Oklahoma's Deer Year In Review

Oklahoma's Deer Year In Review

So how did Oklahoma's deer hunters fare last season, and how will their success impact our hunting this fall? Here are some answers. (July 2010)

Deer hunting is one of the most popular pastimes for Sooner hunters. In fact, these days are golden if you hunt deer in our state; our deer numbers are exploding and the quality of our bucks gets better each season! A national deer-hunting publication recently rated Oklahoma as one of the Top 10 states for whitetail hunting.

Oklahoma County continues to produce some of the top bucks in our state. Edmond's Dee Greninger killed this great whitetail there during blackpowder season last fall.

Photo courtesy of George Moore.

Several of our buck chasers tagged real dandies last season, including one that will rank as one of our top typicals. Numerous bucks were taken that will be enshrined in the Cy Curtis Awards -- some also qualifying for Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett recognition. Other hunters took advantage of the ample doe days afforded them and filled their freezers with tasty venison.

All in all, it was a good time to be an Oklahoma deer hunter.

My season began late, after missing most of the early archery season due to a spinal fusion in my lower back. Needless to say, I was anxious to get outdoors after spending much of the summer and early fall in bed with severe back pain. A successful surgery and rigorous rehab left me pain-free and chomping at the bit to get outdoors.

At the invitation of Jeff Danker, I hunted the Roberts' Retreat Lodge near Ada. Danker owns BuckVentures Outdoors, an Oklahoma-based outdoor television show, and had touted the lodge as a great spot for trophy deer hunting just over an hour's drive from Oklahoma City. Owner James Roberts has built a magnificent lodge nestled in the heart of Southeastern Oklahoma.

Upon arriving at the ranch, I was met by ranch guide Steven Stewart who was beaming with excitement. Stewart ushered me into the lodge to view a video of a monster buck taken the night before on his game camera. The buck had antlers that looked to be 24 inches wide with long sweeping main beams and points jutting in every direction. Best of all, the bruiser was frequenting an area near the stand I would be hunting the next morning. Needless to say, my night was fitful as I pondered the possibility of the giant buck walking into range of my muzzleloader.

The late October morning dawned to cool temperatures with gray, overcast skies that were slow to brighten. Stewart positioned himself behind me in a separate stand to video my hunt, but the wide-racked buck never showed. A different spot that afternoon and the next morning produced no deer, so we hunted the last afternoon on another property nearby.

We climbed inside our Ameristep blind overlooking a wheat field where a small fork-horned buck walked out. A spike buck appeared later and fed nearby as darkness approached. Stewart had told me on the drive over that his game camera had recorded several photos of a management buck believed to be 3 1/2 years old, but lacking the genetic potential Roberts had hoped for.

"If we see that buck, I really wish you would shoot him," insisted Stewart. "His rack is busted up from fighting, but he'll still gross around 130, but should be much bigger!"

With 15 minutes of light remaining, the broken-racked buck appeared at the edge of the field 50 yards away. Stewart located the buck in the camera's viewfinder and said, "That's the management buck. Shoot him!"

With my smokepole steadied atop my BogPod, I placed the crosshairs on the buck's shoulder and fired. The serenity of the evening was shattered by the ear-busting blast, causing thick, sulfurous smoke to fill the blind. The mortally hit buck staggered 30 yards before collapsing in the wheat field. I was pleased to have humanely harvested the broken-up 10-pointer. Rewarded with some tasty venison, I felt good about playing a small role in whitetail management.

A week later, I was able to tag a doe on the final day of primitive arms season, while hunting with my 80-year-old dad. The high-protein meat was donated to a needy family.

That was the good news. Gun season was dismal for me; my wife and I were not rewarded with a shot at a decent buck. Nonetheless, we saw several small bucks and remain optimistic about this coming season.

BIOLOGIST'S THOUGHTS

When I talked to him, Jerry Shaw, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's deer guru, said that last deer season should rank among our best ever.

"Overall, we killed a bunch of deer," he said. "We had a 7 percent increase after deer gun season ended, and if that trend continues when the check station books are tallied from the antlerless seasons and special hunts, we will be close to a record."

That's impressive when you consider that in 2006, the state's deer hunters harvested a record 119,349 animals. Still, Shaw had concerns about the future of the state's deer herd. When asked if we were killing too many young bucks in the state. Shaw asked a rhetorical question: "Can our deer population sustain a few years of buck kills like the past few?

"I think so," he answered. "The state's deer hunters are learning the benefits of passing on smaller deer, and reaping much larger bucks later. Our education efforts are paying off."

Shaw says that deer numbers remain on the increase in most areas of the state except in the northeast. "The northeast is stable, but not growing like other areas," he said.

When asked which areas could use more doe harvest, Shaw replied logically. "If you look at the areas in the deer regulations pamphlet that have the most number of doe days allocated, you'll find the areas that probably need more does to be harvested."

Southeast biologist Jack Waymire echoed Shaw's optimism, stating the season seemed to go well in his region. This savvy deer expert, who is headquartered at Pushmataha Wildlife Management Area, believes the ODWC's management objectives were met last season.

"The antlered harvest was acceptable, and the antlerless harvest was acceptable also at 34.1 percent," he replied. "Our target for antlerless harvest is somewhere between 35 to 40 percent annually."

Waymire said there was mixed feelings among hunters about the number of deer that were seen. "The deer seemed to move better during muzzleloader season than they did during gun season," Waymire opined. "They (hunters) also reported seeing good numbers of deer during arch

ery season. All counties had some quality bucks harvested. No one county stood above the others."

As a side note, Waymire's cousin Donnie took an exceptional buck near Poteau that scored near 200 inches.

2009 DEER SEASON BROUGHT MIXED REACTIONS

In an effort to get data on last season's deer hunting, I sampled a smattering of hunters, guides, landowners, taxidermists, and sporting goods retailers. Though my season was only average, I learned interesting things during my inquiries. Some hunters reported their best seasons ever, while others speculated about the rut and wondered where the deer were.

Jeff Danker makes a living hunting deer. With one of the most popular whitetail shows on the Pursuit Channel, the Chandler buck chaser had a tough but rewarding season.

"Due to the amount of rain we got in the northwest part of the state, it was definitely tougher hunting," he said. "Normally, since our ranches are irrigated, they concentrate a lot of deer, but this past season the grass was taller, there was more vegetation, and the big bucks definitely had plenty of food -- everywhere!"

Big-buck expert and taxidermist Melvin Hart claims the season was good for him, too -- business-wise and for his own hunting. "I got in some really nice bucks to mount," he said. "Personally, I had one of my best hunting seasons ever. My customers seemed to have mixed reactions; some saw plenty of deer, while others complained that they had a bad season."

Will Massad was less than enthused after seeing fewer mature bucks in Ellis County than in previous seasons. "I shot two does but didn't see any bucks big enough to shoot," said Massad. "I did see way too many does, however. We have to start harvesting more does in the western part of the state or our deer ratio is going to get messed up."

Joel Clark reported losing two nice bucks on his northeast lease to poachers. Though the northeast area annually yields some big bucks, some counties there have lower deer numbers than in other regions.

Outdoor television host Mark Scroggins reports that his northeast hunting spot yielded three Pope and Young bucks during the first three days of archery season, including a giant that scored near 200 inches.

Durrant's Michael Harrell had mixed reactions on deer hunting in the southeast. "I believe the rut came earlier than it was forecast," Harrell lamented. Still, the ardent deer chaser says he saw 25 to 30 percent more deer than he did during the 2008 season, and the majority of the deer he saw were bucks.

"We need more doe days in the southeast," Harrell said. "I feel we aren't killing enough deer down here, and as a result many are getting hit by automobiles."

Whitetail guide Dale Eagon said the deer herds in the southwest part of the state are exploding. Owner of Eagon's Hi Point Ranch near Carter, Dale hosts some fantastic deer and turkey hunting each year.

"Last season we had a great year with plenty of big bucks to go around," he said. "All of our hunters except one took a nice buck, and the one hunter missed a shot at a dandy."

Eagon said he would like to see hunters shoot more does, and says he hopes one day the ODWC will drop the buck limit to one buck.

"I just believe we are killing too many young bucks that will never have the chance to mature and grow their biggest antlers," he explained.

In the northwest, guide Steve Purviance annually takes some of the biggest bucks in the state. It's widely accepted that the bucks in his region grow some of the biggest body weights around. Purviance rated last season similar to previous years. "I believe the trend here is leaning toward more mature bucks in the future," he said. "However, I believe we are killing way too many bucks. I would be in favor of going to a one-buck limit, or returning to a 9-day season. I would also support maximizing doe days before January 1."

DEER SEASON IS BIG BUSINESS IN OKLAHOMA

Edmond archery storeowner Todd Sorter believes the quality of the state's deer hunting has lured more hunters into the sport. After opening Heartland Outdoors last fall, Sorter says he had a tremendous fall and winter sales season on hunting gear.

"We discovered that 35 percent of our business was first-time bowhunters and kids," Sorter said. "Our archery business was phenomenal. I believe the quality of our state's deer herd is good for our business."

Terry Mayberry, owner of Terry's Taxidermy, said the season was good for his business. "We received nearly 2,000 deer last season for meat processing, and we got an incredible amount of deer heads to mount. I believe last season was similar to the year before; it was pretty good."

Another Oklahoman cashing in on the state's booming whitetail herd is Roger Rudd. Rudd came out with one of the hottest new attractant and mineral supplements on the market -- BoneDMonium. The Stillwater-based company had an unbelievable year selling the product all over the United States. The high-protein offering is designed to provide the ingredients essential for building large antlers.

PREDICTIONS FOR ANOTHER GOOD DEER SEASON

With the state receiving ample amounts of rain and snowfall in most areas, the coming fall should offer good habitat for the state's exploding deer herd. Most deer hunters I polled believe the fall hunts in 2010 will be outstanding, as usual.

Michael Moon says he is confident that the southwest region where he lives and hunts will continue to produce some good bucks. Moon has already taken some dandy bucks, and credits his success to passing on smaller bucks in years past.

Edmond's George Moore believes we are in for another good season, citing the increase in habitat spawned by the moisture. Moore hopes that hunters will utilize their doe tags and consider donating their venison to help Oklahomans adversely affected by the down-turned economy.

Oklahoma City's Alan Broerse believes that many big bucks made it through the rut unscathed, and should have survived the tough winter. If Broerse's name sounds familiar, it should. He's one of KWTV Channel 9's Storm Chasers.

Shaw says he hopes the state's deer hunters will keep after it. "You have to put in the time and do some scouting, if you want to be successful," he surmised. "I am confident that if hunters will be selective on the bucks they harvest, they will see a major improvement in the quality of deer they shoot."

FINAL THOUGHTS

For Okie bucks to make it to the next level, deer hunters have to pass on smaller bucks and shoot older ones. Instead, hunters may choose to take a liberal bag of does. That's a great way to put tender venison in the freezer.

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