the most successful in the world. The wild turkey is just one example. You can say the same thing about white-tailed deer, wood ducks, and a whole host of non-game species that have benefited from the same system."
Hackberry Flat WMA: A waterfowler's wonderland
Touted as one of the most significant wetland restoration projects in North America, Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in southwest Oklahoma is making a grand entrance to the forefront of waterfowling destinations.
In only its premier season after completion, Hackberry is not only becoming a major stopover destination for migrating waterfowl, but also a prime destination for hunters.
Levees, ditches, water control gates and an enormous water supply pipeline were constructed to provide ideal wetland conditions even during the driest of years. Moviegoers are familiar with the famous phrase, "If you build it, they will come." And that's certainly the case with Hackberry Flat. Scores of waterfowl are flocking to the massive wetland and area biologists say hunting conditions on the area this season are near perfect. With 35 miles of internal roads on the WMA, hunters will find plenty of access as well.
Mixed bags are commonplace at Hackberry. Right now, there are plenty of mallards, pintails, widgeons, gadwalls, ringnecks and teal to buzz your spread of decoys.
"It's pretty overwhelming when I think of all that has been accomplished in such a relatively short time," said Rod Smith, Southwest Region Supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "If there was ever a time to revisit or try Hackberry out for the first time, it's definitely this season.".
When pioneers arrived on the plains of southwest Oklahoma a century ago, they encountered clouds of waterfowl so thick that they darkened the skies over what would later be Frederick, Oklahoma. The area's abundance of wildlife even drew the attention of one of America's most famous outdoorsmen, President Theodore Roosevelt, who once hunted coyotes in the area.
In the early 1900s, locals, using hand shovels and mule teams, drained the impressive wetland by constructing a massive four-mile long ditch, 20 feet deep and 40 feet across. But their efforts to gain more fertile land for agriculture proved futile. They later abandoned their attempts.
Restoration efforts began in 1993 to reverse the struggle of what generations had tried to tame.
"We now know that wetlands are not only extremely beneficial to wildlife, but they also serve as natural environmental purifiers," said Smith.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma has lost two-thirds of its wetlands to various types of development, which makes the 7,120-acre Hackberry Flat such an important restoration project. Ground was broken in August 1995 and the project was dedicated in May 1999.
"Hackberry would not be the success story that it is without strong local support and the generous funding partners that were right beside us every step of the way," said Smith.
To waterfowl hunt Hackberry Flat WMA, you must obtain either an Annual Hunting ($12.50 resident; $85 nonresident), Annual Combination Hunting and Fishing ($21.00 resident), Lifetime Hunting ($400 resident; $450 nonresident) or Lifetime Combination Hunting and Fishing license ($525 resident; $650 nonresident).
Annual license holders must also obtain an Oklahoma Waterfowl License ($4.00). All waterfowl hunters must obtain a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit (free) and a Federal Waterfowl Stamp ($15.00).
As with all waterfowl hunting, hunters can only use federally approved nontoxic shot. Shooting hours for waterfowl at Hackberry are restricted to 1/2 hour before official sunrise to 1 p.m. daily.
For directions and more information about Hackberry Flat WMA, call the Wildlife Department at 405/521-2739.
Hackberry Flat Facts
7,120 acres in size.
4,000 acres can be flooded, 2,000 of which is planned to be flooded at any one time.
3,120 acres of upland habitat.
17-mile water delivery pipeline from Tom Steed Reservoir.
Pipeline delivers 2,800 gallons of water per minute.
35 miles of dikes and canals.
70 water control structures.
32 wetland units.
13,000 tons of gravel used.
$14 million price tag, $10 million of which came from private and public partners.
Hackberry's Key Funding Partners
|North American Wetlands
The Williams Companies, Inc.
Natural Resources Conservation Service
City of Frederick
Ducks Unlimited, Inc.
|Bureau of Reclamation
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Phillips Petroleum Co., Inc.
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Tillman County Commissioners
First Southwest Bank
|Pioneer Trucking Company
Arrow Trucking Company
Oklahoma Station of Safari Club International
Oklahoma City Sportsman's Club
U.S. Geological Survey
Special youth deer hunt offered
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is hosting a youth controlled deer hunt opportunity the weekend after the regular nine-day gun season. Ten antlerless permits will be drawn Monday, Nov. 27, for youngsters between the ages of 12 and 14.
The one-and-a-half day hunt will begin on Saturday, Dec. 2, with a pre-hunt briefing at 1:00 p.m. The youth along with their non-hunting adult partner will then hunt Saturday afternoon and then all day Sunday, Dec. 3. According to Tom Smeltzer, Wildlife Division sr. biologist for the southwest region, participants should have very good opportunities to harvest an antlerless deer.
"The hunt is taking place on a private ranch in Ellis County near Arnett," said Smeltzer. "The property has an abundant deer population, especially does. With the wide-open terrain, all the youth hunters should certainly see good numbers of deer, and will have a good harvest opportunity.
The landowner is enrolled as a DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) cooperator and needs to harvest antlerless deer to accomplish his herd management goals. The fact that he is allowing young hunters, many of whom may be hunting for the first time, is truly commendable."
To apply for this hunt, applicants must send a 4x6 index card titled, "Ellis County Youth Deer Hunt." The card should include the hunter's name and date of birth, mailing address, telephone number, and hunter education certification number. Also, include the name of the non-hunting partner. Applications must be received at Department of Wildlife headquarters no later than: 1:00 p.m., Nov. 27. Successful applicants will be notified by phone on Nov. 27.
If selected for the hunt, youth must possess a $14.75 Resident Youth Deer Gun permit unless they possess a Resident Lifetime Hunting or Resident Lifetime Combination License. The youth's non-hunting adult partner, however, will not be required to possess an Oklahoma hunting license or deer permit. Participants must also pay a $7 controlled hunt fee at the pre-hunt briefing. The youth's proof of age and hunter safety certification are also required at check-in.
Any antlerless deer harvested during the controlled hunt will be considered "bonus" deer and will not count against the youth's yearly aggregate limit.
Applications for the Ellis County youth deer hunt should be sent to Attn. Wildlife Division/Ellis Co. Hunt, OK Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, 1801 N. Lincoln, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. For additional information concerning drawing details, contact Tom Smeltzer at 405/823-8619.
Biologists say quail hunting looks good
Quail season has opened across the state with a bang. Bird populations are up in most of the state, and hunters enjoyed some good weather and quality dog work opening weekend.
"While involvement in deer black powder season and rainfall has limited quail hunting participation thus far, reports from those participating have ranged from fair to very good," said Mike Sams, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The general consensus is that bird populations are better than they have been in a couple of years and most hunters are seeing good numbers of coveys."
It does not appear that the late-summer drought is going to hurt the hunting this fall. The habitat looks in reasonably good shape and recent weather systems have improved the chances of finding birds.
"Although we've experience a number of rainy days so far, the weather is definitely better than it was for the opening of last years season. Subsequently, hunters have reported good dog work and for the most part birds are holding well," Sams said.
Regional hunting appears as follows:
NORTHWEST - Hunting has been good. "Moderate winds and good moisture during the opening weekend resulted in good dog work," said Dave Kirk, District 8 chief of law enforcement for the Department. "Most hunters are reporting good numbers of coveys and good numbers of bird in each coveys. I am expecting a pretty good season"
SOUTHWEST - Hunting success is fair to good. Dog work and bird response varies with weather conditions. "Numbers of birds appear better than we've seen in several years and the season looks encouraging," said Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor. Hot, dry weather during the summer and different land management practices have resulted in a variety of ground cover conditions throughout the region.
SOUTHCENTRAL - Summer weather negatively affected habitat conditions over much of the southern portions of the region. "Ideal hunting conditions have been hampered by rainfall during the first week of the season," said John Herd, central region wildlife supervisor. "Yet bird numbers still appear higher than what we've seen the previous two seasons."
NORTHCENTRAL - Bird populations are up from last year in this part of the state, said John Herd. Despite a summer drought, habitat conditions remain in fair to good shape from our above average spring precipitation.
SOUTHEAST - Bird numbers seem to be about the same as last year, said Dave Robertson, lands biologist. Good quail hunting in the region is spotty due to substantial losses of quail habitat. Hunter participation has been low and hunters are reporting success as poor to fair.
NORTHEAST - Bird numbers appear higher than they have been in a couple of years, said Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor. Hunting during the first week of the season has been hampered by the wet conditions.
Waterfowl season outlook good
The Oklahoma waterfowl season is under way, and hunters are busy making last minute preparations as birds begin migrating into the state. Recent rains across the state have provided excellent habitat, setting the stage for some great waterfowl hunting this fall.
"The key to a good waterfowl season is having quality habitat here and harsh weather to the north," said Mike O'Meilia, migratory game bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Waterfowl had another good year in the prairie pothole region, so there should be a lot of birds to come down. We definitely have the habitat to hold them, now all we need is the weather.
"We had a lot of shoreline exposed on lakes and ponds during the drought this summer, and the smartweed, nut sedge and other natural vegetation waterfowl consume did really well in those areas. A lot of that vegetation is now surrounded or covered by water from all the rain we have had. We also have a lot of sheet water in wheat fields and pastures right now. These areas all provide great food and habitat for waterfowl," O'Meilia said.
Waterfowl numbers have been low to this point across the state, mainly due to warm temperatures and southerly winds. But, recent reports have indicated that some waterfowl are starting to move in ahead of weak cold fronts headed toward the state.
"We have seen some white-fronts, snow geese and sandhill cranes begin to come through. We also had a pretty good push of teal, widgeon, gadwall, wood ducks, and even a few mallards. But, we still need some strong fronts to push the bulk of the birds down," O'Meilia added. "Our hunting will get better when it gets a lot colder up north. But, there is some good hunting right now, you just have to be willing to get out and find it."
Perhaps no where in the state is this more true than at Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in southeast Oklahoma.
"With more than seven thousand acres of some of the most ideal waterfowl habitat in the nation, Hackberry could become the Midwest's Mecca for serious duck hunters," said Alan Peoples, chief of the Department's Wildlife Division. "We've anticipated the culmination of this tremendous wetland restoration project since we began in the early 1990's. And we're proud to announce that Hackberry Flat has finally 'arrived'," said Peoples.
Fortunately, waterfowlers have a multitude of choices for public hunting.
"I'm hard pressed to name the best public area in the northeast because we're blessed with so many excellent spots," said Craig Endicott, the Department's Wildlife Division northeast region supervisor. "If there was ever a time in recent history to try duck hunting in northeast Oklahoma, it's now."
Oklahoma's 2000-2001 duck season runs from Oct. 7 to Jan. 10 in the panhandle counties, Oct. 28 to Dec. 3, and Dec. 9 to Jan. 14 in Zone 1, and Nov. 4 to Dec. 3, and Dec. 9 to Jan. 21 in Zone 2. The daily bag limit is six ducks.
The White-fronted goose season will run from Nov. 4 to Dec. 3, and Dec. 9 to Feb. 2. The daily bag limit is two. The Canada Goose and light goose seasons will run from Nov. 4 to Dec. 3, and Dec. 9 to Feb. 11. The daily bag limit is three Canada Geese and 20 light geese.
To pursue waterfowl in Oklahoma, hunters must have a resident or non-resident hunting license and a valid HIP Permit. They must also possess a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, and unless exempt, a state waterfowl hunting permit.
For more specific information on rules and regulations regarding waterfowl hunting in Oklahoma, pick up a copy of the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Guide. Available at all license vendors statewide, the Waterfowl Hunting Guide lists all regulations for hunting on Department-owned lakes, wildlife management areas and waterfowl development units. It also has specific breakdowns on limits, as well as other information to make your 2000-2001 waterfowl season more productive and enjoyable. Waterfowlers can also check out the latest waterfowl status reports on the Department's official website at wildlifedepartment.com.
Record muzzleloader deer harvest expected
Despite less than optimum weather conditions during the nine-day primitive firearms season, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation report state deer hunters are on pace to set another record harvest. Upon contacting a sample group of 30 hunter check stations, Department officials were surprised to learn that this fall's harvest totals were significantly higher than the harvest results at the same point in last year's deer season.
For the past 13 years Department biologists have conducted a telephone survey of the same 30 hunter check stations following the primitive firearms season. The survey, conducted on November 6, showed that this year's primitive firearms deer hunters experienced a remarkable increase of 31 percent over the 1999 primitive season total. Additionally, archery deer hunters have, so far, harvested 43 percent more deer than this time last year in the archery season.
"In light of the warm weather, and especially the rainy weather during the nine-day primitive season, we were pretty surprised at the amount of increase, " said Mike Shaw, Wildlife Division research supervisor for the Department. "The archery season opened October 1 and was followed by several weeks of balmy weather which normally equates to poor deer movement and decreased hunter success. By the time primitive season began on October 28, it was not only still very warm, but many parts of the state experienced rainy weather on both the opening and closing weekends. Normally, this kind of weather means decreased hunter activity and decreased harvest, but not this year."
At the 30 check stations surveyed by the Department, primitive firearms hunters checked in 4,531 deer. That represents a 31 percent increase over the 1999 total of 3,464, and is 15 percent higher than the previous record of 1997. Another very surprising and significant aspect of the 2000 primitive season was the increase in antlerless deer harvest.
"What is really incredible about this year's primitive season is the increase in antlerless harvest. In 1999 our sample check stations reported 561 does harvested. This year the number jumped to 1,586. That represents a 182 percent increase in the antlerless harvest, " said Shaw.
"Obviously, our primitive firearms hunters took great advantage of the antlerless days that were added in most areas of the state. As more and more deer hunters are learning, we have to bring the state's exploding deer herd under control, and the best way to accomplish that is by increasing antlerless harvest. Obviously, many hunters took that to heart during this year's primitive season and we are pleased that so many are adopting the idea of harvesting more does."
From a regional perspective, the southeast part of the state experienced the greatest jump in primitive firearms antlerless harvest with a 276 percent increase over 1999. The number of antlerless primitive firearms days in the southeast were increased from two in 1999 to six this year. Despite increasing antlerless hunting days from two in 1999 to all nine days in the northwest, this part of the state had the lowest increase over 1999, but did log a 131 percent increase in does checked in.
In contrast to the dramatic increase in the antlerless harvest, the number of bucks taken in the primitive season was virtually unchanged from 1999 with only a slight 1-percent increase.
Although this year's primitive and first half of archery seasons' harvest was significantly higher than last year, there are still lots of deer available for the upcoming gun season scheduled for November 18 through 26. In addition, the rut will reach its peak over the next few weeks, which results in more deer movement during daylight hours. All things considered, hunters should have excellent opportunities during the nine-day gun season.
Despite the late summer drought which stressed many native plants, some oaks produced acorns, and will provide prime deer feeding areas, Shaw explained.
Other likely areas gun hunters should scout are any areas with green browse, including greenbriar or sumac thickets and also winter season cropfields such as wheat or ryegrass.
To participate in the gun deer season, Oklahoma residents must possess an annual hunting license and appropriate deer gun permit or a lifetime hunting or combination license. Non-residents must possess the appropriate non resident gun permit. For more information consult the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Hunting Guide & Regulations.