MARCH 2007 NEWS RELEASES 

 

WEEK OF MARCH 29, 2007

WEEK OF MARCH 22, 2007

WEEK OF MARCH 15, 2007

WEEK OF MARCH 8, 2007

WEEK OF MARCH 1, 2007

Oklahoma bass fishing heats up; 12-pound largemouth caught at McGee Creek

One Sooner angler has already proven that now is the time to be bass fishing in Oklahoma. Clayton Dorris, Blanchard, landed a 12 lb., 6 oz. largemouth bass Feb. 23 out of McGee Creek Lake in Atoka County.

The fish measured over 28 inches in length and had a 21-inch girth. Dorris caught the fish while preparing for an upcoming tournament at McGee Creek. The fish missed being one of the top 20 heaviest largemouth bass caught in Oklahoma by only seven ounces.

"My intent was not to catch a big fish, but it just happened that I was in the right spot at the right time," Dorris said.

Dorris probably didn't realize just how true his words were when he spoke them. According to fisheries biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, right now through the next month is among the best time all year for catching big bass.

"We are entering prime trophy bass fishing season," said Paul Mauck, southcentral region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department. "Since we are coming out of this colder weather, bass are actively feeding and putting on weight for spawning, and that means they will be found in shallower waters and may bite an angler's line more often."

Officials at the Wildlife Department say bass are the most sought after game fish in Oklahoma.

"Something about this time of year gets people excited about things like bass fishing, and that's good because it's one of the best times of the year to go," Mauck said. "Another great thing about bass is that they are powerful fighters and are easy to find in Oklahoma. They do well in ponds, lakes, rivers and streams and will hit anything from a worm on a child's hook to a surface lure worked by a seasoned angler."

Dorris caught his trophy bass by fishing 16-20 ft. deep with a shad-colored spinnerbait. He used a "yo-yo" technique to attract the fish, but he claims the catch was more a result of getting out there and fishing than being a highly skillful angler. He is active in two clubs and said he will fish about 4-7 days a month between now and November. He claims anybody can have luck bass fishing in Oklahoma if they learn a few simple tips and simply go fishing.

"You don't have to be a professional. You just have to be on the water," Dorris said. "You'll never catch a big fish sitting at home."

Photo Credit: Mackey Keener, McGee Creek State Park Ranger

Caption: Clayton Dorris, Blanchard, caught this 12 lb., 6 oz. largemouth bass Feb. 23 that measured over 28 inches in length, confirming claims from Wildlife Department officials that now is a great time for trophy bass fishing. Dorris caught the bass at McGee Creek Lake.

-30-

 

March offers full schedule of events for outdoor enthusiasts

March is full of activities and events catered to Oklahoma's outdoorsmen, like the Oklahoma Station of the Safari Club International's annual banquet March 3. The event features a live auction where bidders have a chance to buy guided hunts all over Oklahoma and the world, as well as art, firearms, camping equipment, vacations, jewelry and more. The banquet generates revenue for the organization, which supports local causes that benefit the sportsmen and wildlife in Oklahoma.

Learn more about this event and others on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Outdoor Calendar by logging on to wildlifedepartment.com.

The Outdoor Calendar is updated daily and can help sportsmen plan outings all across the state.

"The Outdoor Calendar is a great way for people to learn about events all over Oklahoma," said Nels Rodefeld, chief of the information and education division of the Wildlife Department. "For example, the calendar could be used to plan a family getaway to Tulsa this weekend for the NatureWorks Art Show Saturday and Sunday or the Tulsa Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation's annual banquet and fundraiser."

The NatureWorks Art Show and Sale, to be held at the Tulsa Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center (6808 South 107th East Avenue) features the work of nationally and internationally known outdoor artists and, in recent years, has generated matching grants to assist a variety of state wildlife conservation projects. The show runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Tulsa's NWTF chapter lays claim to being the oldest and longest running chapter and banquet in the state's NWTF history. The group's event begins at 6 p.m. Saturday and will include a patriotic ceremony as well as dinner, games, prizes, an auction and kids activities. Tickets can be purchased by calling (918) 688-9446.

Other NWTF chapter events are featured on the Outdoor Calendar, as are hunter education courses, hunting season dates, eagle viewing events, wildlife seminars, outdoor cooking classes, hunting and fishing events and more.

"Basically anything related to Oklahoma's strong tradition of enjoying the outdoors can be found on the Outdoor Calendar," Rodefeld said. "You can't beat it as a source for what's happening in the outdoors across the state."

Sportsmen can receive the current week's Outdoor Calendar events by e-mail when they subscribe to the Wildlife Department's weekly news release at www.wildlifedepartment.com

-30-

 

Youth Hunter Education Challenge events begin this month

Youth can sharpen their outdoor skills this year by participating in the National Rifle Association's Oklahoma Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) events.

"We're ready to get the 2007 season going and are looking to have a lot more participation across the state," said Carey Pribil, Oklahoma YHEC state coordinator.

YHEC is a program developed exclusively for hunter education course graduates from North America up to 19 years of age. YHEC provides graduates with a unique opportunity to test their abilities at a variety of hunting techniques, including shotgun, archery, and rifle events. The event is divided into youth and senior competitions with both groups competing at the same level of difficulty. Participants also are tested on their knowledge of wildlife species, knowledge of regulations and hunting ethics. Knowledge is tested on the hunter safety trail where participants are led through simulated hunting scenarios and must not only determine when it is legal to harvest game, but also must make correct decisions about whether to shoot at all.

This training ensures the future of the American hunting tradition as a safe, viable, recreational activity the entire family can enjoy. Though participants are scored and ranked in all YHEC events, the real challenge focuses on personal improvement.

Pribil said the competition aspect should not scare off participants because the events focus on educating youth and give them an opportunity to improve.

"It gives them another avenue to test their skills," Pribil said, adding that the events help youth measure what they learned in their hunter education course and in the field.

For more information about the hunter education course offered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

The first YHEC event will be March 31 at the Stillwater Gun Club in the Lake McMurtry area in Stillwater. For more information and a schedule of events, log on to yhec.org or call Carey Pribil at (405) 613-8755.

-30-

Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approves numerous regulation changes

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a host of hunting and fishing regulation changes at its regular meeting Monday, most notably a number of significant deer hunting regulation changes aimed at improving the health of Oklahoma's deer herd while providing additional hunting opportunities for antlerless deer.

Specific deer hunting regulation changes were:

The statewide combined season limit on antlered deer was reduced from three to two bucks.

Youth under the age of 18 will have the opportunity to harvest a buck during the Youth Gun Season.

For most of the state (antlerless zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), the number of days open to antlerless deer hunting was increased to include the entire muzzleloader season (Oct. 27 - Nov. 4) and the entire gun season (Nov. 17 - Dec. 2). Zone one, located in the Panhandle, will be open to antlerless deer hunting Nov. 17 and Dec. 2 (gun), while zone 10 in southeast Oklahoma will be open to antlerless deer hunting Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 2-4 (muzzleloader) and Nov. 17, 24 and Dec. 2 (gun).

Special antlerless seasons for most of the state (antlerless zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) will be open Dec. 21-23 and Dec. 28-30. The Panhandle and portions of southeast Oklahoma are excluded. For a map of specific antlerless hunting zones, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."

In antlerless deer harvest zone two, which includes much of northwest and north central Oklahoma, the antlerless deer bag limit for muzzleloader and gun seasons was increased to two antlerless deer. For a map of zone two, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."

Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say the changes should help in managing the state's deer herd while at the same time providing benefits to hunters.

"We are confident that the changes approved by the Commission will help create a more favorable buck-to-doe ratio, improve the health of the herd and give hunters more chances to harvest does, and hopefully nicer bucks," said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department.

Deer regulations were not the only hunting regulations to change. The Commission voted and approved the following hunting items as well:

River otters were added to the list of species that can be taken during the state's furbearer season in 14 counties in eastern Oklahoma, including Adair, Atoka, Cherokee, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, McIntosh, Muskogee, Pittsburg, Pushmataha and Sequoyah counties. A season limit of two river otters will apply. For tagging and other requirements, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Mountain lions were added to the list of species that can be taken year-round when committing or about to commit depredation or when deemed a nuisance or health hazard.

The Commission voted to clarify guidelines for taking care of injured, sick or young wildlife for licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

Those participating in Oklahoma's Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) will be permitted to harvest antlerless deer with modern firearms during the entire month of December.

In addition, the Commission established a south zone for dove hunting that will be open during the regular season Sept. 1-Oct. 30, but also Dec. 26-Jan. 4. The daily limit in the south zone will be 12 doves. The south zone starts on U.S. 62 from the Texas border west of Hollis, east to Interstate 44, Interstate 44 south to OK 7, OK 7 east to U.S. 81 and U.S. 81 south to the Texas border at the Red River. The remainder of the state will be considered the north zone, and regulations for that area were not changed.

"Since this portion of Oklahoma holds such strong dove populations through much of the winter, this change gives hunters more days to go out and hunt during times of the year when game is plentiful," Peoples said. "It's great because the new added dates fall right in line with the Holidays, so people may get more chances to meet up with family and friends to hunt."

Other changes that were approved affect fisherman and several popular fishing spots.

Lower Illinois River Public Fishing and Hunting Area (PFHA): A 20-inch minimum size limit and one-fish-per-day limit on rainbow trout as well as an artificial flies and lures, barbless hooks-only restriction was approved for a half-mile portion of the trout stream (from the USGS stream gauge station downstream to the gravel pit county road). There are, however, provisions to allow anglers fishing this area to use natural bait on barbed hooks as long as the hooks are size 3/0 or larger. The area is popular with anglers who fish for striped bass using live bait.

Lower Mountain Fork River trout stream: A 20-inch minimum size limit and one-fish-per-day limit on rainbow trout as well as an artificial flies and lures, barbless hooks-only area was approved for the Evening Hole/Lost Creek areas. Additionally, the existing 20-inch minimum size limit and one-fish-per-day limit on rainbow trout as well as the artificial flies and lures, barbless hooks-only restriction on that portion of stream from Rough Branch Creek downstream to the reregulation dam was eliminated.

Blue River PFHA: A catch-and-release only portion of the Blue River PFHA trout stream from the northern-most boundary of the Plaster Wildlife Management Unit/Landrum Wilderness Areas downstream approximately a half-mile was established and will be effective Nov. 1-Feb. 29 annually. During that period, artificial flies and lures, barbless hooks-only are permitted in this area. From March 1 through the end of trout season, this rule will not be in effect and the statewide trout limit will apply.

Department-owned lakes and access areas: Hunting seasons on those areas open to hunting (Lake Hall, Jap Beaver, Burtschi, Nanih Waiya, Ozzie Cobb, Schooler, Evans Chambers, American Horse and Vanderwork) were extended to the period from Sept. 1 through spring turkey season each year.

The minimum size limit on walleye at Lake Altus-Lugert was reduced to 14 inches.

The minimum size limit on black bass at Lake Arcadia was reduced to 14 inches, and the daily limit on black bass at Lake Arcadia was increased to six.

The limit on the number of shad a person can have in possession while on the water was eliminated, and the possession limit on the number of shad that can be legally transported via land-based transportation was increased from 150 to 200. Additionally, the sale, offer to sell and transportation of shad taken from Oklahoma waters out of state with the intent to sell were prohibited.

The Arcadia Conservation Education Area was added to the rules governing public use on Department Fishing Areas, which allows walk-in access to Arcadia Lake from the property, prohibits unauthorized camping and restricts unsanctioned fishing in educational training ponds.

Camping on the Lower Illinois River PFHA will be prohibited.

"Low-point" beer was added to language that places restrictions on possession and consumption of intoxicating beverages, except in camping and parking areas, on all Department areas. Also, an existing rule prohibiting controlled and dangerous substance possession on Department Fishing Areas was clarified.

The definition of a legal bowfishing arrow was changed to an arrow with one point having no more than four barbs.

Gaff hooks will be allowed for landing paddlefish taken while bowfishing.

Fishing and angler camping will be permitted at Lake Dahlgren on the Lexington Wildlife Management Area.

Finally, the Commission re-affirmed the Department's control of fish stocking in all waters of the state.

Wildlife Department Fisheries Chief Kim Erickson said the slate of fishing regulation changes should improve fisheries management and angling opportunities across the state.

"Oklahoma's fish and the anglers who enjoy them were the top priority in making these changes," Erickson said. "People should definitely take advantage of the fisheries near them and the increased fishing opportunities created by these decisions."

The Commission approved several other items Monday relating to mussel harvest regulations and other wildlife. Pertaining to mussel harvests, the Commission made permanent several current rules that will:

Require mussel harvesters to notify local game wardens of commercial mussel harvest operations.

Modify some reporting procedures, including a requirement to list mussels purchased by species.

Define how mussel dealers calculate their dollar value of purchased shells.

Other items include the following:

An approval to allow the use of .17 HMR rimfire firearms on areas owned or managed by the Wildlife Department.

The establishment of hunting seasons on the new Arcadia Conservation Education Area, Drummond Flats, Lower Illinois River PFHA and Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge and WMA.

The increase of hunting opportunities on several wildlife management areas.

The clarification that controlled hunt applications are only available on the Department's Web site and must be submitted online.

A change to allow youth under 16 years old to participate in the Department's Controlled Youth Hunt if they have successfully completed the Hunter Education requirements. Previously, only youth ages 12-14 on the date of the hunt could participate.

The new regulations must now pass through the legislative process and be signed by the governor. Look for complete details in the next Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Guides.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department, and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The next scheduled Commission meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 2 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.

-30-

 

2007 deer season set; new limits stand to benefit state's herd and hunters

The 2007 Oklahoma deer hunting regulations have now been approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, and officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say both deer and sportsmen will reap the benefits of changes adopted for this year.

Changes to the state's combined season deer limits, youth seasons and antlerless deer hunting opportunities were among the most significant items approved Monday at the meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The annual combined season limit of six deer will not change, but the number of antlered deer allowed in that total has been reduced from three to two.

"This change is a good step toward improving the structure of our deer herd," said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Department. "A better age structure translates to a healthier population overall."

Also new for 2007, antlerless deer hunting zones in most of the state (antlerless deer zones 2-9) will be open to antlerless hunting every day during muzzleloader season (Oct. 27-Nov. 4) and gun season (Nov. 17-Dec. 2). Areas in antlerless harvest zone one, which includes most of the Panhandle, will be open to antlerless hunting Nov. 17 and Dec. 2 during gun season. Zone 10, which includes southeast Oklahoma, will be open to antlerless hunting Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 2-4 during muzzleloader season and Nov. 17, 24 and Dec. 2 during gun season.

Also new this year, hunters in zone two, which includes much of northwest and north central Oklahoma, will be allowed to harvest two does during muzzleloader and gun seasons. For a map showing the state's antlerless deer harvest zones, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting guide."

The special antlerless deer season will be open in most areas of the state Dec. 21-23 and Dec. 28-30. Hunters in the central, southwest and northeast portions of Oklahoma previously enjoyed only three days during the special antlerless deer season. For specific areas open to the special antlerless deer season, consult the "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."

"Additional doe days, more generous bag limits during muzzleloader and gun seasons and opening up the special antlerless deer season for more days in more areas means more chances to go hunting," Peoples said. "If hunters take advantage of this, our deer herd will benefit because the health of the herd and our buck-to-doe ratios will continue to improve."

Also new for 2007, youth hunting in the youth gun season will be allowed to take a buck, unlike in years past when only antlerless deer were permitted. Another change made to benefit youth hunters will allow anyone under 16 years old who has successfully completed the Department's Hunter Education course to participate in the state's Controlled Hunts for youth. Previously, Controlled Hunts for youth were limited to youth ages 12-14. Look for Controlled Hunts information on the Department's Website at wildlifedepartment.com around April 1.

"These changes are good for Oklahoma," said Peoples. "They offer many additional ways that deer hunters can share their heritage with family and friends while helping improve our deer herd, too."

The "2007-08 Oklahoma Hunting Guide" listing the new changes will be available this summer.

The new regulations must now pass through the legislative process and be signed by the governor. Look for complete details in the next Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Guides.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department, and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The next scheduled Commission meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 2 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.

-30-

 

Donations from angler clubs tripled by Sport Fish Restoration Dollars

The Lower Illinois River Public Fishing and Hunting Area is going to become an even better place to fish because of the generosity of several local and international angler groups.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently accepted several donations from the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited as well as the Tulsa Fly Fishers and Federation of Fly Fishers. Each group donated $1,500, and the 89er Chapter also donated a custom-made centennial seal to the Department at the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting held Monday at the Department headquarters. The financial donations are matched three to one by Federal Sport Fish Restoration dollars.

"These donations are going to be used on habitat improvement projects on the Lower Illinois River Public Fishing and Hunting Area," said Kim Erickson, fisheries chief for the Wildlife Department.

The 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited has donated a total of $21,000 since their inception, and the Tulsa Fly Fishers have donated a total of $12,000 for a total of $33,000 between the two.

"When you match that three to one with Sport Fish Restoration dollars, that means these groups have helped contribute close to $100,000 to wildlife conservation," Erickson said. "Their donations go a long way when it comes to improvements to fisheries habitats. We're grateful for their partnership and the effort they put into so many projects."

The Wildlife Department receives no general state tax revenues and is funded by sportsmen through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and special federal excise taxes on sporting goods.

The Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration programs are a tremendous example of true partnerships between private industries, state governments, the federal government and hunters, anglers and boaters. Firearms, bows and arrows, fishing tackle, boat fuel and other outdoor related equipment are subject to special federal excise taxes which help fund conservation efforts around the country.

The federal government collects these taxes from manufacturers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers and disburses the funds to state fish and wildlife agencies like the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Hunters, anglers, shooters and boaters ultimately pay these taxes through the purchase of products. These same groups benefit from the funds, as states must spend the money on sport fish and wildlife habitat restoration/development, population management, user access and facilities and education.

The funds are used by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for a wide range of important activities, including the purchase and maintenance of wildlife management areas, restoration and maintenance of fish hatcheries, user facilities, surveying fish and wildlife populations and educating young hunters.

-30-

 

Game wardens use special tools and tactics to break big cases

On any given night in November, there may be more than just stars in the sky. There may be game wardens with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation looking to catch poachers who are illegally taking wildlife.

"Using the airplane is just one of the special emphasis tools we employ to make the outdoors better for everyone to enjoy," said Larry Manering, Law Enforcement Chief with the Wildlife Department. "Operation Game Thief, our hotline where concerned sportsmen and citizens can report illegal behavior, is also an important tool."

According to Jay Harvey, game warden stationed in Choctaw and Bryan counties, using an airplane makes it difficult for poachers to hide their activities.

"We concluded a case not too long ago that came from plane work," Harvey said. "A group of wardens, using the plane and ground units with radio communication, saw two subjects on ATVs spotlighting a field."

Shane Fields, game warden stationed in Pittsburg Co., was inside the plane working as a spotter and radio communicator. Harvey, along with Game Wardens Eric Barnes, stationed Pushmataha Co., and Dru Polk, McCurtain Co., were in the area and responded to the scene. Upon further investigation, they discovered that three men had possession of illegally taken deer.

A fourth man fled but was tracked down the next day by game wardens using information obtained from the three men as well as through interviews with other individuals in the area. Though he tried to deny his involvement, the officers matched brand new equipment found on the ATVs the night before with its product packaging found in his vehicle. He ended up pleading guilty to four charges.

Citations were issued for multiple offenses, and the four men involved paid a combined total of more than $7,000 in fines and costs. The group had killed two fawns, which the Wildlife Department donated to a needy family.

Game wardens play the crucial role in making sure Oklahoma's game laws are observed, and in recent years, they have been using modern resources and thorough direct observation and investigative techniques to search out violators of game laws.

The work of a game warden involves everything from providing lake reports to helping biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation accomplish their wildlife management goals, but the most critical role of the job is to ensure compliance of wildlife laws and ensure sportsmen have an equal opportunity to enjoy hunting and fishing.

"Even though Oklahoma is home to many ethical sportsmen, you always have a few bad apples that show blatant disregard for Oklahoma's wildlife and the laws that regulate use of wildlife," said James Edwards, Jr., game warden stationed in Caddo Co. "We have to be innovative in our approach and careful in our investigations to make sure game law violators are caught. One case where we had to do some thorough investigating and interviewing took place recently in Comanche County."

The case Edwards, Jr. is referencing is the prosecution of an elk-killing ring near the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. Several individuals had been involved in activities including the unlawful hunting and killing of elk during closed season, illegal possession of wildlife parts and other violations.

Evidence seized included elk parts, firearms and ammunition, audio-taped interviews with guilty parties, numerous photographs from the investigation and bullet fragments taken from each of three illegally killed elk involved.

Other measures for protecting wildlife include the Operation Game Thief Reward program, a hotline (800-522-8039) that can be called to report violations of the state's game and fish laws. Callers are assigned a code and are not required to give their names.

Two Texans found out last fall just how well Operation Game Thief can work. With the deer archery season underway, Game Wardens Brady May and Tony Clark received an Operation Game Thief tip that two men were hunting deer illegally in the Tahlequah area.

After conducting extensive surveillance work on the suspects to confirm the report, May and Clark, both stationed in Cherokee Co., apprehended the two Texas hunters with six illegally taken whitetail deer.

"The two were almost ready to head back to Texas and had all six deer quartered and on ice ready for transport when they were apprehended," May said. "They had killed four bucks and two does with rifles out of season north of Tahlequah on private land. In addition, each defendant was charged for hunting without a non-resident license."

The two out-of-staters ended up pleading guilty and, through plea agreements with the Cherokee Co. district attorney's office, settled with a total of $6,000 in total fines and court costs and restitution. Each defendant will pay $2,000 in fines, and each will make restitution to the Wildlife Department by making a $1,000 contribution to the Operation Game Thief program. The Wildlife Department donated the meat from the poached deer to its Hunters Against Hunger program, where it will be dispersed to needy families through food distribution programs in the Tahlequah area.

"It's a shame that we sometimes have to deal with individuals who break our state's wildlife laws, but it's comforting for sportsmen to know game wardens are actively involved in stopping this kind of activity in Oklahoma," Edwards, Jr. said. "Sometimes we have to conduct interviews, collect evidence, take phone calls or use airplanes to do the job. That's just part of what we do. And the extra measures taken make things better for the many sportsmen who do it right."

Game wardens are some of the most recognized employees of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. A game warden's primary job is to enforce the fish and wildlife laws of the state. These laws ensure that all sportsmen continue to enjoy opportunities to hunt and fish for years to come.

In addition to their law enforcement duties, game wardens teach hunter education courses, submit weekly fishing reports from area lakes, assist fisheries and wildlife biologists in research projects and assist landowners with technical information on fish and wildlife habitat improvement.

Becoming a game warden is no easy task. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and must take a challenging employment exam. After prospective candidates are selected through interviews and background checks, their training begins at the Wildlife Department's headquarters in Oklahoma City. There they undergo five weeks of intensive training, including criminal law, arrest procedures and how to professionally contact the public. Next, new wardens attend 364 hours of training through the Council on Law Enforcement and Training (CLEET). After graduation, they are then paired with a field-training officer. The veteran officers work alongside the new wardens for 10 weeks before the wardens begin their first solo assignments.

The Wildlife Department employs about 120 game wardens, including at least one in every county of the state. To find a game warden working in your county, consult the current Oklahoma Hunting or Fishing Guide or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

"Most ethical sportsmen enjoy the outdoors legally in ways that benefit both themselves and wildlife, and that's the agency's goal," said Manering. "We will keep working toward that."

-30-

Fish tagging helps biologists manage prehistoric paddlefish

Oklahoma anglers who catch a tagged paddlefish this year can learn more about their fish by logging on to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.

For months, Brent Gordon, fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Department, has been netting, weighing, measuring and marking paddlefish with metal tags on the front of the jaw before releasing them to be caught again by anglers.

"Now is the time to be preparing for a paddlefish trip," Gordon said. "They will begin spawning any time now, and on some days you can catch them almost nonstop."

Paddlefish are caught by snagging, and top fishing spots include locations on the Neosho River such as the Riverview City Park in Miami, Conner and Twin Bridges above Grand Lake, the Kaw Lake tailwaters, Ft. Gibson Lake and Oologah Lake. Also, good paddlefishing can be found on Hudson Lake, where over 500 fish have already been marked with Wildlife Department tags to date.

Like sharks, the skeleton of a paddlefish is made of cartilage instead of bones. The fish regularly weigh over 50 pounds, and anglers say the action is intense, better compared to heart-pounding saltwater fishing than freshwater angling. One of Oklahoma's largest fish, paddlefish feed on plankton made of up microscopic plants and animals, just as they did long ago during the Jurassic Period.

"Most people have to go to a museum to see something that swam around in ancient times, and even then they are limited to fossils and bones," Gordon said. "But Oklahomans can actually reel in a prehistoric fish in their own state."

Paddlefish, also called "spoonbills," range throughout the U.S. from Montana to Louisiana, and though some states have seen dramatic decreases in their numbers, studies in Oklahoma indicate an increase in recent years. In fact, data collected through the Wildlife Department's paddlefish tagging program may assist other state wildlife agencies in restoring their paddlefish numbers.

"If you catch a paddlefish that has been tagged by the Department, you can find out the length of the fish when it was first caught in a gillnet as well as when and where it was netted," Gordon said. "You will also be helping the Department to better manage paddlefish by reporting your catch - all with just a few clicks of a mouse."

Anglers who catch a tagged paddlefish can log on to www.wildlifedepartment.com to enter the tag number, learn more about their fish and read about the paddlefish tagging program.

Gordon said it is important for anglers to participate.

"Paddlefish are unusual and require different management practices than other big fish," Gordon said. "For example, it takes a male paddlefish six to eight years to mature, and it takes a female eight to 10 years. That's a long time compared to other big trophy fish in Oklahoma, like striped bass, which can reproduce in their third or fourth year."

Since the fish take so long to mature, Gordon said as much information as possible needs to be gathered on Oklahoma's populations.

"They're in trouble in some states, so keeping track of our populations as well as the makeup of those populations will help us assist other states and will keep our management program going strong," Gordon said.

Recently, the Wildlife Department developed rules to help paddlefish continue to thrive in Oklahoma. The rules reduce the bag and possession limits from three to one paddlefish daily and require the use of barbless hooks. Any fish caught and kept must be immediately tagged with the angler's name, address and fishing license number. Anglers are allowed to catch and release paddlefish until they decide to keep a fish, a practice that was previously prohibited. For more information and regulations for paddlefishing, consult the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide."

-30-

 

First Youth Spring Turkey Season opens this month

Youth hunters waiting for April to arrive so they can go turkey hunting will get a treat this year in the form of a new hunting season designed just for them.

Slated for March 31 and April 1 statewide, the first youth spring turkey season will be open to hunters under 18 years old.

"This is the first time we've had a turkey season just for young people," said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Taking advantage of a youth-only hunting season is one of the best ways for kids and their families and friends to spend some time outdoors together."

For youth ages 16 and 17, getting certified in the hunter education course offered by the Department is the first step to participating in the youth season. Several courses are still available before March 31. Log on to wildlifedepartment.com for course dates and locations as well as other hunter education information. Youth ages 16 and 17 must also possess a hunting license unless exempt. For exemptions, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."

Youth under 16 years old are exempt from the purchase of a hunting license and the fishing and hunting legacy permit and are not required to take the hunter education course. All youth turkey hunters must possess a turkey license unless exempt.

"If a youth participates in the season but doesn't harvest a turkey, they can use their unfilled license to hunt turkeys during the regular spring season," Meek said.

The youth season limit is one tom turkey, which is included in the county and regular spring season limits.

All youth participants must be accompanied by an adult age 18 or older while hunting during the youth spring season. Adults who are supervising youth hunters during the season may not hunt or carry any firearms or archery equipment.

"Turkey season involves a lot of action, which is good for young hunters," Meek said. "This youth turkey season is going to be exciting for a lot youngsters and the adults who take them hunting."

Meek reminds youth hunters of a few safety tips to remember while participating in the youth season:

Conceal harvested birds and decoys while walking through the woods.

Sit with your back against a tree that is large enough to hide your whole body.

Set up decoys to the side of you rather than directly in front of you.

Avoid wearing colors such as red, white or blue while turkey hunting since these are common turkey colors.

If you see another hunter approaching, speak to them clearly rather than whistling or calling to them with a turkey call.

-30-

 

State water discussions kick off at Beaver

Oklahomans who live near Beaver Co. will be the first state residents to have an opportunity to share their opinions about what should be included in Oklahoma's upcoming 50-year water plan.

The first of approximately 40 meetings across Oklahoma will begin at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 12 at the Beaver County Fairgrounds Pavilion.

"Oklahoma's future depends in large part on the availability of clean water, said Mike Langston, assistant director of the Water Research Institute. "Our government leaders need to know the concerns Oklahomans have about the state's water resources."

Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are encouraging the sportsmen who feel strongly about fish and wildlife to offer their opinions at the meetings.

"Water is one of our most important resources, and as sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts, we know that water management affects not only people, but also the state's wildlife," said Nels Rodefeld, information and education chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "These meetings offer outdoorsmen a good chance to participate in the process for how our state will plan its water needs."

The Oklahoma Legislature mandates that the Oklahoma Water Resources Board develop and periodically update a comprehensive water plan. The OWRB, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers and other organizations, is also conducting technical studies of projected water demands and water supply infrastructure needs.

The Water Research Institute, located at Oklahoma State University but serving all of Oklahoma, is assisting the board with the planning process. The institute focuses on two major thrusts: citizen input and research to investigate identified issues and concerns.

"As a state, we're facing difficult decisions on a variety of water-related issues that will affect us, our kids, and their kids," Langston said. "We strongly encourage all citizens to attend at least one meeting in their area, this is their opportunity to set the agenda for the water plan."

Though the ultimate responsibility for writing the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan lies with the OWRB, Langston said the WRI promises that every issue raised, concern expressed question asked and suggestion offered will be faithfully communicated to the OWRB.

Anyone seeking additional information about the upcoming Local Input Meetings should contact Jeri Fleming by e-mail at waterplan@okstate.edu or by phone at (405) 744-9994.

The following is a schedule of input meetings for April and May. All meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. To see a complete list of meeting locations or for more information on the planning process, log on to okwaterplan.info.

-30-

State smallmouth bass record almost broken again at Eufaula

A Broken Arrow college student caught an eight-pound, one-and-a-half-ounce smallmouth bass Wednesday at Lake Eufaula that fell only an ounce and half short of matching the current state record.

James Elam, 20 and a sophomore at OSU, was fishing near the Porum Landing around 2 p.m. March 21 when he reeled in the lunker on a homemade plastic lure. That was after he had already reeled in a six-pound smallmouth at 7:45 a.m. that morning.

Elam said he caught the huge bass by fishing deep over ledges.

If the big bass had eaten one more meal that day before being hooked, it would likely have gone down in the record books. The fish fell just shy of the state record smallmouth, an eight-pound, three-ounce fish caught out of Eufaula March 4, 2006 by Steve McLarty, also from Broken Arrow.

"I'm pretty happy about catching the fish," Elam said, and he wasn't too worried about it not becoming the new record. "Either way, it's the biggest smallmouth I have ever caught."

With two of the largest smallmouth bass in state history pulled from its waters, Eufaula is proving itself as a well-established trophy fishery. The east-central Oklahoma lake saw its first stocking of smallmouths in 1992 by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Home to a self-sustaining population of reservoir strain smallmouths that originated in Tennessee, the lake is also a great destination for white bass and black bass anglers.

Other popular state smallmouth fisheries include Texoma, Skiatook, Lawtonka and Broken Bow lakes. Many of the state's rivers and streams hold large populations of smallmouth as well, though not the reservoir strain that reaches record sizes.

State record fish listings and procedures for certifying potential state record fish are posted on the Department's Web site at wildlifedepartment.com or in the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide," available at most fishing license vendors across the state. Potential record fish must be weighed on scales certified by the Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture and verified by a Wildlife Department employee before entering the books as a record.

As for Elam, he will keep on fishing for smallmouths, and he might just land the next record.

"I've got a lifetime to catch another one," Elam said.

Photo Credit: Steve Burge, Southeast Region Information Specialist for the Wildlife Department

Caption: James Elam, 20, of Broken Arrow caught this 8 lb., 1.5 oz. smallmouth bass March 21 at Eufaula Lake on a homemade plastic lure. Elam is a sophomore at Oklahoma State University.

-30-

 

White bass beginning their annual spawning runs; fishing great right now

According to the state Fishing Report, white bass, also known as "sand bass," are beginning their annual spawning runs in parts of the state, and fishing for the popular springtime sport fish is heating up.

"Anglers need to get in on the sand bass fishing now," said Paul Balkenbush, southeast region fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The spawning runs are starting, and that means there will be feeding frenzies upstream in lake tributaries. Sand bass anglers can fill up a stringer in a hurry this time of year, if they get out there and don't miss the annual run."

According to Balkenbush, white bass fishing is popular in Oklahoma because of the action offered by their aggressive feeding behavior during late March and early April, when the fish migrate in large numbers into upper-lake tributaries. Their large appetites and dense concentration in creeks and rivers can lead to non-stop action. But he also said the simplicity of white bass makes it an ideal way to spend a spring day.

"The beauty of a white bass run is you don't have to have all the fancy equipment," Balkenbush said. "You just need some simple gear and you'll have all the fun you want."

Right now, according to the Department's weekly Fishing Report, white bass are staging and starting their annual run up the Mountain Fork River at Broken Bow Lake and are being caught on an assortment of grubs. Reports also say the "sandies" are being caught in southeast Oklahoma up creeks at Murray, Arbuckle, Hugo, Eufaula, Konawa, Sardis, Robert S. Kerr, McGee Creek and Pine Creek.

Southeast Oklahoma is not the only place producing great sand bass fishing, however. Fishing is reportedly excellent now in tributaries at the upper end of Ft. Gibson using crankbaits and spinnerbaits, and also good at Grand Lake, Hudson, Sooner and Keystone.

In the southwest, reports are good at Waurika Lake on live bait and along the dam at Canton Lake in the northwest part of the state.

According to anglers, top choices for catching white bass during the spring river run include jigs, spinners and minnows.

"This time of year, you can use a variety of tackle to catch white bass," Balkenbush said. "The important thing is to be there on the water during their annual run. The spring rains will help kick start spawning activity in some places where it hasn't already started."

The white bass is among Oklahoma's most widely distributed game fish. Excellent populations can be found in all regions of the state, including Broken Bow (southeast), Ft. Cobb (southwest), Canton (northwest), Oologah (northeast) and Hefner (central).

For a complete list of regulations, anglers should pick up a copy of the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide" or check out the Department's weekly Fishing Report and lake conditions by logging on to the Department's Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.

-30-

 

Gobbler season opens April 6; hunters allowed multiple birds a day

April 6 marks the opening day of spring turkey season in Oklahoma, and with it comes a new regulation change allowing hunters to harvest more than one turkey per day.

"In the past, hunters could only take one tom per day until they reached their limit," said Jack Waymire, southeast region senior biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The change will allow hunters to harvest up to their season limit of three tom turkeys in one day, but individual county limits will still apply.

"Every county in Oklahoma has either a one- or two-tom season limit, and eight southeast counties have a combined two-tom season limit," Waymire said. "But if a hunter is persistent, they can travel to one of many Department-managed wildlife management areas across the state and harvest birds out of multiple counties."

Spring turkey season runs from April 6 through May 6 and is open to shotgun and archery equipment. For specific firearms and archery requirements as well as a state map showing individual county bag limits, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."

Oklahoma is home to two main subspecies of wild turkeys - the Rio Grande and the Eastern - but occasionally the Merriam subspecies can be found in the far western edge of the Panhandle.

"Back in the 1920s, wild turkeys were very rare in Oklahoma and all across the nation," Waymire said.

Overharvest from market hunting, timbering for construction of homesteads, land use changes and market logging in Oklahoma's early years took a toll on the wild turkey, but a stocking program undertaken by the Wildlife Department in the late 1940s helped re-establish the wild turkey to its former range across the state.

"Now the state is 100 years old and turkeys are so plentiful that you can find huntable populations in all 77 counties," Waymire said.

Because of extreme droughts in recent years, however, Eastern turkeys have seen a slight decrease in numbers, but Waymire said if a healthy number of young birds hatch and survive to maturity this year, the state should probably see a rebound in numbers. Drought conditions over the western two thirds of the state, however, have had minimal effect on the Rio Grande subspecies. Winter flock surveys done by Department employees estimate the statewide wild turkey population at 128,000 to 130,000.

To hunt turkeys, sportsmen need an appropriate state hunting license and fishing and hunting legacy permit as well as a turkey license, unless exempt. Upon harvesting a turkey, all annual license holders are required to complete the "Record of Game" section on the license form, and all hunters, even lifetime license holders, must attach their name and hunting license number to their turkey as soon as it is harvested. Only toms, or bearded turkeys, may be taken during the spring season.

For more information about the spring turkey season, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide" or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

-30-

Okmulgee students compete in Archery in the Schools event; state tournament slated

Nearly 100 students from three Okmulgee Co. schools showed up at the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge Tuesday to participate in the second annual Okmulgee County Archery Day.

Students at the event competed against each other in Olympic-style archery shooting events and also tried 3-D archery target shooting and mock bowfishing. Additionally, students were treated to a wild game lunch and hands-on archery instruction. The highlight of the day-long event included a shoot-off between the three competing schools, which were Morris, Wilson and Beggs. Morris took home the team championship trophy, but every school had individual shooters who placed in the top three of either the boys or girls shooting events.

Taking first in the boys category was Luke Driver, Morris, followed by Alex Workman, Morris, and Christian Bowers, Wilson. In the girls category, Krysten McLaughin, Morris, took first placed, followed by Cassy Rice, Beggs, and Kate Nichols, Morris.

Okmulgee County Archery Day was part of the Oklahoma Archery in the Schools program coordinated by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The national program is a partnership between state wildlife agencies, schools and the nation's archery industry.

"The Archery in the Schools program makes it possible for students to try a sport that isn't normally offered in schools. It's so much fun though, that schools are catching on and getting students involved," said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department who also heads up the Archery in the Schools program for the state.

Designed for 4th-12th graders, the Archery in the Schools curriculum covers archery history, safety, techniques, equipment, mental concentration and self-improvement. Teachers attend an eight-hour National Archery in the Schools training class taught by certified Wildlife Department instructors, and then return to their schools fully prepared to teach the two-week archery course to their students.

Students shoot at targets placed before an arrow-resistant net, and the shooting equipment is designed to fit every student. Eleven universal draw-length compound bows, 60 aluminum arrows, five foam targets, a bow rack, a backstop and a repair kit are all part of the Oklahoma Archery in the Schools kit that can be purchased by schools to offer the program.

"Archery is one of those sports where all students can really learn to excel at something, and it allows them to be a little competitive, too," Meek said. "But even if they don't compete in the sport, archery is still a lifelong hobby that they will always have to enjoy."

The Oklahoma Archery in the Schools state tournament is slated for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 26 at the University of Central Oklahoma's Hamilton Field House and Wellness Center. Any of the state's 80 schools that have taught the two-week Archery in the Schools curriculum can bring students to compete in the tournament.

For more information on the Archery in the Schools program, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

-30-

 

Choosing turkey hunting load and choke combinations that work

The state's spring turkey season opens April 6, and many hunters will be carefully selecting their camo, counting their game calls and choosing the best waterproof boots before taking to the woods, but one official with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation says there is one important element that should not be ignored by gobbler hunters.

"The type of shot shell and shotgun choke you use for turkey hunting is as important as any other factor in determining whether you harvest a bird," said Craig Endicott, northeast region supervisor for the Department. "You can get everything in order, from your clothes to your turkey calls and all your other gear. You can even spend a lot of money on a shotgun. But you need to use the proper shot shell load and choke combination for it all to come together."

Endicott goes into further detail in his online article, "Turkey Loads," available now on the Wildlife Department's Web site. To read the story, log on to wildlifedepartment.com. The Web site also provides tips for turkey hunting as well as season regulations.

-30-

 

"2007 Angler's Guide now available"

With the onset of spring weather and angling opportunities heating up across the state, officials with the Wildlife Department say now is the time to get out and go fishing.

Before heading out, anglers will want to grab a copy of the "2007 Oklahoma Angler's Guide," an informative guide available now in the March/April issue of "Outdoor Oklahoma" magazine, the official publication of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"The 'Angler's Guide' is an excellent source for Oklahoma anglers," said Nels Rodefeld, "Outdoor Oklahoma" editor. "It provides electrofishing results, stocking information and the best destinations for many popular species. It also describes the most popular fish species available in Oklahoma."

The "Angler's Guide" is an annual production put together based on information provided by Department fisheries biologists who know most of the ins and outs of Oklahoma fishing.

"I'm confident that the information in this year's 'Angler's Guide' is going to be helpful to anglers who use it to their advantage," Rodefeld said.

Also available in the March/April issue is a profile of two hot destinations - the Honobia Creek and Three Rivers wildlife management areas. Department biologists say both areas provide more hunting, fishing and camping opportunities than one sportsmen can handle on a weekend get-away. The issue also features an instructional turkey-calling guide for hunters learning the art of attracting turkeys.

The Watchable Wildlife profile features one of the state's most unique fish, the longear sunfish.

To obtain the most recent issue, mail $4 (check, cash, money orders or cashier's check) to "Outdoor Oklahoma" magazine, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152. However, one-year subscriptions are just $10 (two years for $18 or three years for $25) and are available by calling 1-800-777-0019. Additionally, you can subscribe over the Internet by logging on to www.wildlifedepartment.com/outdooroklahoma.htm.

-30-