Good field care ensures good venison

Although some say taking a deer is the highlight of every deer hunt, many feel that the best part of deer hunting comes later, at the dinner table.

To get the most enjoyment from your harvest, however, you need to take proper care for the meat. If properly handled, you'll be able to enjoy many meals of lean, high-protein meat that is 100-percent natural, with no additives or preservatives.

"People hunt for a lot of reasons, but every hunter agrees that eating game is an essential part of the hunting experience," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "It's the key ingredient that connects the hunter to the game, that makes us participants in the cycle of life in the natural world instead of just being observers. Partaking of game gives a hunter a deeper respect and reverence for that animal than those who don't understand that connection."

Upon harvesting a deer, the first thing you must do is attach the proper tag to the carcass as required by law. Then, you should remove the animal's genitalia, or, if it's a doe, it's udder. Make a circular cut around the area, and remove musk glands to avoid tainting the meat.

Split the hide from the tail to the throat, but be careful not to pierce the body cavity. Peel back the hide several inches on each side to keep from getting hair on the meat.

Cut through the pelvic bone. Tilting the carcass toward the rear will cause the innards to sag into the rib cavity, decreasing the chance of puncturing the ,viscera while cutting through the bone. Then you can cut the large intestine from the pelvic cavity without severing it from the viscera.

Open the carcass by cutting the length of the breast bone and neck.

Working uphill, turn the carcass, free the gullet and pull viscera to the rear. Remove the head and legs, and then rinse the carcass out with water. Skin and sack.

Allow the carcass to cool before transporting if conditions allow. Many hunters recommend cooling a deer six hours before transporting.

Waterfowl Report for November 1, 2000


Canton: Lake elevation1/4 ft. below normal; habitat condition is fair (smartweed, wheat on private land is poor but improving with rainfall); duck numbers are low (rigneck, gadwall, redhead and teal); goose numbers are low (few migrants and sandhill cranes moving through).  Hunter activity is heavy on the weekends and low during the week (1.75 ducks/hunter on the weekend). Recent heavy rains have recharged several natural marshes and should supply additional shoreline habitat.

Ft. Supply: No Report

Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge:  Gadwall (307); Mallard (2575); Common Merganser (1400); Pintail (945); Redhead (500); Ringneck (130); Ruddy (850); Lesser Scaup (477); Shoveler (250); Blue-wing Teal (1486); Green-wing Teal (1285); Wigeon (330); Wood duck (10); Large Canada Geese (2000); Small Canada Geese (297); Snow/Blue Geese (20); White-fronted Geese (4900); (Sandhill Cranes 2129)  

Washita National Wildlife Refuge:  No Report


Ft. Cobb: Lake elevation is normal; habitat conditions are fair (wheat and peanuts); duck (Mallards and Gadwalls) and goose numbers are low. Some ducks are moving to flooded fields in the morning.

Hackberry:  1800 acres flooded; habitat condition is fair/good (flooded milo, Japanese millet, wild millet and other native plants, wheat is fair); Duck numbers are good; goose numbers are low. Numbers have increased with rain and front over the last few days. Good concentrations of birds are using millet.

Mt. Park:  Lake elevation is 3 ft. below normal; habitat conditions are fair and improving due to lake rising (milo in marsh units); duck numbers are good (

Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall); no geese. Birds are using the marsh units heavily and the newly flooded native vegetation on the lake.

Waurika: Lake elevation 1 ft. below normal; habitat condition is fair/good and crops are poor; duck numbers are low (Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal); goose numbers are low (residents and White-Fronts). Migration has been good the past week with ducks increasing.


Chouteau: All units are full; habitat condition is good (smartweed, barnyard grass and bidens); duck numbers are low (Gadwalls and Teal); no geese present. Ducks are starting to arrive.

Copan:  Lake elevation 1 ft. below normal; habitat condition is fair (soybeans, wheat, millet, sedges and smartweed are fair); ducks (Wigeon, Teal, Wood ducks, Gadwalls) are fair and goose numbers are low.

Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge:  No report

Eufaula: Lake elevation 582 ft. and rising. Habitat condition is poor, duck and goose numbers are low (few migrant White-Fronts not stopping).

Ft. Gibson:  Lake elevation is normal; habitat is good (wheat, smartweed, barnyard grass and bidens); duck and goose numbers are low.

Hulah:  Lake elevation is normal. Habitat condition is poor (soybeans, wheat, corn, millet and sedges); duck (Gadwall, Teal and Wood ducks) and goose numbers are low.

Kaw:  Lake elevation 1011; habitat condition is good (millet and native vegetation), duck numbers are fair; goose numbers are low. Numbers are increasing as the water levels rise and flood native vegetation.

Keystone:  Lake elevation 4ft. below normal; habitat condition is poor (soybean and milo poor due to dry conditions earlier); duck and goose numbers are low. Some of the sloughs are partially full. Wetland units are still almost completely dry.

Oologah: Lake elevation is 2 ft. below normal, habitat condition is fair (will improve as lake rises, good millet and mast production that hasn1t flooded yet), Duck and goose numbers are low. Heavy rains will improve habitat conditions in the future.

Sooner: Lake elevation 2 ft. below normal; habitat condition is fair (aquatic vegetation is good, some wheat); duck (few Gadwall and Wigeons)  and goose numbers are low.

Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge:  No Report

Webbers Falls:  Units are dry; habitat conditions are good (smartweed, barnyard grass, bidens); no ducks or geese due to dry unit.


Hugo:  Lake elevation 3 ft. below normal; habitat condition is poor. Duck (Shovelers and Teal) and goose numbers are low.

Little River National Wildlife Refuge:  Habitat conditions are fair/good. Water levels are low. Wood Duck (100); Mallard (4) and Gadwall (3). No other ducks or geese present

Red Slough: Habitat condition is poor. Duck (Shovelers and Teal) and goose numbers are low.  

Texoma:  Lake elevation 618; habitat condition is fair/good and flooded (Japanese millet, native plants fair); duck and goose numbers are low. Birds are moving into the area. Lake is projected to rise to 622.

Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge:  No Report

Wister:  No Report.

 Count numbers are subject to change. Numbers reported are conservative estimates of the numbers of ducks and geese at each count area and are not necessarily representative of an entire reservoir or region.


Quail opener looks promising for hunters

Thanks to successful reproduction this spring and early summer, bobwhite quail populations appear to be in good shape heading into the 2000-2001 hunting season.

Running Nov. 1 - Jan. 31, quail season is one of the most popular events in the state, drawing hunters from all over the nation to enjoy some of America's finest bird hunting. Oklahoma typically ranks among the top three quail hunting states in terms of both quail populations and hunter success, and Oklahoma promises to be a major destination for bird hunters again this year.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's October Roadside Survey shows a 14 percent increase in the statewide quail numbers over the previous 10 year average and a 98 percent increase over last year. However, it's important to note that the increase is largely due to the western regions of the state, said Mike Sams, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The northwest and southwest regions increased 47 and 68 percent over the last 10 year average, respectively. Conversely, most of the central and eastern regions were down from previous averages. Overall, the statewide survey of quail observed is similar to those of 1997, which was a good hunting season.

Due to inherent biases with the roadside survey, results are not meant to be predictive. A 98 percent increase over last year's statewide index does not necessarily equate to twice as many birds. However, the survey has been reliable for estimating quail harvest for the upcoming season.

"We've been encouraged by reports from our field personnel," Sams said. "Although hot temperature and drought conditions often spell disaster for quail, this summer's weather seems to have had only modest effects on late season production."

The ratio of chicks to adults encountered during the department's August surveys was up 40 percent over the average, suggesting a substantial first hatch. Dove hunters reported seeing some young broods of bobwhites and habitat conditions appeared good despite the drought.

"Statewide, we're in good shape and if weather conditions cooperate, the 2000-2001 quail season appears promising," said Sams.

And remember, nobody ever has a good season sitting at home. The only way to enjoy it is to get out there and hunt.

Average number of northern bobwhite quail seen while driving 20 mile survey routes during August and October, 2000

Northcentral 4.31 3.0 -30
Northeast 6.08 1.5 -75
Northwest 10.35 15.2 +47
Southcentral 3.3 4.2 +27
Southeast 7.38 4.2 -43
Southwest 13.9 23.4 +68
Statewide 7.45 8.5 +14

Commission names landowner of the year

For his outstanding efforts to enhance wildlife habitat on his property, Paul B. Odom, III was named 2000 Landowner of the Year by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Russ Horton, central region senior biologist for the Wildlife Department, said Odom deserves the award in recognition of the extensive work he has done to his 640 acres in southwest Canadian County.

"As a conscientious steward of his land and its resources, Mr. Odom is a prime example of how a landowner can successfully manage his property for the benefit of wildlife without compromising other interests for the land," Horton said. "What Mr. Odom has done with his place is a model for other landowners with the same goals. We're proud to be able to honor him in this way."

In the early 1990's, Odom started with a dream to find a piece of land near Oklahoma City to manage strictly for wildlife recreation.

"I spent two or three years searching for the perfect property to one day develop into my own personal wildlife management area," said Odom. "I also hoped to turn it into a first-class hunting destination for sportsmen. And now, after years of hard work, that dream is a reality," said Odom.

In 1992, Odom began purchasing small plots of adjoining land and started down the road to his dream. Of the numerous projects on the property, the most monumental was clearing many acres of invading eastern red cedars and other brush. Several ponds, including a beautiful canyon lake, were built and stocked with fish.

"One of my immediate concerns was to slow down the rapid erosion of the canyons. So within the first couple years we planted around 40-thousand black locust trees," said Odom.

To attract and encourage wildlife use on the property, food plots are planted and Odom sets out feeders at certain times of the year.

"Throughout the winter, the deer and turkey go through about 500 pounds of corn in our feeders a week," said Odom.

As a result, the property is now home to an estimated 200-300 Rio Grande turkeys.

"There wasn't a single turkey anywhere near the place when we bought it, and we didn't transplant any, either. I guess the old saying is true, 'If you build it, they will come'," smiles Odom.

Odom also practices a very strict self-imposed deer harvest plan. "Biologists tell me that if I want big bucks, I should reduce the sex ratio as much as possible. We've only taken one buck out here since I purchased it, and we're seeing fantastic results," says Odom.

Odom encourages other landowners to consider the untapped potential their land holds.

To be considered for the prestigious award, landowners must demonstrate a commitment to managing their property to provide benefits for wildlife.

For more information on the Department's Landowner of the Year program, contact private lands biologist John Hendrix at 405/742-1278.

Status Summary of Waterfowl Development Areas as of Oct. 23, 2000

Waterfowl hunters should see good action at these and other areas. Forage and habitat conditions are subject to constant change depending on weather conditions. It is recommended that hunters scout these areas immediately prior to hunting.

Project Site Units Artificially Flooded Units Dependent on Natural Flooding Status of Flooding Forage Conditions and Related Comments
Billy Creek (Wagoner Co.) West   100% Good-moist soil vegetation
Chouteau (Wagoner Co.) West*   100% Fair acorns; Good-moist soil vegetation
  North   100% Good-moist soil vegetation
  Center   100% Good-moist soil vegetation
  South*   100% Good-moist soil vegetation
  East   100% Good invertebrates
Copan (Washington Co.) North*   100% Fair-moist soil vegetation
  East   100% Fair-moist soil vegetation
  South   100% Fair-moist soil vegetation, army worm damage
Deep Fork/Eufaula (Okmulgee/McIntosh Co.) North**   0% Fair-moist soil vegetation
  Center**   0% Good-acorns; artificial flooding delayed due to river rise, pumping to resume as conditions allow
  East   0% Good-acorns
    South 0% Good-acorns; runoff needed
Okmulgee East (Okmulgee Co.)   All 0% Good-acorns; runoff needed
Okmulgee West (Okmulgee Co.)   All 0% Fair-acorns&moist soil vegetation; runoff needed
Eufaula-Mill Creek (McIntosh Co.) Main**   20% Good-moist soil vegetation
Grassy Slough (McIntosh Co.)   All Dry Fair-moist soil vegetation; runoff needed
Hulah-Whipporwill (Osage Co.) Main   Dry Good-moist soil vegetation; runoff needed
Hackberry Flat (Tillman Co.) Designated   1300 acres+ Good-moist soil vegetation, milo
Keystone*-Cottonwood Cr. (Creek Co.) All   0% Poor-moist soil vegetation; army worm damage
Boston Pool (Osage Co.)   All 0% Poor-moist soil vegetation; army worm damage
Buckeye Creek (Creek Co.)   Main 20% Poor-moist soil vegetation, army worm damage
Mountain Park***(Kiowa Co.) All   Dry Good-moist soil vegetation, milo
Overcup Bottoms**(Nowata Co.) All   Dry fair-moist soil vegetation
Red Slough (McCurtain Co.)   All Dry Good-moist soil vegetation, emergent vegetation, runoff needed
Sawyer (Choctaw Co.)   All Dry Fair-Japanese millet
Walker Creek (Stephens Co.) All***   Dry Good-moist soil vegetation, runoff needed
Waurika-Beaver Cr. (Stephens Co.) North***   Dry Good-moist soil vegetation; Japanese millet
  South***   Dry Good-moist soil vegetation; milo, Japanese millet
Whitegrass Flats (McCurtain Co.)   All Dry Fair-moist soil vegetation, runoff needed
Wister-Coal Creek (LeFlore Co.) All   Dry Fair-acorns; runoff needed to fill storage area
Fourche Maline Greentree*     Fair-acorns
  Moist-Soil   100% fair-moist soil vegetation

*Planned for 100% flooding by Nov. 4

**Planned for 100% flooding by Dec. 9

***Low lake levels have prohibited artificial flooding of units.


Undercover operations net fish poachers

Two separate undercover investigations into the illegal selling of game fish in southcentral Oklahoma have culminated in arrests.

A sixteen-month undercover operation by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation into the illegal sale of fish in Love County and a three-year undercover operation of the same offense in Ardmore were both recently brought to a close when search warrants were served.

A number of items, including a vehicle and boat, were seized as evidence.

"We're proud of the work our law enforcement division accomplishes for the sake of conserving our natural resources," said John Streich, chief of law enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"We should all feel good about this kind of story...after all, our fish and wildlife literally are owned by all the people of the state of Oklahoma. Poaching or making an illegal buck on wildlife is a crime against everyone, not just hunters and anglers," continued Streich.

One of the investigations began after receiving a complaint from a concerned sportsman that a subject was selling fish caught from Lake Texoma. The other grew out of another ongoing case by the department's Special Operations Unit.

During the investigations, undercover game wardens were able to purchase and trade for blue, channel and flathead catfish from an individuals that caught the fish in the Red River and Lake Texoma.

Combined, both investigations resulted in nine counts of illegal sale of game fish, but additional charges could be filed as the investigations continue.

Illegal sale or offering or exposing for sale protected fish or wildlife is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum fine of $500, plus court costs and/or10-60 days in county jail for each count. Subsequent violations are punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or 10-60 days in county jail for each count. State law also allows for the forfeiture of vehicles, boats, freezers and any other equipment used in violation of the statute.

Muzzleloader season to run as scheduled

Thousands of Oklahoma sportsmen are breathing a sigh of relief as recent rains will allow Oklahoma's muzzleloader deer season to run as scheduled, Oct. 28, through Nov. 5.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation was concerned that muzzleloader season might need to be postponed due to the state's extreme wildfire danger. Rainfall across the state significantly reduced the risk of wildfires, and the Department has announced that muzzleloader season will run as previously scheduled.

One of the fastest growing sports in the country, muzzleloader season offers sportsmen the chance to participate in nine days of traditional-style hunting. The season also allows hunters to enjoy Oklahoma's autumn weather while hunting deer that have not been heavily pressured.

"The primitive firearms season is one of the most widely-anticipated events among Oklahoma deer hunters," said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Department. "It's a really nice time to be in the woods, and many hunters consider it the best time to harvest a quality deer. We are very glad that it rained, and that the season will be held as planned.

"We still urge sportsmen to be extra cautious," Peoples added. "The fire danger has been reduced, but it has not been eliminated. Those staying in deer camps can now have campfires since the burn ban has been lifted, however we're encouraging hunters to watch for updated fire alert information from the Department of Agriculture. Sportsmen spend a great deal of time in rural areas and can be the first to report problems such as wildfires, and I would ask that they continue their vigilance as they enjoy what looks to be a great season."

Last year, muzzleloader hunters harvested 17,165 deer, accounting for more than 20 percent of the overall statewide harvest of 82,724 deer. Of those, 13,660 were bucks and 3,505 were does.

"The weather was warm last year, but it was dry which allowed muzzleloader hunters a lot of opportunity to get out," said Mike Shaw, wildlife research supervisor for ODWC. "I'm happy that many hunters were successful, but I'm disappointed that we didn't kill more does. We need to balance the buck-to-doe ratios in many parts of the state, and I hope that muzzleloader hunters will take advantage of the extra antlerless days offered this year to harvest more does."

The Department has added additional antlerless days during muzzleloader season in nearly every region of the state, including the opportunity to hunt antlerless deer all nine days in the northwest region. Hunters possessing appropriate permits may take one antlered deer and during designated days, one antlerless deer, during the nine day season, except in Texas and Cimarron counties which are closed to antlerless hunting.

To hunt deer with a muzzleloader in Oklahoma, resident hunters must possess an annual hunting or combination license, a lifetime hunting or combination license, a senior citizen hunting or senior citizen combination license or proof of exemption. Hunters must also have a deer primitive (antlered or antlerless) permit for each deer harvested or proof of exemptions.

Non-residents must possess a non-resident primitive (antlered or antlerless) permit. An annual non-resident hunting license is not required to purchase the permits.

Muzzleloader hunters are also required to wear a blaze orange head covering and upper-body garment. For specific information regarding licenses, bag limits, clothing requirements or legal firearms, consult the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations, then get out and enjoy one of Oklahoma's finest hunting opportunities – muzzleloader season.

Additional tips for muzzleloader deer hunters:

• Carry a cellular phone for reporting any problems you encounter.

• Avoid driving through or parking in tall grass. Consider carrying a fire extinguisher in your vehicle.

• In areas where camp fires are allowed, take extra safety precautions, and do not leave fires unattended.

• Consider pre-cooked meals if you will be camping.

• Be extra careful in properly dispersing of cigarettes and cigars.

Hunters should take a stand for safety

When it comes to deer hunting, success and safety go hand in hand. And that's important because most Oklahoma deer hunters use tree stands.

"Studies and statistics have proven that taking a few basic precautions can make hunting out of tree stands as safe, if not safer, than driving to your stand in the morning," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Peer offered the following easy tree stand safety rules, which if followed will all but ensure a safe return home following the day's hunt.

• Be particularly careful climbing up into and down from tree stands, where a significant percentage of accidents happen. Watch for slippery steps, be sure of your hand holds, and be sure of where you are putting your feet.

• Once you get into the stand, always wear a safety belt. Good, protective belts only cost about $10 – isn't your life worth it? Attach the belt to the tree at eye level when you are seated. This will allow enough slack for you to stand up before you shoot. This also prevents you from hanging several feet below your stand should you fall.

• If you hunt from a portable climbing stand, make sure it is attached securely. Double-check stability at the ground level before ascending the tree.

• Permanent tree stands should always be checked before deer season for soundness. Replace any weak boards with new, pressure-treated lumber.

• Use a rope or haul line to raise and lower you bow or gun. This will leave your hands free to climb the tree. Also, should the unthinkable happen, and you fall, you are much less likely to be seriously injured if you are not falling with a gun or bow in your hand.

• Always unload or uncap your gun before raising or lowering it from the stand. Tie the rope in such a way as to allow the muzzle to point away from you (remember hunter education, "Always treat every gun as if it were loaded").

Whooping cranes on the move

One of North America's rarest birds, the whooping crane, is about to make its annual fall journey through Oklahoma. The last remaining wild-born whooping cranes, numbering about 195 birds, are en route from their ancestral breeding grounds in the bogs and marshes of northern Canada to their wintering grounds on the Texas coast. They are expected to pass through Oklahoma in the last week of October and first week of November.

"Whooping cranes have never been common in historic times," said Mark Howery Natural Resources Biologist, "however breeding populations were scattered across the northern Great Plains from the Dakotas through central Canada, as well as along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. As Europeans began to settle this country, whooping cranes where killed for food by early settlers and the wetlands in which they nest and feed were converted to agricultural uses. By the early 1900s only a few dozen were left and by 1941 the population had been reduced to just 15 to 20 birds. The entire resident population along the Gulf Coast had been eliminated, and the only birds in the interior of the continent were a small group that nested in a remote section of northern Canada. These birds are the founder stock for all of the whooping cranes that exist today."

Conservation measures such as the protection of the cranes' breeding and wintering habitat have helped to bring about a slow but steady increase in the population. Monitoring of cranes during their long migration has helped as well by identifying important stopover habitats for the birds as well as potential migration hazards. Additionally, in the 1960s and 1970s eggs were collected from wild whooping crane nests and hatched in captivity to establish a captive population in the event that the wild population was lost. Fortunately, the wild population continues to thrive and the captive population has reproduced and grown to over 140 birds. Though no captive-raised birds have been released back into the wild migratory population, captive-raised cranes are being used to re-establish a wild, non-migratory population in Florida.

"The whooping crane is a conservation success story in the making," Howery said. "As the population increases, so does the number of crane observations in Oklahoma. Most of the birds are seen in the vicinity of wetlands or flooded crop fields in the central part of the state. Usually the cranes remain at any one spot for only a day or two before moving on south, because they must make their long journey from northern Alberta, Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Corpus Christie, Texas in less than 5 weeks."

Whooping cranes are large birds that are identifiable by their white plumage, black wingtips and red forehead. Cranes fly with their long necks extended straight and their legs extending back well beyond the tail.

"They normally migrate during the day in small flocks of two to six birds and sometimes join larger flocks of sandhill cranes for part of the migration," Howery added. "At night, they roost in shallow water in rivers and marshes."

Several birds can be easily mistaken for whooping cranes. Sandhill cranes are primarily gray with gray wing feathers instead of being white with black wingtips. Snow geese have a similar color pattern as whooping cranes, but they are considerably smaller, usually fly in large flocks and have short legs that are barely visible behind the body. White pelicans also have a similar color patter but they have a stockier build than cranes and have short legs. Finally, the great egret is a long white bird like a crane, but it lacks the black wingtips and red forehead and it flies with its neck tucked close to the body and held in an "S" shape. Anyone spotting a whooping crane is encouraged to contact the Department's Natural Resources Section at (405) 521-4616. Such reports help Howery and other biologists gain a better understanding of the crane's migration path and habitat needs. Simply report the time, date and location of the sighting as well as the habitat and number of birds seen.

For more information about the Whooping Crane, a free brochure is available by writing to the ODWC's Wildlife Diversity Program at 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105.

Habitat key to having more quail

Good quail habitat is the key to maintaining quail populations, a theme that several quail experts related to around 100 landowners, hunters and quail enthusiasts who met Thursday, Oct. 12. The meeting was organized and held in Ada at the request of Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Harland Stonecipher, who also facilitated the discussion.

Five state quail experts, including Mike Sams, upland bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and Dr. Fred Guthery, head of the Bollenbach Chair at Oklahoma State University, addressed the crowd regarding declining quail populations and possible solutions. Other keynote speakers included Mike Porter with the Noble Foundation, Dr. Terry Bidwell with OSU, and John Hendrix, private lands biologist for the Wildlife Department.

"The bottom line is habitat," said Sams. "You can't have quail without quail habitat. We certainly can't control weather factors, and with the right habitat, predators are not a limiting factor."

Guthery, a noted national quail researcher and author, said bobwhite populations have been declining since the late 1800s, and have done so regardless of whether predator populations have been high or low. In areas with excellent habitat, though, he said densities of up to three and four birds per acre have been documented.

"If you want to get rid of bobwhites, plant Bermuda grass," Guthery said, adding that "we now have a green varmint problem. Ashe juniper, Eastern red cedar and serecia lespedeza are crowding out quail habitat across the state."

Other noteworthy quail information provided at the meeting:

• Generally speaking, you'll find more quail in areas with sandier soils, as opposed to those soils with more clay. Also, wetter years seem to produce more quail than drier years.

• Brushy prairie is the typical of "excellent" quail habitat. Habitat with five to 15 percent brush content, even distributed across the acreage, is best.

• Quail nest in standing bunch grasses that are left over from the previous grazing season.

• Prescribed burning is one of the best methods for stopping the spread of cedar and maintaining healthy habitat.

• Most of the crosstimbers (mixed oak/prairie habitat in central Oklahoma) has been converted to "improved" pasture for cattle or cropland. Neither is good quail habitat.

• Changes in vegetation are slow and subtle, and unless you have implemented an aggressive habitat manipulation program, your land probably has changed in terms of its habitat make-up.

• Large tracts of land, up to 3-4,000 acres, are needed to maintain quail populations long-term.

• Quail have high reproduction, but low survival. On average, a quail's lifespan is only seven to eight months.

• The Wildlife Department offers technical assistance to any landowner interested in improving wildlife habitat on their property. Call the Department's Wildlife Division at 405/521-2739 for more information.


Rains Answer Hunters' Prayers

Recent statewide rainfall and a change in the warm, dry, windy weather pattern that kept state officials on alert for wildfires, has led officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to announce that the primitive firearms deer season will be held as previously scheduled. The muzzleloader deer season will begin Oct. 28 and run through Nov. 5.

Wildlife Department officials surveyed rainfall totals Monday, October 16, and determined that most of the state received rain, with more than three inches reported in a number of localized areas. Department personnel continue to advise hunters to remain vigilant about fire hazards, especially as the state dries out from the recent rainfall.

"Our primary fire safety concern has not been the muzzleloading firearms themselves, but rather incidental fire hazards such as improperly discarded cigarettes and the heat from vehicles parked in tall, dry grass," said Greg Duffy, executive director of the Wildlife Department. "We encourage everyone to continue being careful while afield, especially those hunters planning on staying in deer camps during the nine-day season. Because of the amount of time they spend in rural areas, hunters are often the first to report problems to local authorities. We'd like to commend those archery and small game hunters who helped in this regard earlier this month when conditions were so extreme."

Duffy added that although the Department would only have recommended postponing the season to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission as a last resort, he said many hunters contacted the agency to voice their understanding and support for the need to look at the situation.

"For the most part, people recognized that were only being responsible and prudent in reviewing all the variables," Duffy said. "We wish the state's 100,000 muzzleloader hunters lots of luck, and hope everyone has a safe, successful season."

Winter trout areas open Nov. 1

If you enjoy catching trout but don't have time to travel, you can enjoy some excellent fishing close to home at Oklahoma's winter trout areas.

Beginning Nov. 1, trout season opens at the six designated winter trout areas managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Sprinkled throughout the state, these fisheries provide trout fishing opportunities in areas where warm water temperatures are not suitable for trout during the summer. "They are stocked regularly with catchable size rainbow trout, and they are very popular with anglers all over the state," said Barry Bolton, the department's assistant chief of fisheries.

Anglers will be excited to learn that trout stocking schedules are now posted regularly on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's official website, www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Bolton also noted that anglers need to be aware that trout stockings are subject to change without notice due to circumstances beyond our control.

Once logged on the Fishing page within the Department's website, choose "Stocking" for the complete schedule.

"Oklahoma is blessed with a diversity of fishing opportunities, including our two year-round trout fisheries on the lower Illinois and lower Mountain Fork rivers," Bolton said. "However, the Department's winter trout fisheries provide additional opportunities that are very popular with many anglers who appreciate the experience of catching trout on their home waters. For that reason, they are valuable assets to Oklahoma's fishing community."

Seasonal trout fishing areas are at the following locations:

Lake Carl Etling - This 159-acre lake is located within Black Mesa State Park in Cimarron Co. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - April 30. To get there, take US-325 28 miles west of Boise City. Boat ramps are on the south and east sides of the lake. Primitive and developed camping facilities are available at the park.

Quartz Mountain - The designated trout area directly below the dam at Lake Altus-Lugert. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 15. To get there from Altus, take OK-44A north about 18 miles. Lodging and camping facilities are available at Quartz Mountain State Park.

Blue River - The Blue River trout area is located within the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area near Tishomingo. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 31. To get there from Tishomingo, go four miles east on OK-78 and then six miles north. Bank access and wade fishing is available throughout the area. Primitive camping is allowed at the Blue River campground.

Robbers Cave - Located in Robbers Cave State Park, the Robbers Cave trout fishery is located directly below Carlton Lake Dam to the south boundary of the park. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 15. To get there from Wilburton, go five miles north on OK-2. Bank access and wade fishing is available anywhere within state park boundaries. Camping facilities and cabins are available at the park.

Lake Watonga - This 55-acre lake lies within Roman Nose State Park. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 31. To get there from Watonga, go seven miles north on OK-8A. Bank access and a boat ramp are on the west side of the lake. Camping and lodging are available at the park.

Lake Pawhuska - This 96-acre lake is about three miles south of Pawhuska. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 31. During that time, the City of Pawhuska waives the City fishing fee. To get there from Pawhuska, go three miles south on OK-60, and then go 1.75 miles east on a marked County road. Lake facilities include a boat ramp, fishing dock and restrooms. Primitive camping is available at the lake, and developed camping is available at nearby Lake Bluestem.

In addition to these areas, the Department also manages year-round trout fisheries at the lower Illinois and lower Mountain Fork rivers. The Department stocks both of these areas with brown and rainbow trout.

To fish for trout in Oklahoma, angles need either a resident or non-resident fishing license, as well as a trout license. Trout licenses cost $7.75. There are no exemptions from purchasing the trout license. Before going, check the 1999 Oklahoma Fishing Regulations regarding regulations and other information for each area.

Trout stocking schedules on internet

Anglers will be excited to learn that trout stocking schedules are now posted regularly on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's official website, www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Oklahoma boasts six wintertime and two year-round trout fisheries, stretching from the panhandle to southeast Oklahoma. And now scheduling a trip around a stocking date is easier than ever.

"We have always strived to provide angler's with information to make their time outdoors as enjoyable as possible. And we're sure trout stocking schedules will be a very popular new service," said Kim Erickson, the department's chief of fisheries division.

Erickson also noted that anglers need to be aware that trout stockings are subject to change without notice due to circumstances beyond our control.

Once logged on the Fishing page within the Department's website, choose "Stocking" for the complete schedule.

Wildlife Department to discuss noxious aquatic plant concerns

If you enjoy water gardening you will want to attend one of two upcoming public forums to be held by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The forums will address concerns involving certain species of aquatic vegetation used by water gardeners. The Wildlife Department has regulatory responsibility to control importation, transportation and propagation of any aquatic plant that may cause injury to the environment in Oklahoma.

"If accidentally introduced into the wild, certain non-native plant species used in water gardening have the potential to do harm to Oklahoma's aquatic environment. We have the responsibility to control the distribution and use of these plants before that happens, and we'd like the public's input in helping to shape these controls," said Kim Erickson, chief of the department's fisheries division.

The forums are intended for those with an interest in water gardening including hobbyists, nursery owners and growers. The first will be held Wednesday, Oct. 25 at the Zebco Cafeteria, 6101 East Apache, Tulsa, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The second forum will be held Thursday, Oct. 26 at the Senior Citizen's Center at Will Rogers Park, 3501 Pat Murphy Cr., Oklahoma City, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Sportsmen urged to continue fire vigilance

Because of Oklahoma's unprecedented high fire danger, the Wildlife Department urges sportsmen to continue their safety vigilance.

"Our dry conditions are so extreme that even a conscientious sportsmen can innocently start a fire," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Fire experts report that because of the severity of the statewide situation, it will take several things to improve the outlook – cooler, wetter weather and higher air humidity's.

"Nearly one-hundred thousand archery deer hunters are already out exploring the landscape. They can be our state's first line of defense; the eyes and ears for spotting and reporting wildfires in rural Oklahoma," said Peer.

He continued by urging hunters to be extremely careful while afield as well. If you plan to be outside, please follow these suggestions:

• Use battery-powered lanterns.

• Take only pre-cooked foods that do not require re-heating.

• Dispose of cigarettes and cigars properly.

• Avoid parking or even driving in tall grass. Stay on maintained roads.

Oklahoma hunters and anglers have always held to a strong ethic of responsibility for the outdoors. The Wildlife Department only asks that whether hunting, fishing or just taking a hike though the woods, sportsmen be extra conscientious of the state's current fire danger situation.

Outdoor traditions strong in Oklahoma

At its regular October meeting, held Oct. 2 in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission discussed keeping hunting and fishing heritages alive with a key national advocate for outdoor recreation.

Rick Storey, vice-president of the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America (WLFA) said that Oklahoma is blessed with people who have outdoor backgrounds and support fish and wildlife management and recreation. Sportsmen in many other parts of the country are not as lucky, he said, as evidenced by the growing wave of legislation and ballot initiatives that seek to reduce hunting and trapping activities.

According to Storey, the three keys to successfully defending hunting and fishing activities are raising money, recruiting volunteers to mount political campaigns and developing a message the public can understand. All three depend heavily on cohesive, active grass-roots sportsmen's organizations. The WLFA, which was formed in 1978 as a national advocacy group for hunting, fishing and professional fish and wildlife management, will be looking to build grass-roots coalitions throughout the country, including Oklahoma.

Several awards presentations were made at the October meeting. In the first presentation, Andy Phillips of Shikar Safari recognized Game Warden Max Crocker, stationed in Texas County, as the 2000 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Phillips also received an award from the Wildlife Department's Executive Director Greg Duffy thanking Shikar Safari for its role in recognizing outstanding game wardens in Oklahoma, and throughout the world.

Duffy also recognized three other Department employees as part of the agency's annual Employee Recognition Program. Selected for their outstanding service, dedication and commitment were: Mike Shaw, wildlife research supervisor; Brent Gordon, fisheries biologist; and Johnny Hill, property assistant. Shaw, who received the Resource Achievement Award, has worked for the Department for 21 years and supervises many of the agency's wildlife programs. He also is recognized as the state's leading deer biologist. Hill, a 4-year veteran, maintains the building and grounds at the Department's headquarters in Oklahoma City and was selected as the 2000 Service Achievement Award recipient.

Gordon, who was selected for the Conservation Achievement Award, was also chosen as the Department's Employee Of The Year. A 12-year veteran, Gordon was originally nominated for the awards while he was a fisheries technician in the northeast region. He was recently promoted to fisheries biologist in the northeast region.

Also recognized at the meeting were individuals and organizations involved with the annual Norman Hunter Education Clinic, held each August in Norman. The clinic is the hall-mark event for the Department's Hunter Education Program, having certified more than 16,000 people since its inception in 1974. Those recognized for continued support and commitment to various aspects of the clinic were the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, the Tri-City Gun Club, the City of Norman and the Oklahoma Publishing Company. David Warren, Information and Education chief for the Department, told the Commission that over the past three decades hunting accident rates have fallen from an average of 22 accidents with 12 fatalities per year in 1972 to only 12 accidents with 1 fatality, on average, in recent years. There were no fatal hunting accidents in 1999, and according to Warren, this trend is due in large part to the hard work and dedication of concerned individuals such as those who help teach hunter education at the Norman Clinic and elsewhere.

In new business, Commissioners discussed the extreme fire danger across the state, a situation they pledged to monitor with the approach of several significant hunting seasons, including the primitive firearms season. Hunters are often the first line of defense in reporting problems like wildfires in rural areas, but without significant rainfall, consideration may be given to adjusting the season.

Also under new business, Commission members discussed the process for allowing public comment on items being considered by the Commission. The topic will be addressed further at the Commission's November meeting, which will be held Monday, Nov. 6, at 9 a.m. at the Wildlife Department's headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Bass Virus found in additional lakes

Although laboratory analysis of healthy largemouth bass recently collected from Grand, Hudson and Ft. Gibson lakes indicates the presence of Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV), Wildlife Department fisheries biologists do not expect any significant impacts on the bass populations in those lakes.

The fish, all of which were collected by electrofishing and appeared healthy, were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pinetop Fish Health Center in Arizona for analysis. Angler reports of dead largemouth bass at Ft. Gibson and Grand lakes led fisheries personnel to have the bass tested for LMBV.

"The Largemouth Bass Virus has been found in 12 southeastern states and Michigan, but to date there is little evidence that it has caused long-term problems or major impacts to bass populations," said Kim Erickson, fisheries chief for the Department. "Obviously we all are concerned when we see large numbers of dying and dead fish, but most bass that carry LMBV appear completely normal. Bass showing external secondary infections such as sores, abrasions or patches of fungus do not necessarily have the virus. Also, not all bass that have the virus die from the disease.

"It is important to stress that other states, like Texas, having much larger kills than we have seen in Oklahoma, now report that fishing is back to normal and the bass populations have rebounded."

Erickson added that LMBV has been implicated in bass die-offs in six southeastern states since 1995, and was recently confirmed in Lake Tenkiller bass in mid-August. LMBV affects only cold-blooded animals and although researchers have found it in other bass, and sunfish species like crappie, it has proven fatal only to largemouth bass. LMBV is not known to infect warm-blooded animals, including humans. Fish infected with the virus are safe to eat when properly cooked.

Adult bass 14 inches or longer seem to be more susceptible to the disease. One characteristic of LMBV-infected bass is they appear to lose equilibrium. Where the virus has triggered the fatal disease, fish may appear bloated and can have trouble remaining upright.

Fisheries biologists are learning more and more about LMBV everyday, but many questions about the disease remain unanswered. Stress from high water temperatures or excessive handling appears to be involved in triggering the disease, but biologists aren't certain exactly how the process occurs.

Gene Gilliland, senior biologist at the Department's Fisheries Research Lab in Norman, added that several bass tournament groups (including Champion, Skeeter, Cobra, OK B.A.S.S. Federation) have voluntarily implemented procedures to reduce handling stress during fishing tournaments or have decided to suspend tournament activities during hot summer months. Gilliland said the agency hopes to educate other tournament organizers and anglers in general to minimize the effects of handling stress, especially during critical times of the year.

Follow-up sampling of Lake Tenkiller revealed the continued presence of LMBV in largemouth and smallmouth bass, but not in spotted bass. Erickson added that once established, LMBV appears to maintain a presence in the lake or reservoir, although fatalities decline.

"Research continues, but to date there is no known prevention or eradication measures that can be done to remove the virus from the population," he said. "We will certainly continue to monitor and investigate any reports of dead or dying fish in any of our state's reservoirs and will seek input from anglers who witness bass die offs."

Although no specific solutions have been discovered, anglers may help minimize the spread of LMBV by doing the following:

•Clean boats and trailers thoroughly and drain live wells and bilges between fishing trips to avoid transporting the virus from one body of water to another.

•Do not move fish or fish parts from one body of water to another.

•Handle bass as quickly and gently as possible if you intend to release them.

•Avoid holding tournaments during hot summer months to avoid stress on fish.

•Report dead or dying fish to ODWC.

•Educate other anglers about LMBV.

Operation Game Thief nets illegal operation

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently concluded a four-year undercover investigation into the illegal sale of fish in the Lake Eufaula area. Law enforcement officials seized a number of items as a result of the investigation, including two vehicles and two boats and expect 32 counts to be charged against six defendants.

The case, named Operation Belle Starr, began after tips to the Operation Game Thief hotline alleged fish were being sold. Investigators determined a number of people were involved and were able to purchase approximately 670 pounds of blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead and crappie. Four search warrants have been served at residences in the Lake Eufaula area and additional charges could be filed as the investigation continues. Charges currently filed against the defendants include the illegal sale of game fish, the illegal sale of non-game fish and illegally buying game fish.

"We are very proud of our officers and the professional manner in which they have pursued this investigation," said Dennis Maxwell, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Department. "This case is a perfect example of how citizens can make a difference by getting involved when they become aware of illegal activities that not only damage fish and wildlife resources, but also the reputations of law-abiding sportsmen. Operation Game Thief allows the public the opportunity to remain anonymous and assist us by providing information we can use to pursue these types of violations."

The illegal sale of, or offering or exposing for sale, protected fish or wildlife is a misdemeanor which carries a maximum fine of $500, plus court-costs, and up to 60 days in jail for each count. State law also allows for the forfeiture of vehicles, boats, freezers and any other equipment used in violation of the statute.

Anyone who knows of illegal activities regarding fish and wildlife can call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-522-8039 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Cash rewards may be given for information leading to a conviction. Callers are not required to give their names, but are instead assigned a number which will allow them to collect their rewards while remaining anonymous.