Total Deer Harvest Up 9% for 2017-18
Hunters Set New Archery Season Record With Harvest of 29,094
By Dallas Barber, Big Game Biologist, and Emily Clark, Big Game Technician
With the 2017-18 deer season in the books, Oklahoma again proved why it is a great destination for deer hunters from across the country. The total harvest of 107,914 deer is up from last year’s harvest total of 99,023. Figure 1 shows overall deer harvest numbers since 2004. Not only was overall harvest up, but many trophy animals were harvested as well. Antlerless harvest totaled 40 percent, which is on the low side of the Wildlife Department’s management goal of 40 percent to 45 percent. And in western Oklahoma, 196 mule deer were harvested from 13 counties.
Harvest numbers in all deer hunting seasons increased from last year, making 2017-18 a great time to be an Oklahoma deer hunter. Hunters were successful in bagging some really impressive trophies, which can be credited in part to a few different things. First, hunters across the state are really adopting the Wildlife Department’s slogan of “Hunters in the Know … Let Young Bucks Grow!” This mind-set over the past several years has allowed more bucks to reach a mature age class. The combination of abundant fall forage after the rut, along with a mild and wet spring, allowed for abundant food sources to be available during crucial times for antler development. Also, game cameras are becoming more affordable and more reliable, allowing hunters to better document the trophy bucks where they hunt. Hunters are much more willing to wait on a mature buck if they have photographic proof to boost their patience and motivation. All of these factors helped hunters who wanted to harvest a trophy.
Gun hunters continued to show not only the highest participation of all season types with 187,657 hunters, but also the highest portion of total harvest with 57 percent. After all results from youth, regular and holiday antlerless gun seasons were tallied up, 62,257 deer were reported via the E-Check system for all of the gun seasons combined.
For the first time since 2014, participation in the deer muzzleloader season increased from the previous year. The Department’s annual game harvest survey estimated 79,248 hunters took to the woods with this underused method, up 3,482 hunters from last season. Harvest was also up to 16,563 deer, an increase of 4,597 over last year.
Archery season continued to grow in popularity and harvest numbers in 2017-18. An estimated 97,837 hunters managed to take 29,094 deer during the 16-week season, again setting a new archery harvest record for the state.
Figure 2 depicts each individual season and its harvest total.
As usual, more deer were harvested in the larger counties. Hunters harvested 5,141 deer in Osage County, while Pittsburg County yielded 3,391, and Creek County gave up 2,831 deer. Table 1 shows harvest by county, season and sex on the state’s private lands. Harvest data from Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and other public hunting areas is not included in order to level the playing field when looking at county-by-county harvest. This is because some counties in the southeast have hundreds of thousands of acres available for public hunting, while other counties do not offer similar opportunities
Even with roughly 95 percent of Oklahoma land being privately owned, hunters have a great opportunity to use public hunting areas such as Department-managed WMAs, national wildlife refuges, and some state parks and recreation areas. Table 2 details deer harvest by WMA, season and sex.
Some Oklahomans do not realize that mule deer inhabit some of the state’s westernmost counties and can be harvested using the deer hunting license. Hunters reported taking 196 mule deer from 13 counties during the 2017-18 deer season. With regulations in place to prevent taking antlerless mule deer during gun seasons, only two antlerless mule deer were harvested. A breakdown of mule deer harvest is shown in Table 3.
Every year, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation contacts hunters to participate in the Game Harvest Survey. This long-running, scientific survey allows the Department to better understand hunter participation and success rates, as well as shape future regulations regarding game species big and small. Success rates from each season are shown in Figure 3.
DEER ARCHERY SEASON
Regulations remained unchanged for the 2017-18 archery deer season. The season kicked off on Oct. 1 and ran without pause until Jan. 15. The bag limit was six deer, no more than two of which could be antlered.
According to Game Harvest Survey estimates, 97,837 archers took to the woods during the 2017-18 season. While hunter participation was down by 1 percent compared to the year before, hunters managed to set a new archery season record with 29,094 deer harvested. The breakdown of buck and doe harvest within each week of the season can be seen in Figure 4. Hunter numbers and harvest are shown in Figure 5.
The success rate for archers came in at 30 percent, which is 4 percent higher than the previous season. Figure 2 shows that archery harvest made up 27 percent of the total deer harvest. You could quite confidently say that the 2017-18 archery season was the best in the history of our great state in terms of harvest numbers and in the number of trophy animals that were harvested.
DEER MUZZLELOADER SEASON
The nine-day Oklahoma muzzleloader season began Oct. 28 and ran through Nov. 5. The bag limit remained unchanged. Hunters could take three deer: only one of those antlered, and one of two antlerless with at least one taken from Management Zones 2, 7 or 8 (see Figure 9).
The Game Harvest Survey showed an increase in muzzleloader participation as well as harvest. An estimated 79,248 hunters took advantage of this opportunity to harvest deer, which is up 5 percent from the previous season. Those hunters managed to take 16,564 deer, the highest muzzleloader harvest since 2012. Figure 7 shows muzzleloader harvest and participation since 2004. Muzzleloader hunters accounted for 15 percent of the total deer harvest (see Figure 2). The muzzleloader harvest by sex and day is shown in Figure 6. Muzzleloader hunters had a 21 percent success rate, the highest since 2012 and 5 percent higher than last year (see Figure 3).
DEER GUN SEASONS
The 2017 gun season started Nov. 18 and ran for 16 days. Bag limits remained unchanged from the 2016 season, with hunters having the chance to harvest three deer, with no more than one antlered and two antlerless per hunter. Hunters had to take at least one of the antlerless deer from Management Zones 2, 7, or 8 (see Figure 9). Harvest broken down by each day of the season is shown in Figure 8.
The modern firearm seasons continued to be the favorites among hunters in Oklahoma. The Game Harvest Survey indicates 187,657 hunters donned the blaze orange last fall. This is a slight decline in participation of about 3 percent. Figure 10 shows harvest and participation data over the past 14 years.
Youth hunters had the first crack at harvesting a deer with a rifle during the youth gun season held Oct. 20-22. Their efforts resulted in a total harvest of 3,867 deer.
Holiday antlerless season allowed for one last chance to put some meat in the freezer using a modern firearm. Eight of the 10 management zones were open, and a total of 3,572 deer were taken.
Oklahoma hunters harvested a total of 62,257 deer for all of the modern rifle seasons, which is 1,352 more than last year and the highest total since 2012. This total accounts for 57.7 percent of the total deer harvest during the 2017-18 season.
DEER AGE STRUCTURE 2017-18
Each year, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation teams with students from universities across the state to collect deer jaws from taxidermists and meat processors with the hunter’s approval. This allows biologists to age the deer being harvested, giving them an idea of the harvest pressure on certain age classes. The deer jaws were given voluntarily by hunters as well as pulled during the Department’s controlled hunts. Oklahoma hunters are proving that “Hunters in the Know” do in fact let young bucks grow! The jaws showed that 59 percent of bucks harvested were 3.5 years or older. They also showed that 49 percent of doe harvest was 3.5 years or older. Figure 11 and Figure 12 show the breakdown of ages for harvested bucks and does.
ELK SEASON 2017-18
Hunters with written landowner permission could harvest elk on private lands during the established deer seasons, except in the Special Southwest Zone. Hunters on both private lands and Wildlife Department controlled hunts harvested 407 elk, which was 92 more than the previous season. Modern gun hunters had the most success, harvesting 326 elk, of which 142 were bulls and 184 cows. Archers took 38 bulls and 37 cows. Muzzleloader hunters managed three bulls and two cows. A breakdown of harvest by county, sex and method of take (including Fort Sill and Department controlled hunts) is shown in the table.
PRONGHORN ANTELOPE SEASON 2017-18
With very limited habitat in the shortgrass prairies of the far reaches of the Panhandle, hunting opportunity is afforded through over-the-counter archery permits, landowner permits, and once-in-a-lifetime controlled hunts drawn by the Wildlife Department. Hunting is limited to Cimarron County and a small portion of Texas County.
Cimarron County, with the highest population density of pronghorns in the state, led the 2017 harvest with 95. Archery hunters took 16 bucks and two does, while gun hunters harvested 31 bucks and 46 does. Texas County yielded 33 antelope, with archers taking six bucks and gun hunters taking 12 bucks and 15 does.
In total, hunters harvested 128 pronghorn antelope. The small decline from last year’s total of 135 is understandable based on the extreme drought that affected the area.
It was a remarkable season for big game hunters in Oklahoma. A healthy spring and mild summer led to fantastic habitat across much of the state. Habitat is key to healthy deer populations. The 2017-18 deer season continued the upward trend of the previous three seasons. Here are some reasons to get pumped-up about the future of deer hunting in this great state:
- Oklahoma is slowly making a name for itself regarding hunting opportunity as well as trophy buck opportunity.
- Hunters took more than 107,000 deer, the largest harvest in five years.
- Archers set another harvest record with more than 29,000 deer taken during the season.
- Muzzleloader participation is trending higher.
- Hunters are continuing to pass on younger bucks, allowing for a healthier age structure in herds.
It is clearly a great time to be a deer hunter in Oklahoma. A lot of credit is due the hunters, as they make management decisions every time they take to the field. Remember that choosing not to harvest an animal is just as much a management decision as harvesting one is. Doe harvest remains an important piece of the management plan to balance herd numbers and habitat health.
With the Department’s slogan of “Hunters in the Know … Let Young Bucks Grow” having been in place for several deer seasons, biologists are starting to see great things in regards to age structure and trophy potential. As metropolitan areas continue to grow, protecting and improving habitat is as important as ever. Hunters should be eager to gear up for the 2018-19 seasons, as the outlook is great at this point. And please consider taking someone new to the deer woods this coming year so that the next generation can embrace and enjoy Oklahoma’s hunting tradition.