DECEMBER 2002 NEWS RELEASES 

 

WEEK OF DECEMBER 26, 2002

WEEK OF DECEMBER 19, 2002

WEEK OF DECEMBER 12, 2002

WEEK OF DECEMBER 5, 2002

Commission considers extended deer gun season

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission heard at its regular December meeting that the Wildlife Department will be proposing a variety of hunting regulation changes for next year at public meetings to be held in January across the state.

Most prominent on the list of changes are proposals to add seven days onto the regular deer gun season, and create a special three-day antlerless only youth deer gun season in mid-October.

“We are proposing these changes for two reasons,” said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Department. “First, we want to provide additional opportunities to Oklahoma sportsmen, and second, to allow us to better manage our wildlife resources across the state.”

The statewide youth deer gun season proposal is modeled after similar seasons in other states.

“It is important that we do what we can to introduce young hunters to the sport,” Peoples said. “This youth deer season would provide a great opportunity for youth to spend time afield.”

Other proposed rule changes include: making muzzleloading pistols legal for deer hunting during the muzzleloader season, closing rabbit season February 15, and several housekeeping items affecting wildlife management areas and the Deer Management Assistance Program.

In other business, Commissioners saw an online license sales presentation from Melinda Sturgess-Streich, chief of administration for the Department.

“We feel this will be a great resource for the sportsmen of the state, as well provide an additional way to sell licenses which will be both efficient and cost-effective,” Sturgess-Streich said.

Targeted to debut in 2003, online license sales will provide both residents and non-residents alike the ability to buy a hunting or fishing license from the comfort of their home. Commissioners approved a $3 convenience fee to help defray the costs of accepting online credit card orders.

Commissioners approved a single elk hunt, to be sold by sealed bid auction, on Cookson Hills Wildlife Management Area. The proceeds will again go to sponsor the Hunters Against Hunger program.

Commissioners voted to accept a $17,000 donation for the Hunters Against Hunger program. The funds were from an auction last August to benefit the successful program, which the Department now administers. Since 1991, this program has continued to grow through the generosity of Oklahoma sportsmen. In the year 2001 alone, Oklahoma hunters donated more than 25,800 pounds of venison to the Hunters Against Hunger program, which facilitates the distribution of the deer meat to needy families in the state. The unique program helped to provide 103,000 meals during the past year.

Commissioners accepted a donation of $3,880 from the Oklahoma Game Wardens Association to be used for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Youth Camp.

“This is a great program the Department offers,” said John Streich, law enforcement chief for the Department. “It is great to see these kids interact with wildlife professionals in a positive environment.”

Held near Ponca City, the four-day camp offers approximately 40 youths the opportunity to learn about wildlife conservation and the responsibilities of game wardens, biologists, and other wildlife professionals.

Commissioners accepted a donation of $500 from Dennis Byrd, former New York Jets professional football player. The donation will go to pay for aircraft rental time to patrol several areas in northeast Oklahoma.

A 25-year lease between the City of Antlers and the Department for a radio tower in Pushmataha County was approved by Commissioners.

In other business, Director Greg Duffy commended Jamie Cole, Oklahoma Game Warden for Pawnee County, for his 20 years of service to the Department.

“Jamie has been a valuable employee for the Department in both the Fisheries and Law Enforcement divisions,” Duffy said.

Cole originally started work at the Durant Fish Hatchery where he became the assistant hatchery manager; he has been in law enforcement since 1987.

Earl Groves, district manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, presented a certificate of appreciation to Harold Namminga, federal aid coordinator for the Department.

“For over 30 years the Corps of Engineers has had an excellent working relationship with the Department,” Groves said. “Harold’s work on a variety of projects has been invaluable and it is employees like him who have made this working relationship such a success.”

Namminga and fellow Wildlife Department personnel played an integral role in the recent completion of a boat launch complex on Keystone Lake near Mannford. The project was a cooperative effort between the Department, the City of Mannford, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department, and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The next scheduled Commission meeting is January 6 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), at the corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City at 9:00 a.m.

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Wildlife regulation proposals to be brought before the public

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation officials will soon bring a slate of proposed hunting regulation changes to public meetings in January across the state. Most notable among the 23 proposed changes are an extension of the deer gun season to 16 days and a new statewide antlerless youth deer hunt.

“We are always looking for ways to provide more opportunities for the sportsmen of the state, while at the same time doing the best job possible in managing the state’s wildlife resources,” said Alan Peoples, wildlife division chief for the Department.

According to Peoples, the Department is proposing opening the deer gun season to open the Saturday before Thanksgiving and running it for 16 consecutive days. Currently the deer gun season opens on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs nine days.

“The Oklahoma deer herd has been rapidly expanding over the last several decades, and an extended season would allow hunters more time to get out and have the chance to harvest a deer,” Peoples said. “There seems to be a growing desire of not only hunters, but also landowners for a longer season.”

Peoples also pointed to the proposed new statewide antlerless youth deer hunt as one of the most important changes that will be brought to the public meetings. The proposal would create a special three-day antlerless deer gun season in mid October for those under 18 years of age.

“It is important that we do what we can to introduce young hunters to the sport,” Peoples said. “This youth deer season would provide a great opportunity for youth to spend time afield.”

Also included in the list of proposals are a wide variety of changes designed to increase hunter opportunity, clarify the language of the law, better manage Oklahoma wildlife resources and respond to hunter’s desires.

Another proposed rule change is making muzzleloading pistols legal for deer hunting during the muzzleloader season. Currently, muzzleloader hunters are allowed to carry a muzzleloading pistol as a secondary firearm. The rule change would make muzzleloading pistol, .40 caliber or larger, legal as a primary firearm.

Department officials are proposing to close rabbit season on February 15. Currently, rabbit season closes on March 15 and while there is no biological data to suggest late-season hunting hurts the rabbit population, some hunters have expressed concern that late-season hunting could have an effect on rabbit reproduction.

Honobia and Three Rivers wildlife management areas (WMAs) in southeast Oklahoma are two of the most popular WMAs in the state. The Department is proposing to create a three-day special use permit ($5) for residents to use these areas for nonhunting/nonfishing related activities. Currently, residents between 18 and 64 years of age using these areas must possess a $16 Land Access Permit.

Also included in the proposed provisions are several housekeeping items affecting hunting on wildlife management areas and the Deer Management Assistance Program.

According to Peoples, one of the most important parts of the rule changing process is taking the proposals to public meetings across the state.

“We are looking forward to getting out and meeting everyone and hearing how they feel about these proposed changes,” Peoples said. “It’s vital that we get the public input on these decisions, after all, wildlife in Oklahoma is owned by the people of Oklahoma.”

Following is a list of public meeting sites and dates to discuss the proposed rule changes. All meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.

January 13, 2003 - Monday

            McAlester - Kiamichi Technology Center, Hwy 69 South of Hwy 270
            Lawton - Public Library, 110 SW 4
th Street

January 14, 2003 - Tuesday

 Ada - Pontotoc County Technology Center, 601 W. 33rd.
Enid - Fire Department, 301 W. Owen K. Garriot
Idabel - Kiamichi Technology Center, 2 mi. North on Hwy 70
Oklahoma City - Department of Wildlife Auditorium, 1801 N. Lincoln
Okmulgee - East Central Electric Coop Building on Hwy 75 south, Okmulgee
Tulsa - Broken Arrow Technology Center, E Base Room, 4600 S. Olive, 129th E Ave. and 111th Street,

January 16, 2003 - Thursday

            Canute - Heritage Center, 4-way Stop
            Woodward - Northwest Electric, 2925 Williams Ave.

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Turkey license plates available soon

Over 50,000 Oklahoma hunters took to the woods last year in an attempt to harvest an elusive wild turkey. Beginning next month, Oklahomans will have to go only as far as their front drive to find a wild turkey.

The newest wildlife conservation vehicle license plate featuring a mature tom turkey is set to debut in late January. The turkey plate is the fifth in a series of conservation plates with the others being a white-tailed deer, scissor-tailed flycatcher, largemouth bass and bobwhite quail.

“These plates are a great way to dress up your vehicle,” said Ron Suttles, Natural Resources coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “They are also a great way to show your love of wildlife and wildlife conservation.”

According to Suttles, wildlife conservation plates are a great gift for hunters, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts and are the most popular specialty plates offered.

The plates cost just $25 above your regular annual registration fee, and the best part is that as much as $20 of this cost is earmarked for Oklahoma’s Wildlife Diversity Program. Over 10,000 wildlife conservation plates are on the road today, representing a significant contribution to the Wildlife Diversity Program.

Order forms for the unique tags can be found on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com Applications for the tags can also be picked up at any local tag agents and the plates can be customized for no extra charge.

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Photo Cutline: The newest wildlife conservation vehicle license plate featuring a mature tom turkey is set to debut in late January. The plates cost just $25 above your regular annual registration fee, and the best part is that as much as $20 of this cost is earmarked for Oklahoma’s Wildlife Diversity Program. The turkey plate is the fifth in a series of conservation plates with the others being a white-tailed deer, scissor-tailed flycatcher, largemouth bass and bobwhite quail.

Be a winter bird survey researcher

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Wildlife Diversity Program will be holding its annual winter bird survey in January. Amateur and experienced bird watchers are asked to help with this important survey.

"This survey has been conducted since 1987," said Melynda Hickman, natural resources biologist for the Department. "It contributes to the Department's expanding database of winter bird information including bird preferences for different types of habitats, seeds, and feeders."

To participate in the simple survey, pick two consecutive days within the four-day period of January 9-12, 2003, and as accurately as is reasonable, count the birds that visit your feeders. Record the greatest number of birds seen together at any one time. While several groups of the same species of bird may appear numerous times over the two days, record only the greatest number seen together concurrently.

Record observations on the official Winter Bird Feeder Survey form available at www.wildlifedepartment.com/2003wintersurvey.htm. Mail the completed survey to the address on the bottom of the form. All forms must be mailed in no later than Feb. 9 to be counted. Instant electronic submissions are also possible under the Watchable Wildlife link on the Department's Web site: www.wildlifedepartment.com.

The survey results will be printed in “Outdoor Oklahoma” and in the Wildlife Diversity Program's newsletter, “Watchable Wildlife News”. Results will also be posted on the Department's Web site. The information will include the species and numbers of each species observed, the areas of the state they were observed in and the most effective method for attracting those species.

More information regarding the Winter Bird Survey or the Wildlife Diversity Program is available by calling the Department at (405) 424-0099.

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Deer hunters on pace for another great season

Thanks to good weather and abundant opportunities, Oklahoma deer hunters are on pace to have another good harvest for the 2002 season.

After tallying harvest totals from the recent deer gun season, personnel from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation registered a preliminary harvest total of 83,388 deer, slightly off last years mark of 85,675 deer taken this time last year. That number does not include deer that will be taken in the late archery season, antlerless deer taken during the special antlerless deer season or on land enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program, nor deer harvested during controlled hunts.

“We’re on track for another solid harvest,” said Mike Shaw, wildlife research supervisor for the Department. “I am particularly pleased to see the total does harvested was essentially the same as last year. We won’t know until after the special antlerless deer seasons, but my hope is that we end up with a fairly good increase in doe harvest.”

According to Shaw, there was a variety of reasons that attribute to the decline of 2,287 total deer harvested over last year.

“There are many factors involved in deer harvest from weather to hunter participation to deer populations, you can’t really say it was one thing or another,” Shaw said. “Certainly a week of rainy weather during muzzleloader season kept some hunters out of the woods and plenty of acorns and browse meant deer did not have to move as far between food sources. Reports from field biologists and wardens across the state said hunter participation levels seemed somewhat lower than previous years, but most said that rutting activity was significantly off compared to last year."

There is still plenty of opportunity for deer hunters to harvest a deer with the special antlerless deer gun seasons coming soon. The first three-day hunt, to be held Dec. 20 through 22, will be restricted to the north central and northwestern portion of the state. Much of the state, except for far southwest, far southeast and panhandle, also will have three days of antlerless-only gun hunting running from Dec. 27 through 29. Hunters should consult the antlerless deer hunt zone map on page 16 of the “2002-2003 Oklahoma Hunting Guide” to determine which areas will offer the special antlerless deer gun seasons.

"These special antlerless deer gun seasons were established to better manage the state's deer population and so far they have been a success," said Shaw. "By increasing the antlerless deer harvest, hunters will be helping to balance the state's deer population with available habitat, improve buck to doe ratios for better herd health, reduce agricultural depredation and reduce deer/vehicle collisions. The most sound management strategy that can be employed in those areas is to harvest more antlerless deer."

Hunters who participate in the special antlerless deer gun season must possess a special antlerless deer gun license in addition to their annual hunting license. Lifetime hunting and combination license holders are exempt and do not need to buy the special antlerless deer gun license.

The statewide season limit during the special antlerless deer gun season is one antlerless deer. All hunters participating in the special gun season must comply with the same blaze orange requirements as set forth for the regular deer gun season, as well as tagging and checking requirements. Archery deer hunters afield in areas open to the special antlerless gun hunting and those hunting other species (quail, squirrel, pheasant, etc.) must wear either a blaze orange hat or vest.

To learn more about the special antlerless gun season and deer management in Oklahoma, consult the 2002-2003 Oklahoma Hunting Guide” or log on to the ODWC's Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com. Look under the "Hunting" link for complete deer season information.

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Wood duck to grace 2003 Oklahoma waterfowl stamp

One of the most beautiful ducks in North America, the wood duck, will appear on the 2003 Oklahoma Waterfowl Stamp.

The 2003 Oklahoma Waterfowl Stamp competition was held Dec. 6 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's central office in Oklahoma City. Mark Anderson of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, painted the winning duck print.

"Oklahoma waterfowlers have benefited greatly from the duck stamp program," said David Warren, information and education chief for the Department. "Through the program, critical funds have been generated to establish and maintain nearly 30 wetland development units across the state. Not only do these areas provide resting habitat for migrating waterfowl, but they provide habitat for a host of other species such as wading birds and small mammals."

Funds generated from the sale of Oklahoma waterfowl stamps go toward a number of habitat related projects, including purchasing, restoring and creating wetlands.

Three honorable mentions were named in the 2003 contest as well. They were; Kathy Burleson-Cannon of Newcastle, OK, Kenneth Nanney of Grand Prairie, TX and Jerry Czech of Webster, NY.

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Youth writing competition winners announced

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Oklahoma Station Chapter Safari Club International (OSCSCI) recently announced the results of its annual Youth Writing Competition.

"Oklahoma’s youth writing competition is divided into two categories," said Colin Berg, education section supervisor for the Wildlife Department. "Students ages 11-14 compete in a junior category and students ages 15-17 compete in the senior division. Students have the option of writing an essay or a short story about sharing their hunting heritage."

Winners in the ages 11-14 category were Chelsea Cates, 14, of Leedey and Tony Bolin, 14 of Leedey. Winners in the ages 15-17 category were Merlanda Klein, 17, of Butler and Josh Walker, 15, of Tulsa.

"The winners in the age 11-14 age category receive a scholarship to the Y O Ranch Apprentice Hunter Program," added Berg. "One male and one female annually are selected in the age 15-17 category, and they receive an all expenses paid antelope hunt in New Mexico. Publishing of the winning entries qualifies the writers to enter a national essay contest sponsored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America."

The Youth Writing Competition is designed to promote America’s hunting heritage among Oklahoma’s youth. It provides them an opportunity to express the importance of hunting in their lives and to affirm their commitment to carrying on the hunting tradition. Students use the essays or short stories to relive memorable hunts, to explain why hunting is important to them and to recognize mentors who have influenced them to grow as hunters.

"OSCSCI values Oklahoma's hunting heritage and that is why we are proud to sponsor the writing contest," said Sam Munhollon, OSCSCI education program coordinator. "Writing about their hunting heritage gives Oklahoma's youth a chance to keep in touch with the importance of honoring our heritage and it emphasizes the importance of passing on that heritage."

The Wildlife Department and the OSCSCI will submit the winning essays to the Youth Writing Contest held annually by the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

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OKC trout season coming soon

Central Oklahoma anglers will again have a close-to-home opportunity to catch rainbow trout beginning New Year’s Day. The trout season begins at Dolese Youth Park Pond (NW 50th and Meridian) January 1 and will run through February 28 with new shipments of trout stocked approximately every two weeks.

“As part of our cooperative Close-to-Home fishing program with the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department, trout fishing at Dolese Youth Park Pond offers a unique opportunity for anglers in the Oklahoma City metro area without requiring them to purchase a state trout license,” said Kim Erickson, chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Two events are scheduled to help kick off this year’s season. A special fishing clinic will be held Friday, January 17 at the Putnam City High School gymnasium (directly south of Dolese Park) from 6:30-8 p.m. Instructors from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Aquatic Resource Education Program will teach a variety of topics such as casting, angling ethics, knot tying and special sessions on how to catch rainbow trout. Pre-register for the clinic by calling (405) 755-4014.

A kid's trout derby will be held Saturday, Jan. 18, from 8:00 a.m. to noon at the Dolese Youth Park Pond where participants will be eligible for several drawing prizes. In order to participate in the derby all adults must be accompanied by a child and all children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Dolese Youth Park Pond was stocked with rainbow trout last January and February to evaluate its potential for an annual trout season. Through results from creel surveys conducted last winter of more than 500 trout anglers, the special season was a phenomenal success. An estimated 16,206 angler-hours (one angler fishing for one hour) were spent during the two-month season. An estimated 8,445 trout were harvested by anglers, which resulted in a 96 percent harvest rate of the total fish stocked into the pond.

“The highlight of the trout season was the Dolese Trout Derby held last January,” said Bob Martin, fisheries biologist with Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. “More than 700 anglers showed up to fish that day; and more than half of them were kids.”

Through the Close-to-Home fishing program, several metro area fishing sites are being improved for angler access. "OKC Parks and Recreation Department has done an outstanding job making Dolese Youth Park Pond a great place for kids and families to fish," said Erickson. “They’ve improved accessibility around the entire perimeter of the pond, including the construction of wheelchair accessible fishing areas close to the water’s edge.”

In order to trout fish at Dolese Youth Park Pond, anglers ages 16 to 62 must possess an Oklahoma City fishing permit, and must comply with state fishing license requirements, unless exempt. However, a state trout license is not required to trout fish at Dolese at any time.

City fishing permits are $12.50 for an annual permit, or $2.00 for a daily permit. Several Oklahoma City area fishing tackle retailers offer OKC fishing permits as well as state fishing licenses. Anglers can call (405) 297-2191 to get a complete list of license vendors. Among special regulations posted on signs throughout Dolese Park, trout anglers may only use one fishing rod per person and may only keep six trout per day.

For additional details about the trout season, call Bob Martin, Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department (405) 755-4014, or Gene Gilliland, ODWC, (405) 325-7288.

Waterfowl hunters know preparation equal success

Most duck and goose hunters know that prime time waterfowl hunting doesn’t always take place on opening day.

“Generally speaking, waterfowl hunting can just get better and better as the season goes on,” said Mike O’Meilia, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Historically, we typically get a good influx of birds around Christmas. There is no reason not to think the best is yet to come.”

According to O’Meilia, waterfowl hunters have plenty of reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season.

“Duck and goose numbers overall are fair right now, and we could really use some rains, especially in eastern Oklahoma,” O’Meilia said. “There are still good numbers of birds holding in portions of the northern Central Flyway. If it doesn’t stay unusually mild to the north of us, the second half of the season could really pick up. Hunters should be prepared because new birds could migrate down at any time.”

O’Meilia added that, no matter what the weather conditions, scouting is the key to success.

"Hunters who are mobile and can scout a variety of locations will have better success than those who hunt the same areas all the time," said O'Meilia. "The key is to find local concentrations of birds, which may move from day-to-day."

Hunters can do a little “virtual scouting” by logging on the Department’s Web site and checking out the waterfowl reports at www.wildlifedepartment.com. Hunters can find out if their hunting spot is holding ducks and geese with just a few clicks of the mouse. The site also offers a status report of the habitat conditions at wetland development units across the state.

The 2002-2003 Oklahoma waterfowl dates and bag limits remain essentially the same as the last few years with two notable differences, a shortened pintail season and a closed season on canvasbacks. For complete details see the “2002-2003 Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Guide” available at hunting license vendors or log on to wildlifedepartment.com

Waterfowl hunters should be sure they have a state waterfowl license and a federal waterfowl stamp, along with their Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) Permit. The free HIP permits are required of all migratory bird hunters in the United States. Data collected from the surveys helps state and federal migratory bird biologists better gauge bird harvests and hunter numbers, which are used to improve migratory bird management.

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Newsletter available to landowners

To say that private landowners have a major impact on wildlife habitat in the state of Oklahoma is certainly an understatement. Because approximately 97 percent of the land in the state is owned by private individuals, the land practices they choose are vital in conserving habitat and wildlife resources.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is working to provide landowners the information they need to make wise land management decisions through the “Your Side of the Fence” landowner newsletter.

“Hopefully, this newsletter will be a great resource for landowners who have an eye on the bottom line, but also realize the importance of conserving wildlife on their property,” said John Hendrix, private lands biologist for the Department.

Each issue of “Your Side of the Fence” is packed with informative articles covering issues that are important to landowners, from the latest farm bill news, to pond management for fishing to controlling invasive range species. The best part is that is absolutely free.

The newsletter is produced three times a year and previous issues can be seen by logging on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com

For more information about “Your Side of the Fence,” or to subscribe call, (405) 521-2739 or write to:

Your Side of the Fence

Attn: Editor

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

P.O. Box 53465

Oklahoma City, OK 73152

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Private lands youth hunts successful

It is not every day a win-win situation comes along, but the recently completed private lands youth deer hunts were just that. Landowners got another tool in managing deer herd on their property and the youth participants got a great opportunity to harvest an antlerless deer.

“These private land youth hunts have been a success all the way around,” said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “They offer a great chance for young people to get exposed to the sport of hunting and they help landowners by balancing out the buck to doe ratio.”

Held in October and December, 100 youngsters participated in the hunts which took place in 10 different counties. Most every participant left with a smile on their face and a story to tell, and with a success rate of 70 percent, the majority also left with fresh venison.

“These results show the great potential of youth hunts,” Peoples said. “The proposed statewide youth antlerless deer hunt could build on the success of these private land youth deer hunts.”

The Wildlife Department recently proposed several changes to the hunting regulations for 2003. Most prominent on the list of changes are proposals to add seven days onto the regular deer gun season, and create a special three-day antlerless only youth deer gun season in mid-October. The statewide youth deer gun season proposal is modeled after similar seasons in other states.

“It is important that we do what we can to introduce young hunters to the sport,” Peoples said. “This youth deer season would provide a great opportunity for youth to spend time afield.”

Peoples added that without the landowners’ willingness to allow hunts on their property and the help of dedicated ODWC employees the youth hunts would not have been possible.

“Wildlife Conservation Commissioners Douglas Schones and Bruce Mabrey have really taken a leadership role in ensuring these youth hunts not only took place, but were a success,” Peoples said. “And State Representative Jack Bonny of Burns Flat was a great help in coordinating the Ft. Reno youth hunt.”

Department officials will be holding public meetings in January across the state to discuss the proposed statewide youth deer hunting season as well as a slate of other proposed regulation changes. To find a list of meeting times and locations, log on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com call (405) 521-2739.

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Rabbit hunting time is now

Recent snowfall across much of the state has many hunters’ minds turning to one of Oklahoma’s most traditional outdoor pursuits, rabbit hunting.

"Rabbit hunting is really a lot of fun. There are plenty of places to go and it is a great way to spend the afternoon, especially if there is fresh snow on the ground. The snow makes the rabbits a little easier to see and track, plus it adds a little excitement to the hunt," said Nels Rodefeld, assistant chief of information and education for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Whether they are pursued behind a pack of beagles or flushed from a fence row, rabbits are one of the most accessible species that hunters go after. With keen eyesight, sensitive hearing, camouflaged fur and blazing speed, cottontail rabbits offer a challenge to hunters and have historically been an important game animal in Oklahoma. Their prolific numbers have provided generations of hunters with hours of sport and countless meals of tender rabbit stew.

"With this year’s rains and mild temperatures over the summer, there seems to be good numbers of rabbits just about everywhere you go," Rodefeld said.

The cottontail rabbit has been successful in adapting to man's manipulations of the environment. Good populations can be found just about any place where two types of cover meet such as abandoned homesteads, tangled thickets and fence rows. Rabbits also show a preference to areas not far from a water source whether it be a pond, creek or spring.

According to Rodefeld, one of the best things about rabbit hunting is the availability of hunting locations. While private land deer or turkey hot spots may be challenging to obtain, many landowners will give permission to rabbit hunters. Many wildlife management areas scattered around the state offer first-rate rabbit hunting with minimal competition.

"Rabbit hunting is also a great way to expose a youngster to hunting,” Rodefeld added. “Many older hunters learned the basics of hunting and hunting safety while pursuing rabbits and it is still a great way to introduce novices to the sport.”

The next time you head out after rabbits, bring a kid along. There is no great need to be still and quiet. Plenty of walking keeps the chill off and you don't even have to get up early to have a successful hunt.

With a season running through March 15, 2003, there is plenty of opportunity to head afield for a few rabbits. Whether hunters take a shotgun or .22 rifle to the field, a streaking rabbit can offer a challenge for even the most skilled sportsmen.

There are three species of rabbits in the state. The cottontail weighs two to four pounds and can be found in available habitat statewide.

The swamp rabbit weighs four to six pounds. It has shorter, sleeker fur than the cottontail but is basically the same color. Its preferred habitat is marshes, floodplain forests, sloughs and other areas of standing water. The swamp rabbit can be found in isolated populations in the eastern one third of the state.

The black-tailed jackrabbit, which is actually a member of the hare family, is most common in the western regions of the state. It is the largest of Oklahoma's rabbits weighing four to seven pounds and is easily distinguished by its oversized ears.

SEASON DATES:

October 1 - March 15 for all three species * - jackrabbit hunting closed east of I-35.

BAG LIMIT:

Cottontail - 10 daily, 20 in possession

Swamp Rabbits - 3 daily, 6 in possession

Jackrabbits - 3 daily, 6 in possession (Except Cimarron, Texas and Beaver counties-10 daily, 20 in possession)

*Seasons on public lands may vary from statewide dates. Consult the "2002-2003 Oklahoma Hunting Guide" for complete rabbit hunting regulations.

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Wildlife Department moves its Tulsa office

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Tulsa office has moved to its new location on the site of the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks.

"We have officially moved and are open for business at our new office adjacent to the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks," said Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Department. "Although the Aquarium grand opening isn’t until March 1, people can access our office. The Department will have its own parking lot, however until it is constructed visitors are asked to park at the north end of the main aquarium parking lot. Our office is in a separate building on the northwest end of the aquarium."

The Department is excited about its partnership with the Oklahoma Aquarium, said Berg. The Aquarium's mission and the Department’s mission are very similar and the Department has been involved with the project since its inception. The Fishes of Oklahoma Gallery and the Karl and Beverly White Antique Lure Museum are two of the exhibits that the Department helped sponsor. The Department also sponsored the construction of a fishing pond that will be on the grounds of the Aquarium. The pond will be used for fishing clinics with area youth and school groups.

"We saw this as a perfect opportunity to educate residents and visitors to Oklahoma about the role anglers play in conservation, said Harold Namminga," federal aid coordinator for the Department. "The Department doesn’t receive state appropriated tax dollars. Instead, funding comes from the sale of hunting and fishing license sales and a federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment and motor boat fuels. These dollars are used for fisheries and wildlife management, access improvement, research and education activities."

The Department signed a cooperative federal Sport Fish Restoration Program grant with the Aquarium for $500,000 to sponsor the above exhibits, pond and education center, added Namminga. Oklahoma is a very diverse state with numerous fishing and hunting opportunities. These opportunities are due to the financial support of anglers and hunters. Throughout the Aquarium visitors will be exposed to the Sport Fish Restoration Program and how it has been used for education, fisheries management and fishing access.

To get to the Department office follow Main street in Jenks to 9th street. At the 9th street stoplight turn north and then take a right at the B street stop sign. Follow the road south as it loops under the Arkansas River Bridge approximately 1/2 mile to the Department office and Oklahoma Aquarium. For additional information, call the Department’s new number at (918) 299-2334.

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Time to renew hunting and fishing licenses

The new year is just a few days away, and it is time for Oklahoma sportsmen to renew their annual hunting and fishing licenses. With few exceptions, annual hunting and fishing licenses expire December 31 each year.

Bowhunters who plan to take advantage of the added January days need to be particularly mindful about renewing licenses and permits. Unless archers possess a lifetime hunting or lifetime combination license, they will need both a 2003 annual hunting license and a new 2003 archery deer license to hunt from Jan. 1 through Jan. 15 (antlerless deer only). Bowhunters who purchase a new 2003 deer archery license, but do not harvest a deer in January, should hold onto their permit. The unfilled license remains valid throughout the fall of 2003, during times open to archery deer hunting.

Two licenses that do not expire Dec. 31 are state and federal waterfowl permits (which run from July 1 through the end of the following June). In addition, trapping licenses and the special Bobcat-Raccoon-Gray Fox license expire Jan. 31 for raccoon and gray fox and Feb. 28 for bobcat.

For those who enjoy both hunting and fishing, a combination license is a great bargain, and it means one less license you have to carry. Sportsmen can save more than 15 percent off the cost of individual hunting and fishing licenses by purchasing an annual combination license.

All annual licenses and even a subscription to “Outdoor Oklahoma” magazine can be purchased at any license vendor statewide. For a $10 fee, people can subscribe for one-year (six issues) to the Department's award-winning magazine “Outdoor Oklahoma.” Some of the more popular auxiliary permits are the special trout fishing permit, as well as permits for deer and turkey.

License requirements and exemptions are outlined in the “2002-2003 Oklahoma Hunting Guide” and the soon-to-be-available “2003 Oklahoma Fishing Guide.” These publications are available at hunting and fishing license dealers statewide or by logging on the Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.

Information is also available from the Department's licensing section at (405) 521-3852.

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