MANAGING FOR SUCCESS
So why are so many remarkable trophy bucks emerging from this past season? A big part of the reason can be attributed to the Wildlife Department’s deer herd management strategy in recent years.
“The Department revamped the ‘Hunters in the know take a doe' slogan from 2000 and began emphasizing the message of ‘Hunters in the know … let young bucks grow!’ in 2013. The goal was to get hunters to think like deer managers and to realize that whenever they pull the trigger or release an arrow, that’s going to have an effect on their local deer herd,” said Erik Bartholomew, big-game biologist with the Wildlife Department.
The management strategy urged voluntary restraint in harvesting younger bucks, allowing hunters to self-regulate for the benefit of the state’s deer herd, he said. “Without changing any regulations, our hunters were able to operate within the existing bag limits but still make their own harvest choices in the field. And those hunters who wanted to fill their freezer could still do so with our liberal antlerless harvest limits.
"This strategy benefited hunters and ODWC with a flexible plan that is working very well,” Bartholomew said.
As part of this educational effort, the Department released an informational poster to help hunters recognize a younger buck vs. an older buck. This deer management strategy drew nationwide attention when the Quality Deer Management Association named Oklahoma's Wildlife Department its 2014 Agency of the Year in recognition of innovative and positive deer management techniques through hunter education.
From a biological standpoint, the severe drought from 2011-13 reduced deer populations statewide, Bartholomew said. When the drought subsided, the habitat recovered much more quickly than the deer population, “meaning plenty of groceries for deer to eat.” Well-timed rainfall in the summers of 2014-16 coupled with mild winters and a “Booner” acorn year in 2015 created a very healthy deer herd in spring 2016.
“As a result, with deer being in good shape and another huge rainfall event in early spring and summer, our deer again had plenty of forage. As a result, mature bucks had everything they needed to potentially grow great antlers in 2016, and it is showing now,” he said.
“The Wildlife Department’s timing with its deer hunter awareness campaign and consistent harvest regulations, along with the drought and subsequent recovery, has really led Oklahoma to be a great state to harvest a great buck.”