Oklahoma deer hunters are harvesting increasingly greater numbers of older bucks while letting more and more young bucks walk, according to data collected in recent years.
The Quality Deer Management Association recently issued a report on a list of states that provided the organization with their 2011 buck harvest data, and Oklahoma was in the top five states with the highest harvest of bucks age 3.5 years old and older. In Oklahoma, 51 percent of the deer jaw bones aged from the 2011 buck harvest was comprised of deer that were 3.5 years old or older.
In comparison, the national average of states from which QDMA was able to collect harvest data is about 33 percent. Oklahoma harvest data for 2012 is expected to be complete this summer.
Additionally, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation report that the percent of yearlings in the total buck harvest has continually decreased as well, from nearly 70 percent in the late 1980s to just 25 percent in 2011.
"I think that Oklahoma has done a tremendous job protecting yearling bucks and improving the age structure of their deer herd," said Kip Adams, director of education and outreach and certified wildlife biologist for the Quality Deer Management Association, a national deer conservation organization based out of Bogart, Ga. "This is very positive for the deer population and especially for Oklahoma's hunters."
According to Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Wildlife Department, the fact that more older bucks and fewer younger are getting harvested means Oklahoma hunters have good hunting opportunities and recognize they are deer managers when they are hunting. He believes there are several reasons for Oklahoma's success.
"We are living in the best time to be a deer hunter in the history of our state," Bartholomew said. "We have archery, muzzleloader and modern firearms seasons, youth seasons, liberal antlerless hunting opportunities, liberal harvest limits, and literally 100 days out of the year that hunters can be out there looking to harvest a deer if they want to. Hunters are better educated and they are being more selective about what they harvest."
Still, Bartholomew said the Wildlife Department and the state's hunters can continue to improve the health and structure of its deer population by working together.
"Hunters should continue to take advantage of antlerless deer hunting opportunities, and they should strive to keep up the good work of introducing youth to deer hunting," he said. "Also, we encourage hunters to continue thinking about the bucks they are harvesting each year. Ask yourself each time you see a buck, 'Is he the one I want?' and look for opportunities to pass on younger bucks in order to wait for an older one."
There are more than 250,000 deer hunters in Oklahoma, and deer hunting is the most popular type of hunting in Oklahoma and one of the most popular outdoor activities in the state. Hunters not only enjoy the recreation of hunting but also play a critical role in the conservation of Oklahoma's deer and other wildlife.
The Wildlife Department receives no general state tax appropriations and is funded primarily by hunters and anglers through their purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and excise taxes paid on certain sporting goods.
To learn more, log on to www.wildlifedepartment.com.