With a series of good deer seasons behind us, will that trend continue through this fall's hunts? Here are the answers you have been waiting for.
Oklahoma deer hunting is stellar. I can't really say anything new and exciting about today's deer picture. If you are an old-timer who has hunted deer in our state, then you know our numbers now are nothing short of a miracle. We harvest more deer now than ever before, and yet our deer herds continue to grow at an almost alarming rate!
With the counts tallied and double-checked for accuracy, 2009 will go in the books as our second-best deer season ever as far as harvest totals are concerned. Surpassing the 2008 harvest by 4,748 deer, last season hunters took 116,175 animals. Hunters in all 77 counties probably had chances to score on a whitetail last season, and evidently many of them did.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Senior Biologist, Jack Waymire, says that if the weather is favorable this fall, Oklahoma hunters should expect a season much like last year's. Waymire oversees the deer in the southeast portion of our state, and he has seen revealing transitions in the region's whitetail herd.
"Deer numbers are stable on public lands," he said, "and increasing on private properties. Private landowners enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program and meeting the objectives are seeing better sex ratios on their properties."
Rod Smith quarterbacks the ODWC efforts in the southwest, and says that, due to very low winter mortality, things are shaping up to another good season. Smith says that in some parts of his region the deer herd is still growing, while it is stable in others. "In some areas, landowners are reporting more does on their croplands than in the past," he said.
Smith believes the idea of quality deer management is starting to catch on with our state's hunters. "Today, in comparison with 10 years ago, more hunters are being selective with their buck harvests," he said. "I believe when hunters see more deer, they tend to select older, larger bucks."
In the northeast, biologist Craig Endicott reported stable numbers of deer in most areas. This "Green Country" expert expects a good season, but cautioned that most bucks there don't live long enough to grow their best headgear. "The deer herd here is pretty much kept in check due to the high hunter density," he said. "There are very few places that don't get hunted."
TOP COUNTIES FOR BUCKS
Year in and year out, Cherokee County, in the northeast part of the state, leads the pack for bow kills. Archers took 368 bucks last season in this heavily wooded county. Ranking a close second with 353 bucks was Pittsburg County located in the southeast. There, archers bag their bow trophies in the hilly, forested region encompassing the McAlester Army Ammunition Depot, and the deer-rich areas surrounding the southern end of Lake Eufaula. Ranking third was Osage -- our largest county -- with 334 bucks. Next on the list was Atoka County with 252 antlered deer, followed close behind by Sequoyah and McCurtain counties with 251 and 250 respectively.
The top county for bagging blackpowder bucks was Pittsburg County with 766, followed by Pushmataha with 698 bucks. Coming in third was Cherokee with 625 bucks. Of note, Cherokee Wildlife Management Area hosts several hunters each season during draw hunts, and then reopens for public use. Next on the list was McCurtain and Atoka counties reporting 592 and 527 bucks respectively.
Osage County has been a top producer for gun hunters for many years. Osage offers some tremendous bucks, both in antler size and body weight. Hunters there took 1,897 bucks last season. Most of the hunting land is leased, or held by large ranching operations, and so taking a big buck there is likely to lighten your wallet.
Other top gun counties were Pittsburg where 1,169 hunters were successful, and Cherokee with 1,034 bucks. New on the list this year are Roger Mills and Woodward counties, both in the northwest. Hunters there took 893 and 878 bucks.
TOP COUNTIES FOR DOES
The top county for archery doe harvest last season was, again, Cherokee; stick-and-string shooters took 453. Two more great spots for taking a doe by bow are Pittsburg County, where archers bagged 340, and Atoka County with 291. Both are located in the southeast part of the state.
The top spot for taking a doe with a blackpowder gun was Osage County with 393, while Cherokee County came in second with 356. The top gun county was Osage, with 1,440 does, followed by Cherokee with 1,034.
OUR TOP WMAS
Hunters struggling with the ever-increasing cost of deer leases have several options offered by the state, and that's not such a bad thing. Some ODWC-owned lands, in fact, offer good numbers of deer. It's also true, however, that too many of our top public areas are besieged by throngs of hunters.
Two very affordable southeast Oklahoma "leases" -- Three Rivers WMA and Honobia Creek WMA -- hold a substantial number of deer. The yearly access fee of only $40 for residents and $85 for non-residents gets you onto more than 326,000 acres of prime habitat in these two heavily timbered wilderness areas.
In the northwest part of the state, the top public area was Black Kettle WMA, where 643 deer were harvested last year -- 355 bucks and 288 does. This spacious WMA spreads over 31,710 acres that offer great hunting opportunities. I've hunted the area numerous times, and have never failed to see whitetails.
Another great choice is Canton WMA, where 185 deer were shot last season, 104 of them bucks, 81 does. Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is another excellent choice where 142 deer were harvested -- 52 bucks and 90 does. Both of these refuges boast some good-sized deer, animals weighing 200 pounds or better.
In the north-central part of the state, the best bet for doing some public deer hunting is Kaw WMA, near Ponca City. At this WMA situated around Kaw Lake, hunters took 141 bucks and 132 does last season.
In the northeast, the best ODWC-owned lands are the Fort Gibson WMA and Fort Gibson Wildlife Refuge. These neighboring areas boasted 102 bucks and 96 does killed. Other good choices
are Cherokee WMA/Cherokee PHA, Hulah WMA, Copan GMA, and Spavinaw PHA/Spavinaw GMA. These areas produced good kills, Cherokee 105 bucks and 68 does, Hulah 77 bucks and 64 does, and Copan yielding 62 bucks and 54 does. Both Spavinaw units tallied 98 deer -- 53 bucks and 45 does.
As mentioned before, the Three Rivers and Honobia Creek WMAs are two excellent spots in the southeast, yielding a combined total of 1,153 deer. At Three Rivers, the larger of the two fee-access areas, hunters took 472 bucks and 303 does for a total of 775 deer. Honobia Creek hunters took 378 deer, 265 bucks and 113 does.
Other good public areas in the southeast's pine-studded hills are Ouachita WMA and its McCurtain County Unit; these units combined for a kill of 395 bucks and 191 does. McAlester AAP accounted for 242 deer -- 106 bucks and 136 does -- but can be hunted only by successful applicants in a statewide lottery. Another good spot is Hugo WMA where hunters took 113 bucks and 73 does.
Hunters in the south-central region will find the best public-land hunting opportunity 45 minutes south of Oklahoma City at Lexington WMA. This WMA is open to draw-in hunting only. "Lex" accounted for 127 deer last season, 80 bucks and 47 does. I've drawn in at Lex, and have always seen good numbers of deer. On my first hunt there, I missed a shot at a monster buck!
The southwestern region of the state, according to ODWC biologists, is showing tremendous growth in its deer population. Some of these counties, nearly devoid of whitetails 20 years ago, now boast nice herds. Two of the state's largest bucks -- one a typical and the other a non-typical -- came from Jackson and Tillman counties.
Southwest deer chasers without private land to hunt will find their best public land choices are at Fort Cobb WMA, near Binger, and Sandy Sanders WMA, near Vinson. Oddly, these two are set in the region of the state experiencing the fastest growth of whitetails, but their harvest numbers do not reflect that boom. Fort Cobb's hunters took a total of 55 deer -- 22 bucks and 33 does -- while Sandy Sanders yielded 18 bucks and 7 does. The top refuge-type hunt in the southwest is the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters there took 35 deer -- 18 bucks and 17 does, however, the NWR is open only to hunters who are successful in a drawing.
Consult the 2010-2011 deer hunting regulations before planning to hunt any public lands. A few of them are open for some seasons but closed for others. Select areas are open for only certain days of our gun season, with the number of days varying from one WMA to another.
For a complete listing of public hunting areas, contact the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation at (405) 521-3851, or check the Web site www.wildlifedepartment.com. Hunting regulation booklets also can be picked up at your favorite sporting goods store.
In most area of the state, deer hunters need to concentrate more effort on taking does. Where they are hunted regularly, the females can be just as tough to bag as the bucks. Photo courtesy of wildlifedepartment.com.
HUNTERS, GUIDES PREDICT ANOTHER GREAT SEASON
In the southwest, guide Dale Eagon expects the coming season to be one of the best ever. Eagon runs cattle there and operates an outstanding guide service called Eagon's Hi Point Ranch (580-729-1009) near Carter.
"Normally, we don't get much rain down in the southwest part of the state," he said. However, we received good moisture late last winter with all the snow, and again with spring rains. The moisture has contributed to good growth in our vegetation and feed fields."
Big Game Biologist Jerry Shaw extolled the southwest as being an area that is experiencing the most growth; it was the last region to be restocked with deer. "The deer have really taken off down there," he said.
Eagon agreed with Shaw's assessment and added, "One of the biggest things I have noticed is, we are also seeing good numbers of deer that are spreading out into open areas where they have never been found before."
In western Oklahoma near Reydon, resident guide Danny Pierce says the deer hunting there is amazing. Pierce operates Rush Creek Guide Service (806-323-3030) offering deer hunts in Roger Mills County. "There are deer everywhere," Pierce commented. "Due to the good habitat here, this season should be one of our best ever. We carried over a lot of 3-year-old bucks, so we should have some real dandies this fall."
Pierce praised the ODWC for the resurgence of deer in the state but says the deer hunting out west hasn't always been newsworthy. "When I was 14," Pierce said, "we never saw any deer around here. Boy, have things changed! We have deer everywhere and each season we usually take some pretty impressive racked bucks."
In the northwest, landowner and outdoor television host Jeff Danker expects the season to be a good one. Danker manages two large farms there and has high hopes for shooting some good bucks this season.
Danker attributes much of his annual successes on the fact that he manages his property extensively to achieve a desired buck-to-doe ratio. "We try to kill as many does as we can within the parameters of the DMAP guidelines," Danker said. "It has made our hunting better here and the quality of our bucks has increased tremendously."
In the southeast, Bill Decker expects this deer season to be a good one. Decker manages some property in Haskell County and says he is already seeing more deer there then ever before, having logged more than 50 seasons in the rugged forests.
In the central part of the state, George Moore says he too is expecting a good season. Crediting adequate amounts of rain with keeping his numerous food plots lush, Moore is excited about this fall's hunting. Moore says he hasn't noticed a large increase in deer numbers, but is seeing an influx of older bucks.
District Game Warden Tracy Daniel believes spring rains left the northeast region with excellent forage conditions, which should result in good fawn recruitment.
While the deer population seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in the state, most hunting guides readily admit the economy hasn't improved enough to help their business. Some have lowered their prices in an effort to attract more hunters. If you're without a place to hunt this fall, then this might be a good time to consider booking with a guide service.