The rut is on and whitetails are moving across Oklahoma as hunters prepare for Saturday's opening of deer gun hunting season. (Courtesy Jeremiah Zurenda)
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RUT REPORT 2021
Rut Has Deer Moving as Gun Hunting Season Just Days Away
The most highly anticipated day of the year for many thousands of Oklahoma hunters arrives this Saturday, Nov. 20, as the state’s deer gun hunting season officially begins a half-hour before sunrise.
For many sportsmen and sportswomen, this will be the best time to put venison in the freezer and maybe hang a trophy on the wall. Deer gun season will run 16 days, through Dec. 5.
This year’s Rut Report indicates plenty of hunter success is likely this year, as deer movement has been reported in all regions of the state. The rutting period is the time when most deer breeding activity occurs, and deer tend to be most active. See all the latest reports from the field listed below by region.
Overall, Oklahoma’s deer population is in good shape this year, said Big Game Biologist Dallas Barber with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Again this year, Barber is urging deer hunters to do their part to help the state’s overall deer herd health by harvesting antlerless deer.
“It still remains as important as ever to place emphasis on doe harvest to keep a healthy, thriving population,” Barber said. Antlerless deer harvest becomes even more important in the state’s deer management plan when populations grow.
To encourage a greater harvest of does, the Department last year put rules in place that increase seasonal limits and open dates for antlerless deer harvest. It also continues to promote the "Hunters in the Know ... Take a Doe!" campaign.
Barber praised hunters for their voluntary participation in the past, because every time a hunter decides to take a shot, he or she makes a decision about deer herd management. And with about 95 percent of Oklahoma's land under private ownership, hunter participation is critical to effectively manage deer statewide.
Click the photo above to watch a video all about Oklahoma’s 2021 deer gun hunting season and get some answers to frequently asked questions about deer hunting with ODWC Big Game Biologist Dallas Barber, Outdoor Oklahoma TV show host Todd Craighead and others.
DEER TALK 2021 VIDEO
Take a few minutes to watch this special segment from the Outdoor Oklahoma TV show that provides a load of valuable information about this year’s deer gun season and the state’s deer hunting opportunities in general. Watch online at https://youtu.be/HOa0md-fKHQ.
SHARE YOUR HARVEST
Through Hunters Against Hunger and Deer Share, Oklahoma hunters have two opportunities to share their harvest.
Hunters Against Hunger (HAH) is a cooperative program between local meat processors, the Wildlife Department, and deer hunters to provide fresh meat to hungry Oklahomans. Hunters who legally harvest a deer during any of this year’s deer seasons can simply deliver the deer to the nearest participating processor after E-checking their harvest. Each donator is asked to contribute a tax-deductible $10 to assist with the program. The venison is distributed through a network of qualified, charitable organizations that feed hungry Oklahomans. Hunters can find participating processors at wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/processors/main.
Deer Share is another Department effort that enables hunters to donate harvested deer to help others. Hunters post their contact information on the Wildlife Department's website before their hunt so that anyone desiring fresh venison can reach out to them and make a commitment to accept their harvest. With a successful hunt, the hunter can quickly transfer the fresh deer to the interested party, who can then process the deer or employ a local processor. People can learn more about the program and hunters can sign up to transfer their harvest at wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/species/deer/deer-share.
Don’t forget to make sure you are legal in the field by getting the required licenses at license.gooutdoorsoklahoma.com/Licensing/CustomerLookup.aspx.
To help hunters plan their opening-day outing in the deer woods, here are the most recent regional reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.
RUT REPORT 2021
Reported by Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Senior Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Bucks are currently rutting. Rut activity started picking up over this past weekend.
Habitat Conditions: Habitat conditions are dry but good. The cover is good, and most local wheat is planted and up in fair to good condition.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters reported seeing bucks chasing does, and bucks were responding to grunt calls and rattling over the past weekend.
Public Land Best Bets: Canton, Fort Supply, and Cooper WMAs are all good places to hunt deer. Canton is closed opening weekend for controlled hunts. Fort Supply and Cooper are open to buck-only hunting for the first nine days of deer gun season. Be sure to consult the Hunting Special Area Regulations for the area you choose to hunt.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Pre-scout the area you choose to hunt. Be patient and be prepared for all types of weather. Take a deer cart or pack to get your deer out of the field if you are hunting on public access lands.
Biggest Mistake to Avoid: Failing to check the Hunting Regulations before you go into the field. If you intend to hunt a Wildlife Management Area, be sure to check the hunting regulations for the specific WMA you choose to hunt. Regulations vary, and not all WMAs have the same rules.
Opening Morning Expectations: Weather permitting, opening morning should be good. Bucks will be rutting, and deer should be on the move. WMAs open to deer gun hunting will be busy.
Reported by Brent Morgan, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Rut activity is just starting to ramp up. Many big bucks have been day-active, and many have been harvested. Bucks have been seen locked down with does. Reports from the field indicate that bucks are responding well to grunts and rattling.
Habitat Conditions: Browse is plentiful with no hard freezes yet. Habitat conditions range from good to excellent, with most native browse highly productive this year. It seems to be a moderate year for acorn production across the region.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Heavy buck movement at all hours of the day and night was reported over the last week. Many hunters have reported harvesting mature bucks. Rubs and scrapes are being tended less, further indicating that bucks are traveling and looking for receptive does.
Public Land Best Bets: Cherokee and Camp Gruber (CGTC) are open for deer gun season but have special restrictions with no antlerless harvest. The region has numerous, smaller WMAs that are open for deer gun season, such as Ozark Plateau and Tenkiller WMAs. Be sure to check the 2021-2022 Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations for full details on WMA seasons and restrictions.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Late mornings and early afternoons have been great for deer movement the past few days. Hunters need to be patient, watch the behavior of does, and do some scouting before going to the field. Hunt weekdays at midday, use pressure to your advantage, watch the wind. Pay attention to the moon phase, and be ready to stay in the stand all day.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Too much grunting and rattling; try to keep that to a minimum. Hunters make the mistake of moving too much and being impatient.
Not taking time to gather and check all equipment well ahead of time; make a checklist of supplies you’ll need for opening morning.
Not using scent control, and not considering the wind direction when hunting.
Opening Morning Expectations: Lots of good, mature deer will be on the move with great hunter success. Popular WMAs will have a great deal of hunting pressure.
Reported by Jay Rouk, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Bucks are in the middle of the rut now. Hunters may observe bucks searching or chasing, or bucks locked down with does. This can have a great effect on the hunter's experience. Bucks on the move searching and chasing will have hunters excitedly trying to fill their licenses. When bucks in the area are locked down, hunters may not observe many deer or rutting behavior. They may also see fawns roaming without adults. This can be a daunting time and may mislead hunters to believe that the rut "isn't on." When locked-down bucks finally break free, they will begin searching again, and the action will pick up. Now is the time to watch out for bucks recklessly crossing highways and other roads.
Habitat Conditions: Weather conditions are predicted to change, and hunters will benefit from cooler weather that my trigger increased deer activity. In most areas, there has been sufficient rainfall that food plots are up and look their best. Despite extreme weather conditions last winter, both white and red oaks are producing acorns. If an acorn crop is not widespread in your area, then locating a tree dropping good acorns may yield the hot spot. Be sure to check dropped acorns to make sure they are good and have not been eaten inside by weevil larvae.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Young bucks have been sighted regularly by reporting hunters. Highly anticipated sightings of big bucks are also starting to come in. Bigger bucks have experience and tend to conserve energy for the actual breeding portion of the rut. They also have become savvy to hunters and may remain nocturnal most of the time. Some hunters who set up on green food plots may experience frustration, as lush fields are not attracting deer. This usually indicates there are good acorns in the area, which are preferred by deer for their high energy content.
Public Land Best Bets: Kaw WMA is always a top performer. Deep Fork WMA, south of Bristow, is centrally located and offers upland terrain or swampy bottoms. Hickory Creek, Love Valley, and Fobb Bottom form a cluster of WMAs down south that are open for deer gun season.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Be confident that deer activity related to the rut is happening. Deer movement mostly occurs at night, which can be frustrating. But persistence is the key. Scouting your area before you hunt will help. Look for evidence that deer have left behind to guide your hunting positions. Rubs, scrapes and running hoof prints usually indicate a buck is rutting in the area. Numerous deer droppings under oaks give away a frequently visited feeding location. Wheat fields with plants that have short or squared off blades indicate deer are feeding on them. The most recent information tends to be the most useful.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: No preseason scouting. Gun not sighted in. Squeaky or unprepared stand. Quitting too early or arriving late. Losing confidence, which leads to walking around and bumping game. (This is a big one!) And special for this year: Get your rifle cartridges located or else you may need to "borrow" some from a friend as they are scarce in stores.
Opening Morning Expectations: Cooler temperatures are on the way and should be just right to get deer moving. However, the moon will be full, which seems to delay deer activity to midmorning in some cases. So you should try to stay on stand as long as possible, as the action may not begin until 10 a.m.! Public lands will have the most pressure of the year, so please be cooperative and kind to your fellow hunters. You can also ensure the win by planning and participating in all the activities associated with this great day. Make chili, sausage and other wild game foods, gather with friends, tell stories, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Make a big deal out of any deer harvested, and savor the moments.
Reported by Ron Smith, Wildlife Senior Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Rut activity appears to be running slightly behind 2020. Young bucks are active early and late. Mature bucks have been keeping a very low profile. Active scrape lines have been increasing during the past week. Unseasonably warm weather may have activity delayed. An approaching cold front on Nov. 17 will likely kick things into gear.
Habitat Conditions: Variable across the region from east to west, getting much dryer farther west. Overall cover will be much heavier than in 2020. Spring and early summer rains provided good growth for habitat improvement. Important forbs and browse will be in good condition. Helpful rainfall ended in midsummer, which quickly began to take a toll on water sources, so that may be a critical focus area. Winter wheat is behind schedule as dry conditions now dominate the region.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Limited activity was reported until about Nov. 10, when movement seemed to increase. Delayed wheat growth across the region has made observations a bit different for deer grouping up, but overall deer numbers appear to be close to those of 2020. Fawn production appears to be solid, as most does have been observed with twin or single fawns.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Be prepared to stay all day. As rut activity increases, opportunity may show up at any time throughout the day. Always take wind direction and possible changes into account when entering and leaving the hunt area. Put as much time as possible into scouting.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Leaving the field too early may take you out of the game. Have all your gear in order well ahead of the hunt. A misplaced shot can happen to anyone, but you should never be able to blame it on your gun. Be certain your gun is properly sighted in, cleaned and ready to go. Be aware of hunting regulations and differences between private and public land.
Opening Morning Expectations: Delayed rut activity may bring about a sudden flurry of activity on opening day. You don't want to be the hunter who hears about it from their friends. Be ready to take advantage of one of our most abundant resources and enjoy your outdoor experience.
Reported by Eric Suttles, Wildlife Senior Biologist and Regional Supervisor
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Current rutting activity in the region is great. After what seemed to be a very slow start and a delayed rut, big bucks are finally on their feet, checking on scrapes and looking for does.
Habitat Conditions: Not what we normally see this time of year. We experienced a very late freeze this past winter and had a dry summer that added up to a very poor acorn crop in much of the region. Fall colors are just getting going and leaves have not fallen off the trees as in years past. Seems the fall season has been delayed a week or two this year.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters are reporting good harvest numbers and posting pictures of very nice, mature deer. Seems rutting activity has really picked up over the past seven days.
Advice for Deer Hunters: 1. Hunting in the afternoon hours can be very productive. If the weather is overcast or the rut is active, plan on staying in the woods late in the morning and getting back in the woods early in the evening.
2. You don’t have to have all the latest sporting goods items to harvest a deer. The three items that are most important is a valid hunting license in your wallet, safety in your mind, and patience in your pocket.
3. If you want to ensure a good day in the woods, take a kid hunting. You cannot help but feel enjoyment from their excitement having a day in the woods.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: 1. Avoid leaving your hunting spot at 9 a.m. to go walk around.
2. Hunters often make the mistake of not wearing their orange and not having safety first in their mind.
3. Avoid passing up shots Friday that you wish you had back on Sunday.
Opening Morning Expectations: I would expect excellent rutting activity in the region. Habitat conditions could be better, but with food availability being limited, if you find deer sign or a tree has produced a good number of acorns, you might have found yourself a great spot to hunt.
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For complete information and license requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations found online at wildlifedepartment.com, on the Go Outdoors Oklahoma free mobile app for Apple or Android devices, or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.