News of the Week

Nov. 18, 2015
Deer Rutting Activity Seen Ahead of Gun Season
 
    Saturday is the day many tens of thousands of Oklahoma hunters have been anticipating all year. Deer gun season will open a half-hour before official sunrise Nov. 21. Based on field reports from each region of the state, hunters should have plenty of opportunities in the deer woods during the season.
    Reports from this past weekend indicate that rutting activity was increasing in most areas. Deer were being observed moving more during daylight hours. And bucks have been seen chasing and tending does.
    Erik Bartholomew, big-game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the weather forecast seems to be cooperating for deer gun hunters this year.
    "Cooler weather is expected to arrive this weekend and hang on through the first week of deer gun season. The deer ought to be feeding later in the mornings and moving earlier in the evenings, providing more time for hunters to see deer movement and have a chance to fill their deer license."
    Deer gun season will be open Nov. 21 to Dec. 6 statewide.
    So far, the 2015 deer harvest is running behind last year's numbers, based on preliminary data from the Wildlife Department's online E-Check System. Bartholomew cited a fall that was warmer than usual, along with ample natural food and water resources and good habitat conditions, as factors contributing to a lower overall deer harvest this year.
    Archery hunters have checked in about 16,130 deer, a pace slightly behind last year's harvest of just over 17,000 at this time. Deer archery season remains open through Jan. 15, 2016.
    Youth deer gun hunters checked about 3,595 deer for the Oct. 16-18 season. That number is 16 percent lower than last year's youth deer gun harvest of 4,277. Muzzleloader deer hunters checked 13,306 deer this year, which is 11 percent lower than last year's 14,927.
    Now, for the hunters planning their opening-day outing in the deer woods, here are the up-to-date regional rut reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.
 
SOUTHEAST REGION
By Dakota Christian, wildlife biologist, and Joe Hemphill, regional supervisor
 
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: Rutting activity is picking up and should be in full swing by gun season.  Some bucks are chasing already, but most are on the move at all hours in search of does. Bucks are starting to scrape more heavily and more rubs are starting to show up in areas more frequently. Bucks are being seen throughout the day. The rut hasn't peaked but could be in full swing with the slightest cold front.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: Habitat is great with more food on the ground than in recent years. Lots of acorns, persimmons and beautyberries. Does are hitting acorns pretty hard. Creeks and river bottoms have an abundance of acorns and are great areas to begin scouting.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: Lots of acorns and rut seems to have started.  Some hunters have reported seeing and harvesting mature bucks chasing does and others are seeing lots of does but no rutting activity. Lots of small bucks are chasing pretty good and some big bucks are being seen tending does. I saw a huge 9-point on the last Saturday of muzzleloader season with a doe, and he was right behind her every step she took.
OPEN WMAs IN THE AREA: The two largest, Ouachita WMA and Three Rivers WMA, offer lots of area and a good deer population. Also open are Honobia Creek, Broken Bow, Gary Sherrer, Atoka, Stringtown, Wister, Hugo, Pine Creek, Gaines Creek and Yourman. Three Rivers and Honobia Creek WMAs would be perfect places for someone wanting to gun hunt. Their large size makes it easy to get away from hunters and the WMAs have a great deer population not to mention a great buck to doe ratio (1:2). Hunters can experience the hunt of a lifetime in the rugged timberlands and have a great chance of seeing a deer of a lifetime.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: Stay in your stand. Focus on hardwood areas with thick cover nearby. White oaks should be the first place to look because they are still dropping acorns heavily. Post oaks and red oaks are also loaded with acorns and could be great areas to scout. Hunters in mature pine plantations should focus on hunting halfway up the sides of ridges. When bucks are searching for does, they will travel halfway down the sides, paralleling the ridges to try to bust up bedded does.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Getting out of the stand too quickly and walking around. Focus on wind direction and play the wind to your favor. Don't just hunt for a couple of hours; big bucks like to move midday during the rut. Be as quiet as possible while approaching your hunting spot.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: Recent rains have cleared some foliage, so visibility in the woods will be better. If we get cooler weather, hunters should expect a great opening morning. Hunters should expect to see good rutting activity during opening weekend of gun season.
 
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CENTRAL REGION
By Jeff Pennington, regional supervisor
 
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY:Rutting activity is currently high.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: The region had a very wet early summer, which created an abundance of natural foods. Where oaks are present, acorns are abundant. The windstorm last week placed a tremendous amount of acorns and persimmons on the ground where these species are present. The southern one-third of the region was very wet in early summer but exceptionally dry in mid- to late summer. Cover in the southern counties is not as thick as in the northern two-thirds of the region. The late-summer drought did not reduce mast production much in the south-central. While it was dry early, recent rainfall has promoted growth of wheat, an important food resource in parts of the region.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: Hunters are reporting buck activity increased a great deal the last days of October. Buck rutting activity has continued to increase through mid-November. Some hunters are seeing a few does that aren't being chased by bucks. Does and fawns do not need to move much for food due to abundant acorns.
OPEN WMAs IN THE AREA: Kaw WMA always produces the highest deer harvest in the region. Other WMAs that offer good opportunity in the north-central are Keystone, Skiatook, Heyburn, and the public hunting area portion of Okmulgee. In the south-central, WMAs around Lake Texoma that provide opportunity include Washita Arm, Hickory Creek, Fobb Bottom and Love Valley. Tishomingo WMU also provides a place to pursue deer.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: With the abundant food resources in most areas, deer will not be drawn to food plots and feeders like they were during the drought years. Deer will also be harder to spot due to the thick herbaceous cover. Last week's windstorm removed most of the leaves from the deciduous trees, which should assist hunters with visibility. Hunters may have better luck catching bucks moving through funnels instead of using food resources. Hunters may want to try oak timber instead of food plots and feeders.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID:
1. Underestimating deer sense of smell. Try to stay as scent-free as possible, and always consider wind direction when hunting.
2. Getting up from stand location too soon. Stay in the stand as long as possible. Many good bucks are taken at midday.
3. Moving too much. Pick a stand selection for the hunt period and stick to it. Moving around will often result in spooked deer in your area.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: The deer rut will still be active but just past peak in most portions of the region. If weather cooperates, hunters should do well.
 
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NORTHEAST REGION
By Mike Plunkett, senior biologist
 
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: Mature bucks are showing some pre-rut activity, with smaller bucks being seen a little more often chasing or searching for does.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: Conditions are great in the northeast due to abundant rainfall through summer. The acorn crop is very abundant nearly region-wide. Persimmons are also plentiful.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: They are seeing smaller bucks chasing or searching for does.
OPEN WMAs IN THE AREA: Fort Gibson, Copan, Hulah Public Hunting Areas open first nine days but closed to antlerless harvest. Cherokee PHA is closed to antlerless harvest, McClellan-Kerr PHA is open. Hunters should check each area regulation before going hunting on these areas. Any PHA should be considered, especially through the week when pressure is lighter.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: Do your scouting and homework before going afield. The Oklahoma Wildlife Management Area Atlas would be a great start in looking over each area. Find good ridges and draws that are near food sources and bedding areas.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Not knowing the lay of the land, not studying where food and bedding sources are, and not knowing the weather forecast, especially wind speed and direction.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: The weather looks to be great for opening day and weekend. Hunters should plan on staying in the field all day. With the rut activity picking up, bucks could be out cruising any time of the day.
 
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NORTHWEST REGION
By Eddie Wilson, senior biologist
 
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: Buck rutting activity has been increasing over the past week, it will likely peak during the next few days.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: Habitat conditions are good. Rainfall throughout summer months has led to plenty of forage and cover for deer. Wheat is in good condition, and since most of the region has yet to experience a hard freeze, native food sources are still available.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: Hunters reported seeing mature bucks chasing does this past weekend in Woodward and Harper counties. Deer numbers are still low throughout the region. According to hunters and landowners alike, a good estimate would be around 50 percent of the population we had in 2010, with numbers being even lower the farther west.
OPEN WMAs IN THE AREA: Consult the "Oklahoma Hunting" regulations guide for regulations specific to the wildlife management area you want to hunt prior to entering the area. Most WMAs in the northwest are only open during the first nine days of deer gun season. All WMAs are closed to doe hunting except the areas hosting controlled hunts. Note that Canton and Beaver River WMAs are controlled hunts only on opening weekend. Beaver River WMA is closed to all deer gun hunting after controlled hunts the opening weekend. Cooper and Fort Supply are only open the first nine days of deer gun season to bucks only. Cimarron Hills, Cimarron Bluff and Drummond Flats are all closed to deer gun hunting.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS:
1. Scout the area as much as possible. Try to learn travel routes to and from bedding areas, food sources and water.
2. Be prepared to stay in the field as long as possible to increase your odds of seeing a buck.
3. Find a good food source to hunt. If you can locate the does, a buck may be close behind.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID:     
1. Know the regulations: Hunters get cited every year for not reading the regulations before they go hunting, especially on WMAs.
2. Be prepared: Sight-in your rifle, have the right clothes for the weather, have all the tools needed to properly field dress and remove your deer from the field. Deer carts are often a must-have piece of equipment on WMAs.
3. Be patient and try not to move around a lot. Get to your spot early and stay put.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: Rut will likely peak prior to opening weekend in the northwest, however bucks should still be on the move. Good luck and hunt safe!
 
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SOUTHWEST REGION
By Ron Smith, senior biologist
 
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: The weekend of Nov. 14-15 brought on a sharp increase in rut activity. Prior to that, activity seemed a bit behind previous years. Bucks have separated and began to focus on the chase. Does were not yet receptive but that should engage in the week leading up to rifle season opener.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: Late spring and early summer rains allowed tremendous recovery of overall habitat conditions compared to previous drought-impacted years. Heavier cover has made a very noticeable difference in visibility near stands used in previous years. Food sources specific to each part of the region are in much better shape. This has made early hunting a bit tough since deer didn't have to move much to meet their needs. As the weather turns colder, food sources will be more focused and allow patterns to show.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: General light deer movement has picked up. Archery hunters in the region found many more active rubs and scrapes. Many have reported seeing an increase in mature bucks beginning the chase. All in the area have noted the sudden flurry of deer movement while driving.
OPEN WMAs IN THE AREA: Those with gun seasons are Altus-Lugert -- open first nine days only, shotgun with slug, closed to antlerless hunting; Black Kettle -- open first nine days only; Ellis County -- open first nine days only, closed to antlerless hunting; Fort Cobb -- open first nine days only, shotgun only; Packsaddle -- open first nine days only, closed to antlerless hunting.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: Be prepared to spend time in the field. Deer hunting can be a tremendous experience beyond climbing in a stand near a feeder. Time and careful observation can lead to patterns emerging that give the hunter a greater understanding of deer behavior. Use this behavior to be in full hunt mode before you get near a stand. Plan your approach, timing and wind conditions to your advantage.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Leaving the field too early can be costly. Rut activity and weather conditions can produce movement throughout the day. Failing to account for wind will likely take you out of the game.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS:  Opening day should be productive in the region. Increasing rut activity will likely keep deer on the move. Numbers are rebounding after taking a hit from the drought, so opportunity should be there.
 
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DEER GUN SEASON NOTES
 
Hunters Required to Register Harvested Deer With Online E-Check
    All hunters who take a deer this season must register the harvest online using the Wildlife Department's E-Check system at wildlifedepartment.com. It's quick and convenient, and it's the law.
    Online checking of harvested deer and elk became mandatory in 2013, after being offered as an optional checking method beginning in 2009. Hunters and anglers who take a deer, elk, turkey or paddlefish must ensure their harvest is registered with E-Check within 24 hours of leaving the hunting or fishing area, and in all cases prior to processing the carcass.
    "The important thing for all deer hunters is to have a plan ahead of time for checking your deer," said Nels Rodefeld, chief of information and education for the Wildlife Department. "All deer must be checked using E-Check within 24 hours of leaving the hunt area and in all cases before processing the animal."
    Hunters and anglers, or anyone acting on their behalf, can use a computer, smartphone or mobile device to go online and register a harvest with E-Check. 
    "You might be able to call your spouse or your friend who has Internet access, and they will be able to enter your information for you into the E-Check system," Rodefeld said. "Or, in some cases, local hunting license vendors or retailers are able to assist hunters by providing E-Check access in their shops."
    Upon E-Checking their harvest, hunters get a confirmation number immediately, which is required to field-tag the harvested animal. To view a video about how to use the E-Check system, go to youtube.com/OutdoorOklahoma and search for "online checking."
 
Finding E-Check is easy. Go to wildlifedepartment.com and click on the E-Check link, indicated by the red arrow above.
 
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Hunters Can Donate Harvested Deer to Help Feed the Hungry
    Hunters who legally harvest a deer this season are urged to consider donating the meat to the Hunters Against Hunger program. Each year, thousands of hungryOklahomans benefit from the generosity of the state's deer hunters.
     Hunters wishing to donate simply need to ensure their harvested deer has been registered with the Wildlife Department's E-Check system online at wildlifedepartment.com. Then, hunters can take their carcass-tagged deer to a nearby participating meat processor. To help with processing costs, each hunter is requested to contribute a tax-deductible $10 to assist with the program.
An important donor to Hunters Against Hunger is the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International. Learn more about the organization at oklahomastationsci.org.
     The Wildlife Department also extends special thanks to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of eastern Oklahoma for their participation in the program. Any meat processor interested in becoming a part of the Hunters Against Hunger program, or anyone wishing to become a sponsor or make a monetary donation, may call the Wildlife Department at (405) 521-4660.
     Meat processors participating in the Hunters Against Hunger program, listed by county, are online at wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/hah.htm.
 
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A program called "Age My Deer" allows hunters to remove the jawbones from the deer they take and submit digital images to the Wildlife Department. Hunters find out the age of the deer they harvested, and biologists receive additional harvest data to make sound management decisions. (wildlifedepartment.com)
 
Young Buck? Old Buck? Send Photos to Learn Harvested Deer's Age
    Deer hunters have a reliable way to find out the age of the deer they harvest this season, thanks to an interactive program offered online by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
    "Age My Deer" can be found on the Deer Home Page at wildlifedepartment.com. Hunters can submit electronic images of the deer's jawbone, along with some harvest information. A biologist will examine the teeth of the deer, the best indicator of a deer's age, and report back to the hunter via the website.
    "This voluntary, free deer-aging service is a first for any agency nationwide," said Nels Rodefeld, chief of information and education for the Wildlife Department. "It is aimed at helping to educate hunters about the age of the bucks they are harvesting."
    For the past three years, the Wildlife Department has conducted a public information campaign to encourage the harvest of older bucks, using the slogan "Hunters in the Know ... Let Young Bucks Grow!" The "Age My Deer" program gives hunters the chance to learn whether they are being successful in taking older bucks.
    The data obtained from the jawbone photos also helps Wildlife Department biologists keep track of the approximate age structure of buck and doe populations. The data helps with evaluating deer hunting regulations such as season lengths, bag limits and means of harvest.
    Hunters can go to wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/deerage.htm and follow the instructions for removing the deer jaw and submitting images. An instructional video about removing deer jaws is also available on the "Outdoor Oklahoma" Youtube channel at https://youtu.be/1e9UcGNamzc.
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