Virus confirmed in bass deaths at Lake Tenkiller

Laboratory analysis of dying largemouth bass collected by biologists from Lake Tenkiller has confirmed the presence of Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV), a virus implicated in bass die-offs in six southeastern states since 1995. Samples collected in mid-August were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pinetop Fish Health Center in Arizona for analysis.

According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologists, reports of dying largemouth bass 16 inches or longer started in Lake Tenkiller in late July and have continued throughout August.

With help from the Corps of Engineers, State Park employees and local anglers, biologists continue to investigate the extent and magnitude of the kill on one of the state's premier bass lakes.

"We've made several site visits covering most of the lake and have counted over 200 dead or dying fish since the first week in August," said Hutchie Weeks, northeast regional fisheries supervisor.

"We've had unconfirmed reports of dead fish in the thousands. It's difficult to get actual numbers when such a large area is affected and the kill is prolonged over a long period," Weeks added.

First documented in 1995, LMBV has been found in 12 southeastern states, but only Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana have had fish kills attributed to the virus.

Not all bass that have the virus die from the disease. In fact, most bass that carry LMBV appear completely normal. Where the virus has triggered the fatal disease, dying fish often swim near the surface and have trouble remaining upright. LMBV appears to attack the swim bladder causing bass to lose equilibrium. Some diseased fish may appear bloated.

Adult bass two pounds or more seem to be more susceptible to the disease. Since die-offs have occurred from June through September, warm-water temperatures might play a factor in triggering an outbreak.

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.

Thus far, no evidence has shown that LMBV has caused a long term problem or major impact on any fishery. Last summer, up to 4,000 largemouth bass reportedly died from LMBV on Lake Fork in Texas and other incidents have been reported from Lakes Sam Rayburn, Conroe and Toledo Bend (TX - LA). Texas biologists report that comparative analysis of electrofishing surveys before and after these kills indicated no statistical decline in the bass fishery at Lake Fork.

"We're learning more and more about LMBV everyday, however there's still many unanswered questions," said Kim Erickson, chief of fisheries for the department.

"Our crews will continue to monitor and investigate any reports of dead or dying fish in Tenkiller or any other Oklahoma reservoir, and we'll certainly be cooperating with other state and federal agencies in addressing the problem.

"We are hopeful that the die-off will run it course and be over like it has in other states. We'll be conducting follow-up surveys on Tenkiller to assess the impact but there is no known prevention or eradication measures that can be done to remove the virus from the population," said Erickson.

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

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

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

•Do not release live bait into a lake.

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

•Stage tournaments during cooler weather to avoid stress on fish.

•Report dead or dying fish to ODWC.

•Educate other anglers about LMBV.

Heat, drought, wildfires concern biologists

Biologists from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are becoming concerned about the recent drought and its effects on habitat and wildlife populations across the state.

The month of August has been one of the driest on record and temperatures have consistently broken the 100 degree mark. These conditions have caused wilting vegetation, declining insect populations and an increased fire risk.

Quail populations may be hardest hit by the drought. "The second hatch often makes the difference between a decent quail season and an excellent quail season," said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"Quail chicks depend on vegetative cover and insects for their survival. The second hatch usually takes place from early to mid September, and right now there may not be enough available for them to survive," Peoples said.

The risk of wildfires is also very high and can quickly alter large expanses of habitat. Vegetation is extremely dry and most of the state is now under a burn ban. Due to the burn ban, campfires are prohibited, but hunters going afield should also be extremely careful as a tossed cigarette can quickly lead to wildfires. People should also avoid driving vehicles off road. Even a small spark from a hot exhaust pipe could ignite drought-scorched grasses.

Fire isn't the only concern as weather conditions are also causing a decline in food available for deer and turkey. "This will cause a decrease in the number of acorns available for deer and turkey to feed on this fall," Peoples said. "Oaks across the state are becoming drought stressed causing the acorns to dry up and drop off before they mature.

"Overall, I think we're still in fairly good shape, but if conditions continue, hunters may have to be a little more cautious and may have to change their tactics," Peoples added. "But, if they are flexible, there should be no problem having success this fall."

Prepare now for migratory bird hunting

Migratory bird hunters have ample opportunity to test their skills during the month of September with the opening of dove season, the early teal season and a special resident Canada Goose season. Those planning to take advantage of these opportunities need to take a little time to prepare and become familiar with the regulations.

Dove season opens September 1 and runs through October 31 and biologist are reporting good numbers of birds in the usual hotspots. Hunters are allowed 15 birds a day.

This year's early teal season will open September 9 and will run through September 24 statewide; except in the panhandle counties which runs from September 9 to September 17. The daily bag limit is four and may include bluewing, greenwing and cinnamon teal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are offering a special resident Canada Goose hunting season. This special season will take place September 9 to September 17. The daily bag limit will be three Canada Geese.

Possession limits for all species are twice the daily bag limit after the first day. Hunters planning to pursue dove, teal and geese will need:

* A resident or non-resident hunting license for those 16 years of age or older.

* A completed Harvest Information Program Permit or HIP Permit which is part of the universal license form. Those hunters possessing a resident lifetime hunting license or a resident lifetime combination license may pick up a free HIP Permit where licenses are sold.

* A shotgun that is incapable of holding more than three shells and is no larger than 10 gauge in size.

* Federally approved non-toxic shot for those hunting teal or Canada Geese, or for those hunting dove on wetland development areas restricted to the use of non-toxic shot.

In addition, hunters who choose to take part in the early teal season or the special resident Canada Goose season need to have:

* An Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Permit unless exempt.

* A federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.

With just a little preparation, migratory bird hunters should enjoy a lot of excitement this September. For more information, hunters should check the Fall 2000-Spring 2001 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations.

They will also want to pick up a copy of the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Guide and Regulations which will be available soon at license vendors across the state.

Exhibits teach fairgoers about state's wildlife

Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation expect lots of visitors to their exhibits at the State Fair of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, and the Tulsa State Fair.

"It is an exciting time of the year when almost everybody is looking forward to the approach of autumn," said David Warren, chief of the department's information and education division. "For decades we've enjoyed the privilege of visiting with folks about Oklahoma's wildlife and the hunting and fishing opportunities that exist around the state. It's a great way for people to visit with Department employees and learn the latest news about Oklahoma's wildlife."

Warren said the Department will have some special guests at this year's State Fair of Oklahoma which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 1. For the past several years, volunteers from the department's Hunter Education Program have operated a popular 'live-fire' pellet rifle range free of charge to fairgoers. This year however, members of the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team will be on hand Sept. 26 through Sept. 30 to help volunteers give shooting tips and educate youth about responsible firearm handling.

Other attractions at the fair in Oklahoma City include 'The Fishing Simulator' a virtual- reality experience that gives fairgoers a sense of catching a hard fighting trout or smallmouth bass, and nightly bass fishing seminars at a giant aquarium. The department's exhibit in Oklahoma City is located in the "Outdoor Adventure Center" which is the large "bubble-topped" building.

Northeast Oklahomans can learn about the department and Oklahoma's wildlife at the Tulsa State Fair which runs from Sept. 28 through Oct. 8. Colin Berg, education supervisor for the department, says the department's exhibit is a favorite destination for many fairgoers.

"Every year we have more than 100,000 people come through our exhibit at the Tulsa Fair. We have a large 'pond' where our fisheries division displays a variety of fish and turtles. Many folks tell me they return year after year just to see the big flathead catfish and snapping turtles."

Berg said the Tulsa exhibit also features other fish and live animal displays and has several department personnel on hand to answer questions. The department's building on the Tulsa fairgrounds lies just north of the east end of the Sky Ride.

Various wildlife department brochures, including hunting and fishing regulations, will be available at both fair exhibits. In addition, Outdoor Oklahoma caps, and the 2000 Wildlife Habitat patches and caps will also be on sale

Teal season opens Sept. 9

Waterfowl hunters itching for the cold weather of November can get a high-octane tune-up next month by participating in the fall teal season.

Due to record-high populations of blue-winged and green-winged teal, Oklahoma hunters will be able to enjoy 16 days of teal hunting for the third straight year, said Mike O'Meilia, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The season runs Sept. 9-24 statewide except for the Panhandle, where it runs Sept. 9-17.

"Thanks to high breeding populations of teal, combined with excellent production conditions in the Dakotas, we're looking for an outstanding fall flight of both blue-winged and green-winged teal this fall," O'Meilia said. "Like many migratory birds, teal migration is triggered by decreasing day-length as we approach fall. Spectacular migrations can occur on the northern weather fronts that occur with increasing frequency in September. Even small fronts that cause no appreciable change in temperatures, that are no more than wind shift fronts, will carry teal southward on their journey to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central and South America.

"Like any other kinds of hunting, it's just a matter of going out and taking advantage of the opportunities," he added. "If you're out there when they come through, you'll have some great hunts. If you're sitting on the couch, you won't."

One reason the season is underutilized, O'Meilia said, is because the hot weather conditions normally prevalent in mid-September are so vastly different from the traditional image of cold-weather duck hunting. Generally, you can hunt in short sleeves, and if you don't mind wearing wet trousers, you can even hunt without waders. It's a unique experience, but those who give it a try quickly become enamored with it.

"People who don't participate in the fall teal season are missing out on a great experience," O'Meilia said. "This time of year doesn't produce what many consider classic duck hunting conditions, but it's a tremendous season. It's a great time to take a kid hunting, and it's a great time to train a young dog."

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about fall teal hunting is that you're only allowed to harvest blue-winged, green-winged and cinnamon teal. All other waterfowl species are off-limits.

"There are always variable numbers of other ducks around at this time depending on the weather," O'Meilia said. "You might see pintails, shovelers, mallards and wood ducks, so you have to be aware of waterfowl identification. Wood ducks are very common, and the first hour of shooting time is when they are most active. Shovelers have blue wing patches, too, so you can't depend on that for ID. You've got to look at their heads to pick out their much larger bills for which they are named."

To participate in the fall teal season, all you need is a resident or non-resident Oklahoma Hunting License, an Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Permit ($4) and a federal duck stamp ($15). Don't forget your Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit. It's free from any license vendor, but you can't hunt without it. That's how the Department determines the harvest of all migratory game birds, including waterfowl.

September hunt for resident Canada geese

As a way to manage the resident population of giant Canada geese, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will hold a special, experimental Canada goose season Sept. 9-17. The daily bag limit will be three birds.

The experimental season is being held to provide additional hunting opportunity as a tool for managing the state's population of locally breeding Canada geese, said Mike O'Meilia, the Department's migratory bird biologist. The Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate the experimental season to determine its effectiveness in managing numbers and distribution of resident Canada geese and any potential effects on migrant populations of Canada geese.

"Over the last 20 years, populations of resident Canada geese have increased significantly in many areas of the country, including Central Flyway states such as Oklahoma," O'Meilia said. "In some areas, populations have reached sufficient size to cause considerable conflicts with human populations." As a result, the Service and the states are looking at additional management options to resolve these conflicts. As part of this effort, the Service is preparing a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement on management of resident Canada geese that will utilize step down management plans for each flyway.

"Hunting is our best tool for managing populations of game animals that exceed either the social or environmental carrying capacity of an area," O'Meilia added. "In the case of resident Canada geese, it is largely an issue of what people are willing to tolerate".

Most resident Canada geese are not migratory, but are year-round residents of very specific locations. Among the complaints associated with the birds are damage to personal and public property, as well as concerns for public health and safety. An adult Canada goose can leave up to a quarter-pound of droppings per day on beaches, parks, golf courses and other areas where people gather. There's also a very significant and dangerous risk of aircraft strikes with these birds near airports.

"Unfortunately, many of the problems associated with resident Canada goose populations are a direct result of human influences on goose behavior," O'Meilia said "Feeding Canada geese is the number one reason why the birds congregate in areas used by people. Feeding alters the birds natural wild behavior and conditions the birds to seek out areas that result in conflicts with humans."

Hunters who participate in the special resident Canada goose season must have a resident or non-resident hunting license, a 2000 Oklahoma waterfowl hunting permit, a 2000 federal duck stamp and a HIP permit. Lifetime license holders do not need the Oklahoma waterfowl hunting permit. Hunters willing to participate in a special survey (collecting goose tail fans and wingtips) to determine composition of the September season harvest are asked to call the Department at 405-521-3563.

Department schedules pre-employment exam

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will hold a standardized examination Friday Sept. 29 at the Tom Steed Development Center Auditorium at Rose State College.

The exam is for individuals seeking employment as wildlife biologists, game wardens, assistant hatchery managers, technicians and information and education specialists. It will cover state and federal wildlife laws and regulations, Oklahoma geography, biological and environmental sciences relating to fish, wildlife and environmental education and communication; journalism, photojournalism, technical writing and editing.

Individuals may take the exam once in a 12-month period, and test scores are valid for 12 months from the test date. Applications for employment will be sent to the individuals with the top 25 scores. Taking the exam does not guarantee employment, nor does the exam necessarily indicate the Department currently has openings. Interviews will be scheduled only when an opening is available.

The Tom Steed Development Center Auditorium is north of I-40 at the intersection of I-40 and Hudiburg Rd. in Midwest City. The doors will close promptly at 10 a.m. Those arriving after 10 a.m. will not be permitted to take the exam.

Deer Management Plan on Commission Agenda

A six-month public input process has culminated with a comprehensive deer management plan designed to take Oklahoma well into the 21st century.

The plan, the work of a broad-based committee of representatives from every major group with an interest in deer, will be presented to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission at its September 11 meeting in Oklahoma City.

In general, the plan calls for greatly increased hunting opportunities for antlerless deer, while calling for a decrease in the number of bucks hunters may take from three to two. Both measures are designed to curb and stabilize overall population growth, while ensuring long-term health of the herd by better balancing buck-to-doe sex ratios.

"This plan is comprehensive and the committee believes it is representative of the numerous stakeholder groups who were identified to serve on the steering committee," said Mike McCormick, executive editor for the Shawnee News-Star and chairman of the 21st Century Deer Steering Committee. "Our responsibility and purpose has been to develop a plan which we believe will best manage Oklahoma's growing deer population. We've attempted to fulfill that obligation. Many parts of the state are being heavily impacted by the deer herd in those areas. Others may not have quite the numbers, so our plan is designed to provide some balance and allow wildlife officials the flexibility needed in managing a herd estimated to be 450,000 strong and predicted to grow between 35 and 40 percent annually.

"Every member of the group certainly did not necessarily agree with every little detail of the plan," McCormick added. "However, a consensus was reached on each point of the plan which is to be presented for approval to the Wildlife Commission September 11."

Key elements of the plan include:

• Increasing the aggregate statewide bag limit to six deer, no more than two of which can be antlered.

• Adding 15 days of antlerless-only archery hunting from Jan. 1-15.

• Expanding antlerless harvest options for Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) cooperators to include 28 days of antlerless rifle hunting spread over three months, plus nine days during the primitive firearms season. These antlerless firearms hunting opportunities include a nine-day, antlerless-only hunt in early October. Other recommended DMAP improvements include increased contact between cooperators and wildlife personnel, and restructuring enrollment fees to eliminate cost of individual doe permits.

• Creating a statewide Landowner Deer Permit (LDP) to be available to private landowner or agricultural lessees with at least 100 acres which will allow any licensed hunter with appropriate permits to harvest antlerless deer during the same season dates and methods offered Deer Management Assistance Program cooperators. LDPs would be bonus permits costing $10 each and would not count toward the annual combined bag limit. They would be issued on a straight acreage formula, with one permit per 100 acres.)

• In management zones deemed appropriate by the Wildlife Commission, three-day, post-Christmas, antlerless only firearms hunts will be offered. Deer taken during this hunt would be bonus.

• In management zones deemed appropriate by the Wildlife Commission, the bag limit could be increased to two antlerless deer during the primitive and/or modern firearms season.

According to McCormick, the Deer Steering Committee tried to remain focused on providing recommendations for a sound management plan, one directed at improving the overall health of the herd while addressing certain specific problems such as localized overpopulation and skewed sex ratios.

"We realize elements of this plan, if approved by the Commission, would still probably have to go through the public hearing process, but we thought it was important to produce a comprehensive plan, rather than one that is piecemeal," he said. "We realize that adjustments will be needed as the plan is implemented and therefore we have provided wildlife officials with flexibility. This is a good starting point. We just hope the commission will approve it in September."

The 21st Century Deer Steering Committee, a 33-member group representing wildlife professionals, hunters, farmers and ranchers and others, met Aug. 7-8 in Ardmore to draft the plan recommendations. The committee is expected to present the complete plan at the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission's Sept. 11 meeting in Oklahoma City. Watch for future deer management developments on the newly-created deer section of the Wildlife Department's web site -

Plan encourages antlerless harvest

The comprehensive deer management plan being recommended by the 21st Century Deer Steering Committee is one of the most progressive in the nation, according to state wildlife officials.

In some areas, many Oklahomans believe there are too many deer, and earlier this year, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission endorsed the concept of establishing a citizens "stakeholder" committee to address the overpopulation problem. In support of this the Legislature passed a resolution expressing their wishes to see a long-term management plan be developed.

In addition to the overpopulation issue, others believe that heavy harvest pressure on bucks and lack of harvest on does has resulted in an imbalanced herd sex ratio. Historical overharvest of yearling bucks can, over time, have a detrimental effect on the health of the herd.

"We are struggling with many of the same issues that states out east and up north have tried to deal with for years," said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Fortunately, the growth of our herd hasn't reached the point where it is unmanageable. By taking an aggressive approach now, especially in the area of antlerless harvest, we hope to be able to curb growth and improve herd health.

"In looking at all of the individual elements of the plan, we recognize that several could no doubt be controversial," Peoples added. "The committee that put this plan together, though, deserves our appreciation for tackling a tough subject, and giving it the energy they did."

Peoples said that antlerless harvest is the key to controlling population numbers, and the recommendations of the Deer Steering Committee will not only help address overpopulation in certain areas, but should also work to improve buck-to-doe ratios. Overharvest of bucks can decrease overall herd health, a trend that has been identified and is concerning to wildlife biologists. The problem is especially acute across northern-tier counties.

"There is a great deal of flexibility built into the plan's recommendations," said Peoples. "Of course, the overall population and herd composition varies over time, and the committee recognized the need for making adjustments as harvest trends change."

Key elements of the plan include:

• Increasing the aggregate statewide bag limit to six deer, no more than two of which can be antlered.

• Adding archery antlerless hunting opportunity from Jan. 1-15.

• Expanding antlerless harvest options for Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) cooperators.

• Creating a statewide Landowner Deer Permit (LDP) to be available to private landowner or agricultural lessees with at least 100 acres which will provide them with additional antlerless harvest options.

• In management zones deemed appropriate by the Wildlife Commission, three-day, post-Christmas, antlerless only firearms hunts will be offered. Deer taken during this hunt would be bonus.

• In management zones deemed appropriate by the Wildlife Commission, the bag limit could be increased to two antlerless deer during the primitive and/or modern firearms season.

The 21st Century Deer Steering Committee, a 33-member group representing wildlife professionals, hunters, farmers and ranchers and others, met Aug. 7-8 in Ardmore to draft the plan recommendations. The committee is expected to present the complete plan at the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission's Sept. 11 meeting in Oklahoma City. Watch for future deer management developments on the newly-created deer section of the Wildlife Department's web site –

Department plans equipment auction

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will hold a public auction, tentatively scheduled for Saturday Oct. 14 at 9 a.m., at Lake Burtschi near Chickasha.

Many items too numerous to mention will be on sale at the auction, including several boats, vehicles and computer systems.

In the event of rain, the event will be rescheduled for a later date. For more information, call 405/521-4600 or 521-4618.

Catfish offer summer thrills

After taking a two-month vacation, summer has finally arrived, bringing 100-degree temperatures and suffocating humidity.

In other words, perfect catfishing weather.

Those who enjoy life's simple pleasures will tell you that, next to an ice-cold slice of watermelon and a Mason jar full of iced tea, there's no better remedy for summer's heat than sitting under a shady tree on a creek bank waiting for a catfish to bite.

With its vast array of rivers, lakes, streams and ponds, Oklahoma has virtually unlimited opportunities for catfishermen. All of our major lakes and rivers support healthy catfish populations, as do many of our small and mid-size streams. You can catch them in the deep pools of our meandering rivers, or you can catch them in the tailwaters below our dams. You can catch them in ponds, or you can catch them in open water on our big reservoirs. Wherever you find permanent water, you can often find catfish.

"In terms of availability and distribution, the catfish could be considered the backbone of Oklahoma's fishing culture," said Kim Erickson, Chief of Fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "In addition to naturally reproducing populations, we also stock channel catfish in many smaller urban waters, creating valuable fishing opportunities for thousands of Oklahoma residents."

In Oklahoma, the most popular catfish species include the blue, channel and flathead catfish. Channel catfish are the most common species, but blue cats inhabit large rivers and reservoirs throughout the state. Flatheads are also plentiful in the same waters.

Despite popular belief, catfish are not "bottom feeders," but highly specialized predators. They feed primarily by taste and touch (with their whiskers), and they are especially active when warm weather coincides with rising water levels. Many anglers use worms, crayfish, prepared baits and cut shad for channel cats, but blues and flatheads, especially the big ones, prefer live bait. Trotliners prefer four- to six-inch bluegill, but rod and reel enthusiasts often use live shad.

Areas with current, especially tailraces, are the best destinations to catch blues and channel cats. Wing dams, such as those that direct current on the Arkansas River, are also very productive. Flatheads, on the other hand, relate very strongly to structure and often gravitate to riprap or sunken timber in deep pockets.

Blue catfish are the most dependable quarry for anglers, as they remain active and thus catchable throughout winter when fishing for other species tapers off. Rain and runoff entering waterways stimulates blues in the cold months as much as in the spring and fall. During summer, however, big blues suspend over deep, cool water and feed primarily at night.

The Department stocks channel catfish, grown at the Department's four fish hatcheries, in many waters throughout the state, but some of the best are the lakes owned by the Department. They are lakes American Horse, Burtschi, Dahlgren, Lake Elmer, Hall, Ozzie Cobb, Raymond Gary, Schooler, Vanderwork, Vincent and Watonga.

Among the state's larger waters, some of the best include lakes Canton and Great Salt Plains (Northwest), Hefner (Central), Fort Cobb (Southwest), Broken Bow (Southeast) and Ft. Gibson (Northeast).

Blue catfish are known to grow larger than 85 pounds in Oklahoma. To experience the thrill of catching these monsters, try your hand at the following lakes: Keystone (Northeast), Texoma (Southwest), and Stanley Draper (Central).

Flathead catfish are among the most desirable species by trophy catfish anglers. For the best prospects, try visiting these lakes: Broken Bow and McGee Creek (Southeast), Tenkiller and Keystone (Northeast), Canton (Northwest) and Hefner (Central).

H&H Gun Range receives honor

H&H Gun Range, a major hunter education partner with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, recently received a five-star business rating from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Association of Shooting Ranges.

H&H is the first shooting range to receive a five-star rating, said Rick Patterson, Director of Facility Development for the NSSF. They are very difficult to obtain, he added, and it reflects H&H's dedication to their community, state and nation.

Over the years, hundreds of Oklahoma hunters have been certified through hunter education classes at H&H Gun Range. In fact, Vickie Southard, an employee at H&H, was recently named the Wildlife Department's Hunter Education Volunteer Instructor of the Year. She placed third in a similar competition held earlier in the year by Winchester Ammunition.

"H&H Gun Range has been a very strong supporter of the Department's hunter education program," said J.D. Peer, the Department's hunter education coordinator. "They have also been a leader in conducting home study courses and offering courses specifically for women."

Founded in 1981 by Miles and Jayne Hall, H&H is a community, educational and retail facility for developing and promoting the shooting sports. In consideration for ratings, ranges are evaluated on appearance, management, customer service, amenities, customer development and community relations.

Tips for handling summer bass

Bass tournaments are an important part of Oklahoma's summer fishing scene, but anglers must take special care to ensure the health and safety of the fish they catch.

During August and early September, scorching hot air temperatures elevate water temperatures to create lethal conditions for largemouth bass in a captive environment. Most tournament organizations have strict rules regarding the careful handling of fish, but severe summer weather and hot water conditions are extremely dangerous for fish kept in live wells for several hours before a weigh-in.

Of course, most bass caught during tournaments are released alive, but legitimate concerns have arisen over delayed mortality. A study conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has shown that an average 28 percent of bass caught during summer tournaments die within six days of their release. Gene Gilliland, a fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Department, said that most tournament anglers are very conscientious about protecting bass resources, but many are not equipped to deal with potentially dangerous conditions that accompany summer tournament fishing.

"The last thing a tournament angler or tournament director wants is to kill fish," Gilliland said. "That's something they've tried to be very careful about over the years, and for the most part they've been successful, but summer fishing presents some unique conditions that can cause a potentially lethal amount of stress on fish. We can't eliminate those conditions, of course, but we can take certain steps to lessen fish mortality during tournaments."

Most of the damage occurs while fish are held in live wells. On-board live wells are among the most important tools ever devised for reducing tournament bass mortality, but confinement in a live well can spell a death sentence for bass in the summer. Built into the hulls of most bass boats, live wells consist of a small tank equipped with an aerator to pump air into the water. However, the decks of most boats are covered with dark carpet, which absorbs the heat of direct sunlight. As a boat hull heats up during the day, it can turn a live well into a makeshift broiler, and the effects worsen with the pounding a boat takes while underway.

To provide more livable conditions for bass confined in a live well during the summer, Gilliland makes the following recommendations:

• Fill your live well as soon as you launch your boat and activate the aerator to build up dissolved oxygen levels.

• Run your aerator continuously, no matter what time of year. Fish in live wells use oxygen faster than an aerator can replace it.

• Add ice to the live well. When water surface temperatures are higher than 85 degrees, adding ice will reduce the water temperature in a live well by 10 degrees.

• Use block ice if possible. It melts slower than crushed or cubed ice, and it cools water more evenly. One eight-pound block will cool a 30-gallon live well for about three hours. Carry extra blocks in an ice chest to use later.

• Add non-iodized salt, 1/3-cup per five gallons of live well capacity, to help reduce stress on fish.

• Re-circulate water through your aerator rather than pump in hot surface water.

• Replace at least half of the live well water two or three times daily to remove ammonia. Add additional ice and salt, and then resume re-circulation.

• Commercial live well additives help calm fish in live wells, helping reduce stress and decreasing their oxygen respiratory rates.

Gilliland adds that the ultimate fish care system involves the use of pure oxygen supplied from a pressurized cylinder through a bubble hose in the live well.

"Tests have shown that this can further reduce mortality from 10 to 20 percent even on 100 degree summer days," said Gilliland.

A simple live well oxygen setup can be built from a small bottle used by welders fitted with a regulator. Commercial systems are also available that are specifically designed for boat live wells and live bait tanks. Another tip to use in combination with an oxygen "bubbler" is to cool the water with ice, add salt and commercial live well water conditioners as prescribed above. Approximately one-half of the live well should also be exchanged every two hours to flush out toxins produced by the fish.