NOVEMBER 2011 NEWS RELEASES 

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 23, 2011

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 17, 2011

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 10, 2011

 WEEK OF NOVEMBER 3, 2011

Mountain lion killed by vehicle near Minco provides research opportunity for Wildlife Department
 
            A mountain lion was found dead Nov. 1 along HWY 81 north of Minco after having been hit by a vehicle, according to Erik Bartholomew, furbearer biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            The young, 130-lb. male mountain lion will provide an important research opportunity for the Department since the animals are rare and elusive and because biologists have had few opportunities to study them up close in Oklahoma. Bartholomew and a team of Wildlife Department biologists have already collected data on the cat to determine its age and condition, and the animal itself will be used for educational purposes by the Department.
            “We took general measurements of the body of the animal,” Bartholomew said, which included the cat’s weight and measurements of its body, head, tail and paws. Additionally, a tissue sample was collected for DNA analysis to try and determine the origin of the lion, and a tooth was also pulled so that it could be sectioned and stained to more precisely determine the age of the animal.”
            “His fur did have some faint spotting, and based on that, he would be a sub-adult between 12-20 months old,” Bartholomew said.
            Bartholomew said the mountain lion might have been following the South Canadian River corridor in search of new territory, as young males are sometimes pushed out of the territories of older, dominant males.
            “These young males tend to have very large home ranges and can have movements of over 200 square miles. They go out, they look for new territory, and this one unfortunately ran into a car.”
            River corridors are major travel passageways for all types of wildlife. Bartholomew said since humans build cities and towns along rivers, close encounters with wildlife will occur, but a mountain lions basic instinct is to avoid people.
            Bartholomew said the Wildlife Department receives scattered reports of mountain lions “all the time,” but only three have been confirmed this year, including one in the Tulsa area and another whose photograph was captured by a trail camera near Sand Springs.
             Also called “panthers,” “cougars” and “pumas,” mountain lions are native to Oklahoma, and Bartholomew said it is a common misconception that the Wildlife Department denies their existence in the state. Another common but false rumor is that the Wildlife Department has released mountain lions in Oklahoma.
            “There is no doubt from the Wildlife Department’s standpoint that mountain lions occur in Oklahoma, but the Wildlife Department has never released them here,” Bartholomew said. “Additionally, we have never confirmed reproduction of mountain lions within the state. Without reproduction, we do not have a population. What we have are transient animals moving through the state looking for new territory.
            Many wildlife species and domestic animals can be and often are mistaken for mountain lions, so getting confirmed, verifiable sightings can be challenging.
            “As scientists, we can only rely on those sightings that are verifiable and confirmed, and fortunately we have had the evidence in recent years to confirm several sightings,” Bartholomew said.
            Still, Bartholomew said the cats are rare in the state and that few people will ever have the opportunity to see one in the wild.
            “Mountain lions are very secretive,” he said. “Even in states like New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado where there’s lots of mountain lions, very rarely are they seen. In fact most of the ones that are seen are the ones that are hit on the road.”
            One of the state’s most elusive species, mountain lions were originally found throughout Oklahoma and were thought to have been eradicated in the state during the 19th century. There have been few documented cases since the late 1900s, but in the last decade, the Department has documented several confirmations. In addition to those this year, an adult male was killed illegally in Cimarron County in February of 2010. In April of 2010, a young radio-collared male from Colorado traveled through Texas County in the Panhandle and is now living in New Mexico. In the fall of 2009, trail cameras from Tillman and Atoka counties recorded mountain lions. In 2006, a mountain lion in Cimarron County was killing a landowner’s goats and was shot, and in 2004, a young radio-collared male from the Black Hills of South Dakota was hit by a train near the town of Red Rock.
            Several characteristics distinguish mountain lions from other wildlife and domestic animals. Its tail is more than half the length of its body, and it has black tips on the tail and ears. Their coat is primarily tan in color. Males average seven feet long and weigh about 140 pounds, while females average six feet in length and weigh about 95 pounds.
            There is not a mountain lion hunting season in Oklahoma. However, the law allows mountain lions to be taken by licensed hunters, but only when a mountain lion is committing or about to commit depredation on any domesticated animal or when deemed an immediate safety hazard. Individuals who kill a mountain lion must immediately call a game warden or other Wildlife Department employee.

            Officials with the Wildlife Department rely on the public to report verifiable sightings, photos and reports of mountain lions to help document the species in Oklahoma.
            “The only way we get information is when people report it,” Bartholomew said. “If people send us trail camera photos and we can confirm the location, that’s great information for us. Likewise this one was hit on the road, and somebody turned it into us. That’s the only way we can get data on these animals because they’re so secretive. There’s so few in this state that we rely on the public in order to gather information on them.”
            To submit photographs and report sightings of mountain lions in Oklahoma, call Bartholomew at (405) 385-1791.
 
 
 

Caption: Erik Bartholomew, furbearer biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and Mike O’Meilia, program supervisor for the Wildlife Department, take conduct research on a mountain lion that was killed by vehicle Nov. 1 near Minco.
Credit: wildlifedepartment.com

 

 

 

 


 
 

Caption: Erik Bartholomew, furbearer biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, takes measurements while conducting research on a mountain lion that was killed by vehicle Nov. 1 near Minco.

 


 
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Quail season opens Nov. 12


            Oklahoma’s quail season opens Nov. 12 and runs through Feb. 15, providing hunters with an opportunity to hunt one of the most popular game birds in Oklahoma.
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has conducted annual roadside surveys in August and October since 1990 to index quail populations across Oklahoma. Department employees run 83 different 20-mile routes in all counties except Oklahoma and Tulsa, and large counties like Beaver, Ellis, LeFlore, McCurtain, Osage, Pittsburg and Roger Mills have two routes.
            “The 2011 statewide index decreased 37 percent from 2010, which was already down from the 21-year average,” said Doug Schoeling, upland game bird biologist for the Wildlife Department.
            The continued decline in quail numbers is believed to be a result of the continued drought and the record number of days above 100 degrees this summer, which are known to negatively impact quail nesting attempts and success. The only region where the number of quail observed increased from the 2010 survey was in the south-central region, where quail numbers only slightly increased over 2010 numbers.”
            Even though the survey shows quail numbers down, Schoeling still encourages hunters to get out this season. Some areas of the state experienced rain in August that could have contributed to successful late nesting attempts that may not necessarily be reflected in the survey results.  There are always those areas that have good habitat that experienced favorable nesting conditions where there will be opportunity for some good hunts. Wildlife management areas (WMAs) in western Oklahoma probably will offer hunters the best opportunity to find birds on public land. Quail season shooting hours and regulations on some public lands may vary from statewide seasons, so hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for specific area details. To view the current Hunting Guide or find contact information for the WMAs, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
            Oklahoma still remains one of the strongest holdouts of native bobwhite quail populations and habitat. However, seeking to address quail population declines, the Department has   launched several major research efforts to try to identify the factors contributing to their decline.  
            As part of the initiative, the Wildlife Department is working with the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Tech universities on a project called Operation Idiopathic Decline.  Wildlife Department biologists are trapping quail and sending biological samples to Texas Tech University where researchers are investigating the potential impact of disease, parasitism, pesticides, toxins and contaminants on quail.
            The Wildlife Department is also starting an upland game bird initiative that will provide extensive information on matters that could lead to improvements in the quail population and quail habitat management.
            “We’re working with Oklahoma State University to implement a long-term, well-designed telemetry study that’s going to look at the dynamics of reproduction, recruitment and the movements of quail,” Schoeling said. These key aspects of quail ecology will be evaluated in relation to habitat management, weather patterns and events, vegetation and insect abundance, predators and hunting.
Although the research will focus on Packsaddle and Beaver River WMAs — where intensive quail habitat management is being done such as strip disking, patch burning and regulated grazing — research findings will also be used to assist landowners in managing quail on their properties. Quail populations will be closely monitored before and after the application of these management efforts, and their response carefully documented. Quail will be leg-banded and fitted with radio tracking devices where biologists can track movements, reproductive success and survival. Hunters harvesting banded or radio-tagged quail are asked to contact the Wildlife Department or Oklahoma State University. Signs will be posted on the areas detailing how hunters can report banded and tagged birds. Researchers will also use weather stations on the two WMAs to intensively monitor and collect information on localized weather events in order to correlate the relationship between weather, vegetation and insect abundance and intensive management habitat efforts.
            The Wildlife Department will be working to improve methods for monitoring quail populations on a yearly basis.
            “Effectively monitoring the quail population is critical to evaluating management efforts, tracking annual fluctuations in the quail population and informing hunters,” Schoeling said.
Limited supplies of a Wildlife Department publication called “Upland Urgency” are available free for those wanting to learn more about quail research in Oklahoma. To request a copy, call the Wildlife Department at (405) 521-3856 or visit the headquarters office at 1801 North Lincoln in Oklahoma City.
 
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Wildlife Commissioners discuss Oklahoma quail research
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation continues to stay at the forefront of upland game bird research efforts intended to benefit important species like the bobwhite quail and lesser prairie chicken.
            At its Nov. 7 meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission heard a presentation from Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department, regarding ongoing upland game bird research efforts in the state. After record heat and drought, the Wildlife Department’s October roadside quail survey index decreased 37 percent from 2010, which was already down from the 21-year average. Facing a gradual downward range-wide decline in quail populations, biologists have been working on research initiatives to learn more about what factors affect quail mortality.
            As part of the initiative, the Wildlife Department is working with the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Tech universities on a project called Operation Idiopathic Decline. Wildlife Department biologists are trapping quail and sending biological samples to Texas Tech University where researchers are investigating the potential impact of disease, parasitism, pesticides, toxins and contaminants on quail. Additionally, the Wildlife Department is starting an upland game bird initiative on Oklahoma’s Packsaddle and Beaver River wildlife management areas that will provide extensive information that could lead to improvements in the quail population and quail habitat management.
            “We’re in the process of finalizing a contract with Oklahoma State University to conduct bobwhite quail research over the course of the next six years totaling several million dollars,” Peoples said.
            The Department also continues to closely monitor the lesser prairie chicken in northwest Oklahoma. Collectively — between the Wildlife Department, other state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and business industries — over $40 million has been spent on or committed to associated habitat management efforts that benefit the lesser prairie chicken. Peoples said he believes the efforts are proving successful, citing evidence from surveys conducted by the Sutton Avian Research Center that indicate the presence of more prairie chicken leks, or breeding areas, than in previous surveys. Future efforts will include the use of surveys, interstate working groups in partnership with other states, and continued partnerships with the Sutton Avian Research Center and OSU on future research efforts.
            In other business, the Commission was updated on the status of the Grand Lake paddlefish fishery. Coming up on its sixth year of operation, the Paddlefish Research and Processing program stationed near Twin Bridges State Park in northeast Oklahoma helps collect important data to assist biologists in managing the unique fish population.
Paddlefish are large, native fish that eat tiny plankton and are caught by snagging. Every spring large numbers of paddlefish move upstream out of lakes into rivers and tributaries to spawn. It is during this time that anglers have the most success catching them, and the Department’s Paddlefish Research and Processing Center is open for anglers to have their fish cleaned and processed for free in exchange for biological data from the fish and, if female, any eggs present. The Department directs funds derived from the sale of the paddlefish eggs back into the resource through projects that improve fishing access, educate anglers and help manage paddlefish.
            Dr. Dennis Scarnecchia, a paddlefish expert from the University of Idaho who has been consulting with Wildlife Department biologists on the state’s paddlefish program since 2004, delivered a presentation to the Commission that explained the significance of the research in sustaining the fishery.
            Through angler support and participation, the popular paddlefish program is providing the Wildlife Department with significant data that otherwise would not have been possible to obtain.
            “The key result of our work so far has been the identification of the 1999 year class as the dominant one contributing to the fishery each year,” Scarnecchia said.
            Since male fish take six to seven years to mature to breeding age and females closer to eight or nine years, the 1999 class must be managed to support the fishery until the next significant age class matures to breeding age and begins spawning.
            In addition to lending insight into important age class information, research has revealed data that led to fishing regulation changes in 2010. The changes, which included the implementation of catch-and-release days and restricting fishing in certain spawning areas, were designed to effectively reduce the total harvest and help sustain the world class fishing opportunities provided by Oklahoma paddlefish.
            Because of the Paddlefish Research and Processing Center, Wildlife Department biologists know more than ever before about this unique population of fish. Proper management will ensure sustained populations of fish and excellent fishing for the future.
            The Commission also heard a presentation from Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department, on how the summer’s heat and drought have affected stream flows and fish in rivers across the state. Two fish kills were confirmed in 2011 at the Lower Illinois River, where water shortages and insufficient stream flow are threatening the river’s year-round trout fishery. Bolton said recent repairs to Tenkiller Dam have stopped a leak that had previously been keeping the fishery supplied with ample water and flow, and other water supplies from the lake that had previously been available have depleted. Bolton said the only realistic long-term solution is reallocation of water from Tenkiller Lake.
            Additionally, fish kills occurred along a 100-mile stretch of the Red River extending to the west end of Texoma Lake, as well as at Jack Fork Creek below Sardis Lake. Water scientists with the Oklahoma Department of Environment Quality and Environmental Protection Agency are still working to determine the exact cause of the fish kill along the Red River, which occurred in July and included significant numbers of large fish such as blue catfish, smallmouth buffalo and largemouth buffalo.
            At Jack Fork Creek, a mussel kill was confirmed after summer temperatures and lack of water releases from Sardis Dam resulted in flows of less than one cubic foot per second. While most fish were able to swim downstream to safety, widespread mussel mortality occurred. Among the species of mussels that were killed is the state and federally endangered Ouachita rock pocketbook. Bolton discussed solutions and resolutions to the issues and said the Wildlife Department is working diligently to address water and stream flow issues affecting the state’s wildlife.
            Additionally, the Commission heard a presentation provided by Buck Ray, environmental biologist for the Wildlife Department, and Damon Springer, aquatic resource education coordinator for the Wildlife Department, on how mitigation is administered in Oklahoma for damages to natural resources. Natural Resource Damage Assessments, or NRDAs, are created by federal legislation through the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act with the goal of compensating the public for damages to natural resources. One recent case in Oklahoma includes damages to a 12-acre site along the Canadian River as a result of motor fuel refinement processes on the site. The site consists of mixed wetlands and riparian zones, but because of it unique landlocked location, mitigation funds will be used along the same watershed at the Wildlife Department’s Arcadia Conservation Education Area. Projects include various habitat enhancements like invasive vegetation and tree control and wildlife and habitat educational tools such as the development of a trail and curriculum for area schools. The total mitigation, including various joint settlements and funding, includes almost $309,000.
            The Commission addressed several other agenda items at its November meeting, including the following:
* A donation of $2,500 from the Indian Territory Quail Forever Chapter was accepted for the Wildlife Department’s Shotgun Training and Education Program (STEP). The donation was presented by Terry Free, ITQF Chapter member, and will be used to purchase gun security lockers for STEP trailers.
* Steve Tully, wildlife biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, was recognized by the Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for his outstanding contributions to wetland conservation in Oklahoma. Recognitions were presented by Alan Stacey, senior wetland development biologist for the Department, and John Hendrix with the USFWS.
* The certified annual financial and audit report was presented by auditing firm Finley and Cook, LLC. The Department has an independent audit of the financial records and federal aid records of the agency. The FY2011 audit found no findings, and the auditors complimented the agency on its staff and internal controls.
* The actuarial firm, Buck Consultants, presented the FY2011 Actuarial Valuation Report for the Department’s retirement plan. The funded ratio of the plan dropped from 81.5 percent last year to 78.1 percent this year. The decrease is mainly contributed to the change that was made last year to decrease the investment rate of return assumption from 7.5 percent to 7 percent.
* An update was provided on the legislative task force on endangered species and economic development. The task force has met three times and is currently focused on planning and organizing initiatives for conserving the lesser prairie chicken.
* Tenure awards were presented to David Smith, game warden stationed in Kiowa Co., for 25 years of service to the Department; Tom Cartwright, District 4 lieutenant game warden stationed in Hughes Co., for 25 years; Tracy Daniel, District 8 law enforcement chief stationed in Kay Co., for 30 years; James Champeau, District 5 law enforcement chief stationed in Logan Co., for 30 years; Keith Green, paddlefish program coordinator, for 30 years; and Robert Fleenor, law enforcement chief, for 35 years.
            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 set for 9 a.m. Dec. 5, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.
 
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Online hunter check station brings newfound convenience to checking in big game
            Many hunters have already experienced the convenience of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Check Station Web Portal, which allows sportsmen to check in their harvested deer, turkey and elk electronically. It is simple and fast, requiring only a computer or mobile device with Internet access.
            Hunters can print a carcass tag from a printer or simply write their confirmation number on the field tag that they made when they harvested the animal.
“Any computer or cell phone with internet access can be a check station,” said Micah Holmes, information supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “The online method is both convenient and economical.”
            According to Holmes, being able to check in a deer 24 hours a day and seven days a week is a value in itself, since not having to transport their animal to a physical check station means they can save on automobile fuel expenses and start cooling the meat from their animal almost immediately. Additionally, a hunter who checks an animal online will not have to worry about his or her personal information, since data entered online goes straight to a secure server. There also is potential for hunters to query the online database and view their past deer, elk, or turkey entries.
            The online check system was first implemented during the 2009 deer season, and over 17,000 hunters experienced the ease of the new system. That number almost doubled in 2010 with over 30,000 hunters checking in almost 40,000 deer electronically.
            Those without Internet access can still check in their animal at the nearest hunter check station, or have a friend or relative with Internet access check in the animal for them and provide the confirmation number to be used on the field tag.
            Not only is the online check station economical and convenient for the hunters, but it also saves the Wildlife Department time and money. Physical check stations require a minimum of five visits by a biologist or technician each year. Department employees spend over 200 man-hours editing check station books by correcting mistakes and illegible handwriting. The instant data provided through the online check system allows biologist and game wardens to quickly access information. The online database also allows for “real-time” analysis of harvest numbers.
            The online system also helps the Wildlife Department enforce wildlife laws.
            David Clay, game warden stationed in Osage County, was able to make two cases in 2010 using the online system. Two illegal hunters used hunting license numbers other than their own to check in deer they had illegally harvested. Both subjects pled guilty and paid $1,500 in fines and costs.
             Current physical check stations can continue providing a service to sportsmen by offering Internet access at their locations, and some have already made the switch.
             “It’s great,” said Gloria Bishop from the OC Corner Mart in Keota. “We don’t have to write anything, and I think it is even faster than the old book. Hunters come in to check their deer and they can still get their deer weighed and picture taken if they want to. We’ve found it just easier all around.”
            To check in a deer, elk or turkey online, log on to wildlifedepartment.com and follow the link on the homepage to the “Online Check Station.”
 
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Support your sport with a habitat patch
            

Approximately 97 percent of the land in Oklahoma is private property, creating an ever-important need for more public land for hunters, anglers and conservation efforts. Sportsmen can help increase public hunting and fishing lands by ordering the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s 2012 pronghorn antelope habitat donor patch or donor hat, available now in the Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Store on wildlifedepartment.com.
            The revenue generated from the sale of the Wildlife Department’s habitat donor patches goes into the Land Acquisition Fund, which is used to purchase, lease, or acquire easements for property to be used for public hunting and fishing.
            “Habitat patches are an important way for wildlife enthusiasts and sportsmen to support public hunting, fishing and conservation, and also gain a collectable item,” said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Wildlife Department. “This program ensures public hunting and fishing for the future sportsmen and women of Oklahoma, as the Department has purchased approximately 1.2 million acres of public land.”    
            To purchase a donor patch or hat, log on to the Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Store. Outdoor Store order forms may also be found in copies of the Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Oklahoma magazine. Additionally, patches may be purchased at the Wildlife Department headquarters in Oklahoma City.
 
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Current rut activity at a glance
            Deer rifle season kicks off Saturday, Nov. 19, and promises as usual to be the biggest day of the year for hunting in Oklahoma.
             With 63 percent of last year’s total deer harvest coming from Oklahoma’s rifle hunting seasons, it accounts for the greatest portion of deer taken by hunters. Surveys indicate that last year, more than 156,000 hunters took part in the 16-day regular deer gun season alone, and when taking into account the youth deer gun and holiday antlerless deer seasons, that number jumps to nearly 204,000.
            Preliminary harvest numbers from muzzleloader season show that the current state harvest is similar to what it was this time last year, with physical deer check stations down slightly over 30 percent in the number of deer checked, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s online check station up by about 34 percent in the number of deer checked.
            “We are on par with last season,” said Jerry Shaw, big game biologist for the Wildlife Department. “While many feel we are off to a slow start, we are tracking pretty closely with last year’s data.”
            In anticipation for what is hopefully another great year for deer hunters, personnel with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are offering information just in time on current rutting activity in regions across the state. The rut, or deer breeding season, is a biological process that typically occurs around mid November. Deer activity during the rut picks up but the amount of activity can be influenced by a host of factors such as day length, temperatures, moon phase and herd condition.
 
NORTHWEST
            The northwest region of Oklahoma is famed for its excellent deer hunting — not to mention big deer — and biologists believe opening weekend will be timed well with rutting activity.
            Drought has had an impact on food and water availability in the region. All spring and summer food plot plantings on northwestern wildlife management areas failed, and water and food availability in the region is limited. However, fall food plots on WMAs and wheat fields in the area appear to have benefited from recent rains and are reportedly in fair condition.
            According to Steve Conrady, northwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, rut activity in the northwest region is “fairly consistent” year to year, and most reports so far indicate that only the early stages of rutting activity have occurred. These signs include immature bucks sparring and chasing unreceptive does, and increased activity at scrapes.
            “The general consensus is that the deer rut will be very near the peak by opening weekend of deer gun season,” Conrady said.
            According to Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Department biologists stationed at Cooper and Ft. Supply WMAs, the deer rut in his area “usually kicks off somewhere between Nov. 15-20.”
            “With the dark of the moon coinciding with opening weekend, hunting should be good,” Wilson said.
            According to Weston Storer, biologist stationed at Beaver River, Optima, Rita Blanca and Schultz WMAs, the Panhandle has received some needed rain, but forage is limited. Storer said young bucks are showing early rutting activity.
            “On Nov. 10, in the middle of the day, a buck destroyed both my archery targets in my backyard,” said Storer, who expects the rut to be in “full swing” by the opening weekend of gun season on Beaver River WMA.
            According to bowhunters using Canton WMA during the weekend of Nov. 12-13, deer movement has continued to remain “very slow,” with most deer activity taking place during the last hour of legal shooting light. Kyle Johnson, biologist stationed at Canton, said rattling has drawn attention from young bucks, and scrapes are being actively visited after shooting hours.
            “At this point, it looks favorable that at least the early part of the deer gun season should be very good for rut activity,” Johnson said.
 
NORTHEAST
            Rutting activity in the northeast region may be more underway than in the northwest, with reports that bucks of all age classes “are chasing hard.” According to Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, the rut may already be reaching its peak, but breeding activity will likely remain strong through the first week of rifle season.
            “Movement of deer is on the rise, with bucks chasing does throughout the day,” Endicott said. “Most movements have been observed in areas with good food availability.”
            Endicott expects deer activity to continue to pick up with the onset of coming cold fronts, rain and cooler temperatures.
            “Hunters should be patient and stay in the woods as long as they can,” Endicott said. “Bucks will be cruising all day looking for that first receptive doe. Remember to scout. Look for good food sources, especially acorns, which can be in short supply. Locate some good trails to set up on that have seen very recent use.”
            Endicott said successful public lands hunters are those who spend lots of time scouting.
            “There is good hunting on the WMAs, but with the high usage associated with these areas, hunters need to scout for some less used corners and back areas. Try targeting bedding areas that will hold does and keep an eye out for signs of buck activity such as rubs and scrapes. Rutting on WMAs is really gearing up. Remember, be patient and spend time in the woods or on the stand. If you are hoping to harvest a mature buck, let the young ones pass.”
 
SOUTHEAST
            “If it keeps going the way it is, gun season is going to hit it right on the nose,” said Joe Hemphill about the rut in southeast Oklahoma. Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said controlled hunts at McAlester Army Ammunition Plan have had smaller harvest numbers this year than in years past, and said there has yet to be much buck activity in the region.
            Hemphill suspects the extended period of high heat at the end of the summer may have “backed everything off,” but he did say that despite the heat and drought, food sources are available.
            “There are remarkably more acorns than you would think,” he said, adding that hunters who find acorns or good water sources may be in luck.
            With opening day just days away, rutting activity may be timed just right for southeast region hunters.
 
SOUTHWEST
            The rut is beginning to build in intensity, according to Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department.
            “In the past few days, bucks apparently in search of does have been observed during daylight hours,” Smith said. “Since the deer rut appears on the upswing, we may experience near peak rut conditions during the opening week of deer gun season.”
            Smith said availability of native food sources for deer have been abnormally low, but like in other regions, recent rains have increased the availability of certain fall food sources. Still, areas with agricultural crops may be a good place for hunters to start.
            Deer have also been underweight compared to normal, which Smith said could be contributing to later-than-normal rutting activity, along with warmer weather during the first part of November.
            “Because the rut is just now getting ‘into the swing,’ hunters should look for new scrapes and other sign that could appear at any time,” Smith said, adding that “hunters should revisit areas that may not have had much sign a week or two ago.”
            With most of the region still in the “exceptional” or “extreme” drought category, Smith said deer distribution might appear different than in years when there is no drought. Recent rain has resulted in winter wheat germination and growth in food plots on WMAs in the region.
 
CENTRAL
            Like in some other parts of the state, reports from hunters and Wildlife Department personnel in the central region indicate the rut is slightly behind the “normal” schedule.
            “Rutting has picked up the second week of November, with some bucks seen chasing does and an increase in the number of road kill deer,” said Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “It appears that opening weekend of deer gun season will occur at or very near the peak of the rut.”
            Pennington said 2011 drought conditions had a negative effect on food production in the region, but that overall deer activity has been higher this fall due to the associated nutritional stress.
            “Despite the terribly dry conditions, patchy portions of the region produced a surprising number of acorns,” Pennington said. “Locations that still have good acorns will be prime hunting spots during gun season as drought-stressed deer try to replenish energy reserves. While the region is still in drought status, there have been sufficient fall rains in most areas to get wheat fields up and growing. In areas with no acorns, deer are already heavily using these fields.”
            While drought is never considered good for wildlife, Pennington did say the drought limited the height of grasses and other vegetation, which could increase hunter visibility this year.
            “If the weather cooperates, I look for the 2011 gun season to provide excellent hunting conditions in the central region due to the late peak of the rut, the limited food availability, and reduced cover,” Pennington said.
 
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Deer gun season at a glance
            Deer gun season runs Nov. 19 through Dec. 4 — a full 16 days of long-awaited and long-celebrated tradition in which more than 156,000 hunters participate every fall, making it one of the largest sporting events in the state.
            Since 1933, deer gun hunters have been making their way into the woods and fields of Oklahoma for hunting season, and this year looks to be no different. In the early part of the last century, when deer populations were down to just a few hundred animals, hunters and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation took up the call to once again have healthy deer populations across the state. Part of this conservation effort began with the historic deer trap-and-transplant projects of the mid-1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, Oklahoma can boast having deer in every county and a whitetail population in excess of 500,000 animals. Hunters have generous harvest limits and expansive opportunities statewide for hunting deer.
            To hunt deer in Oklahoma, residents much have a hunting license or proof of exemption, as well as a deer gun license (antlered or antlerless) for each deer hunted or proof of exemption. Resident youth hunters 16 or 17 years old must purchase a hunting license but can purchase a youth deer gun license for each deer hunted that costs only $10. Nonresident deer hunters are exempt from a hunting license while hunting deer, but they must possess a nonresident deer gun license or proof of exemption. Holders of nonresident lifetime hunting and lifetime combination licenses are not exempt from purchasing deer licenses.
            Antlerless deer may only be harvested on specified days and in zones open to antlerless harvest. A map showing the antlerless days and zones is available on page 25 of the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” available online at wildlifedepartment.com.
            The deer gun limit is one antlered and two antlerless deer (at least one antlerless deer must be harvested from Zone 2, 7 or 8). The harvest of antlerless mule deer is prohibited during deer gun season, and deer taken by hunters participating in deer gun season are included in the hunters’ combined season limit of six.
            Resident hunters who do not harvest an antlered deer during deer gun season may use their unfilled deer gun antlered license to harvest an antlerless deer on the last day of the deer gun season, but they must still comply with the limit restriction of no more than two antlerless deer during deer gun season.
            Seasons on public lands may vary from statewide season dates. For full details and regulations, consult the “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” online at wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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No hunter ed is no problem for most Oklahomans who still want to hunt this weekend
            Four changes to the state’s hunter education requirements took effect in August, resulting in more opportunities for Oklahomans to try hunting while making hunting safer for the state’s youngest big game hunters.
            Now in effect, anyone 31 years of age or older is exempt from hunter education requirements. Additionally, hunters ages 8-30 may purchase an apprentice-designated hunting license that allows them to go hunting without first completing a hunter education course, provided that they are accompanied by a licensed adult mentor who is at least 18 years old and hunter education certified (or exempt from license and hunter education requirements). In addition to making the apprentice-designated hunting license more accessible, one other change requires all hunters under the age of 10, whether hunter education certified or not, to be accompanied when hunting big game.
            “These three changes simplify the requirements for responsible adult hunters to get involved in hunting while making the apprentice-designated license available to youth who are ready to start hunting under a mentor at a younger age,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Big game hunting is a safe and fun sport, and our state’s young hunters deserve to be introduced to the joys it offers. But they also deserve to be mentored and guided so that they are equipped to be safe, responsible hunters in the future. This is a reasonable change, and we are confident it is resulting in safer hunting situations for our young big game hunters.”
            Most Oklahomans who want to hunt big game must be hunter education certified or exempt in order to hunt alone, or must possess an apprentice-designated hunting license and remain within arms reach of a qualifying mentor hunter. Exemptions from hunter education certification as of Aug. 26 include anyone 31 years of age or older, anyone honorably discharged from or currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and members of the National Guard.
            Meek encourages new hunters to complete the Department’s hunter education course, and reminds hunters who plan to hunt in other states that completing a course may be required. The Wildlife Department’s hunter education class covers a variety of topics including firearms safety, wildlife identification, wildlife conservation and management, survival, archery, muzzleloading and hunter responsibility. It is available as a standard eight-hour course held in communities across the state, an Internet home study course and a workbook home study course. A full listing of course dates and locations can be found online at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Additionally, resident hunters who are exempt from hunter education requirements in Oklahoma but who want to hunt in another state that requires certification are eligible to take a proficiency exam for certification without having to complete the course. For more information, call Meek at (405) 522-4572.
            For more information about hunting in Oklahoma, log on to the Wildlife Department’s website at wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Hunters making a difference for the hungry
            Every year thousands of hungry Oklahomans reap the benefits of deer season through the Hunters Against Hunger program.
            According to Becky Rouner, administrator of the Hunters Against Hunger program for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, hunters donated over 49,000 pounds of venison last year.
            Through the program, hunters who legally harvest a deer during any of this year’s deer seasons can donate the meat to feed the hungry. All they have to do is deliver their harvested deer to the nearest participating meat processor after checking the deer at a hunter check station or online at wildlifedepartment.com. Sportsmen can also use wildlifedepartment.com to view a list of participating meat processors.
            To help with processing charges, each hunter is requested to contribute a tax-deductable $10 to assist with the program.
            The ground venison is then distributed to the needy through a network of qualified, charitable organizations. Participation by meat processors and hunters is critical in providing this meat source to Oklahoma’s hungry.
            The Wildlife Department pays a special thanks to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of eastern Oklahoma for their participation in the Hunters Against Hunger program. Important donors to this program also include Tulsa-based conservation group NatureWorks, and the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International. To learn more about NatureWorks, log on to natureworks.org. To learn more about the Oklahoma Station Chapter of SCI, log on to oklahomastationsci.org.
            To learn more about the Hunters Against Hunger program, contact the Wildlife Department at (405) 521-4660.
 
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Western Oklahoma waterfowlers encouraged to "think geese and sandhill cranes: before Nov. 27

 
Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are urging waterfowl hunters to “think geese and cranes” between now and Nov. 27, as large numbers of early migrants have flocked into southwest and western portions of the state in the last five to seven days.

“People may not be thinking about geese and cranes yet, but we are encouraging hunters to take advantage of the opportunity while they are here. Typically, most of these early migrants don’t hang around long but move on to their wintering grounds further south,” said Josh Richardson, migratory game bird biologist for the Wildlife Department.

There is good reason for waterfowl hunters to take advantage of the large numbers of migrants while they can, not only because the first half of goose season closes Nov. 27 — not to reopen again until Dec. 10 — but also to help farmers in the region who have already been impacted by record drought conditions which may have delayed planting of their winter wheat. “Young wheat that has not yet reached the tillering stage is more vulnerable to damage by birds pulling up the plant. It is when large numbers of these birds are allowed to concentrate for long periods of time on specific fields that we start seeing impacts to crops like winter wheat. We always encourage the use of hunting to help minimize the impact of geese and cranes using private agricultural land,” said Richardson.

Winter wheat fields are prime spots for finding migrants right now, since they are utilized as a green food source for birds flying to and from limited water sources. The refuge portion at Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area is one of the few places holding water now in southwestern Oklahoma, and large numbers of geese and cranes are being observed there. Hunters should obtain permission from local landowners whose properties are near these limited water sources

Richardson said he expects that hunters all across western Oklahoma should have good success if they scout agricultural areas and obtain landowner permission in areas where they find birds.

To hunt geese, hunters need a hunting license, an Oklahoma waterfowl license (unless exempt) and a federal duck stamp. In addition, all migratory bird hunters must carry an Oklahoma Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit. Permits are available anywhere hunting licenses are sold for $3 or for free online at wildlifedepartment.com.

Sandhill crane season remains open until January 22, 2012. To hunt sandhill cranes, hunters need a hunting license, a HIP permit and a federal sandhill crane permit that is available for $3 from license vendors or at wildlifedepartment.com.

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Arbuckle Lake meeting to offer insight to anglers
            Lake of the Arbuckles has been making a name for itself as a premier bass fishery in recent years, producing three largemouth bass weighing over 12 lbs. each since 2008 alone. One of those tipped the scales at 14-lb. 8-oz. The lake is also providing anglers with quality crappie and white bass fishing opportunities. In short, the lake is serving as an important fishing destination for anglers, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is keeping the public informed by providing an opportunity Dec. 6 to learn about a range of Lake Arbuckle fishing information.
            A public meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area’s Travertine Nature Center Auditorium. Guests will receive informative updates from Department fisheries biologists on the status of the fishery and related issues. Biologists will address the biological and social aspects of fisheries management and regulations at the lake, and they will present the new Lake of the Arbuckle Five-Year Management Plan developed by the Wildlife Department. Visitors will have a chance to provide feedback on the plan as well as visit with biologists about fishing at the lake.
             “Angler opinions are important when developing management plans,” said Matt Mauck, south central region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “We encourage the angling public to join us for an evening of informative discussions and input opportunities.”
            Lake of the Arbuckles was impounded in 1967 as a Bureau of Reclamation reservoir. At close to 2,350 acres, the Murray Co. lake offers fishing for all types of anglers and has been an active lake in the Department’s lake record fish program. Current lake records include a largemouth bass over 14 lbs., flathead and blue catfish weighing over 50 lbs., channel catfish weighing nearly 20 lbs. and smallmouth bass tipping the scales at over 4 lbs.
            Anglers can learn more about fishing at Lake of the Arbuckles by attending the public meeting and can find regulations and harvest limits in the current “Oklahoma Fishing Guide,” available online at wildlifedepartment.com. The site will also offer a draft copy of the lake’s new management plan prior to the Dec. 6 meeting.
            A map to the Travertine Nature Center is available online at
http://www.nps.gov/chic/planyourvisit/upload/CHICmap1_2010.pdf
 
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From field to freezer the right way
            A hunter will tell you that the freezer full of meat that a harvested deer provides throughout the year is one of the most rewarding aspects of the deer hunting experience. It’s not difficult to take a deer from the field to the freezer, but some care and effort is required.
            First and foremost, hunters must be properly licensed. To hunt deer in Oklahoma, residents must possess an appropriate hunting license. Additionally, hunters must carry a valid deer license for each deer hunted. Nonresident deer hunters are exempt from a hunting license while hunting deer, but they must possess an appropriate nonresident deer license or proof of exemption. Holders of nonresident lifetime hunting and combination licenses are not exempt from purchasing deer licenses. Licenses are available online at wildlifedepartment.com or at sporting goods dealers and other businesses across the state.
            Upon harvesting a deer, all hunters, including lifetime license holders, must immediately attach their name and hunting license number as well as the date and time of harvest to their deer. The attached item can be anything, such as a business card, as long as it contains the required information and remains attached to the carcass until it is checked. In addition, all annual license holders are required to complete the “Record of Game” section on their license form.
            All deer must be checked at the nearest open hunter check station, with an authorized Wildlife Department employee or online at wildlifedepartment.com within 24 hours of leaving the hunt area. Once checked, the deer will be issued a carcass tag or online confirmation number, which must remain with the carcass to its final destination or through processing and storage at commercial processing or storage facilities.
            Deer should be field-dressed, or “hog-dressed,” as soon as possible to prevent spoilage of the meat. After field dressing, hunters may opt to butcher their own deer or have a reputable meat processor prepare it for them. In either case, the meat should be kept clean, cool and dry until it reaches the freezer.
            “The second you harvest that deer, the clock starts ticking,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. “You need to get it cleaned and cool as soon as possible. Dirt, heat and moisture are three things you’ll want to keep away from and off of your deer meat all the way through field dressing and processing. The better you care for your venison in the hours immediately after a harvest, the better it will taste throughout the coming year when you go to the freezer for a cut of venison for the dinner table.”
            To learn more about deer hunting in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Deer hunting plays important economic role in Oklahoma
            According to Joanna Matthews of the Antlers Chamber of Commerce, deer hunting season has an important impact on the local southeast Oklahoma community.
            “It is like Christmas,” she said. “The Friday before opening day of rifle season, the highways and stores are all packed with people coming in to hunt.”
            With deer gun season underway, similar sentiments are shared in other communities across Oklahoma, including those in the far western region of the state. Steve Musick with the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce said the Rogers Mills Co. community booms during deer season. Motels and restaurants fill up, and local hunting guide businesses stay busy with clients.
            Drawn by family tradition, the chance to be outdoors, or even the opportunity to harvest a trophy animal, deer hunters who are participating in the season are having far-reaching effects on the state’s economy. Hunting sustains jobs, draws in-state and out-of-state business and floods the economy with millions of dollars each year. The number of people who hunt in Oklahoma could fill both Oklahoma University’s Owen Field and Oklahoma State University’s Boone Pickens Stadium almost two times, and deer hunters make up a large portion of those hunters.
            Original expenditures made by hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers generate rounds of additional spending throughout the economy. According to the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (2006), the total economic effect of deer hunting activity in Oklahoma during 2006 was estimated at nearly $500 million, and the total economic effect from 2006 hunting activity in Oklahoma in general was estimated to be about $843 million.
            Expenditures made for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching activities support jobs throughout the state. Many of these jobs are in companies that directly serve recreationists, such as retailers, restaurants, motels and more. Others are in companies that support the first companies and employees such as wholesalers, utilities, manufacturers, grocers and more. Total jobs — full and part time — supported in Oklahoma in 2006 from deer hunting-related activities was estimated at about 5,662.
            Given that outdoor recreation dollars are often spent in rural or lightly populated areas, the economic contributions of fish and wildlife resources can be especially important to rural economies.
            Deer season draws hunters to Oklahoma from across the country as well as the thousands of sportsmen who live and work in Oklahoma. These hunters purchase gear — some of which is made right here in Oklahoma — and they stay in small-town hotels and spend money at local grocery stores, restaurants, and other vendors. Hunting is big business in Oklahoma and an important part of the fabric of the state’s economy — a relatively healthy one compared to other parts of the country.
            During hard economic times, families and friends are drawn closer together through hunting, and the fabric of Oklahoma’s economy is woven even tighter and stronger thanks to a pastime enjoyed by thousands and supported by Oklahoma’s rich natural resources.
            Deer gun season runs through Dec. 4, and deer archery runs through Jan. 15, 2012. Additionally, the holiday antlerless deer gun season will run Dec. 16-25 in open areas (refer to antlerless deer hunting zones map on page 25 of the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide for open areas). To learn more about deer hunting in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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