The most highly anticipated day of the year arrives Saturday for many thousands of Oklahoma hunters. The state’s deer gun season officially begins a half-hour before sunrise Nov. 23.
For many sportsmen and sportswomen, the 16-day season will be the best time to put meat in the freezer and maybe hang a trophy on the wall.
And some big-time trophies are certainly out there this year — Guner Womack, 18, of Morrison, will vouch for that. Just a few weeks ago, Womack took his bow out for an archery hunt on family land in Pawnee County. That evening, the Oklahoma State University freshman got his first-ever archery harvest and most likely a No. 1 ranking in the official Oklahoma Cy Curtis big game record book.
Womack’s buck green-scored 192 6/8 net, which if stands will put his name atop the list for Oklahoma’s largest typical whitetail bucks taken with a bow.
Overall, the state’s deer population is in great shape this year, thanks to abundant (in some cases record-setting) spring rainfall and a fairly mild summer, said Big Game Biologist Dallas Barber with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Along with habitat conditions, deer numbers look good over most of the state.” That means plenty of deer are moving about with the rut, or breeding season, underway.
“The rut has been going strong over the last two weeks across much of the state,” Barber said. “While most does have been bred by the time gun season starts, it will not be uncommon to still see bucks seeking does that have yet to be bred.”
Deer hunting plays a major role in the Wildlife Department’s deer herd management strategy. For the past several years, the Department has stressed the role deer hunters play with the slogan “Hunters in the Know … Let Young Bucks Grow!” Barber praised hunters for their voluntary participation, because every time a hunter decides to pull the trigger, he or she is making a management decision.
This year, he is hoping hunters will harvest more does than they did in 2018.
“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.
According to the 2018-19 Big Game Report published in the September/October issue of Outdoor Oklahoma magazine, hunters took 39,409 does, amounting to 36 percent of the 2018-19 harvest, well short of the 40-45 percent target range.
Doe harvest helps keep populations in balance with available habitat, helps maintain healthy buck-to-doe ratios, and helps synchronize fawning when conditions are most favorable for fawn growth.
To help hunters plan their opening-day outing in the deer woods, here are up-to-date regional reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.
Reported by Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Senior Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Appears to have reached its peak last week. But mature bucks are still active and on the move.
Habitat Conditions: Not much rain over the past couple of months, so dormant vegetation is very dry. Overall, habitat conditions are good. Early spring and late summer rains produced heavy cover and good food throughout the growing season. Winter wheat crops are in fair to good condition.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters have reported good buck activity, saying bucks have been chasing does actively the past week. Landowners report good numbers of deer. Reproduction was good this year; most does have two fawns.
Public Land Best Bets: Hunters need to consult regulations before hunting Oklahoma wildlife management areas. Some WMAs are closed opening weekend for controlled hunts, and some are closed to deer gun hunting entirely. Most WMAs are closed to antlerless hunting. If you have questions regarding hunting regulations on a wildlife management area, you can consult the Oklahoma Hunting Regulations Guide or call the biologist or game warden responsible for the area you choose to hunt. Phone numbers are listed in the regulations under each WMA listing.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Be prepared for all types of weather. Be sure to sight in your rifle prior to the hunt. Plenty of open country in the northwest can make distances deceiving. Bring a rangefinder, and know your limits. Always use the wind to your advantage. Bring a deer cart, and be prepared to retrieve your deer. Introduce someone new to hunting. Hunt safely and enjoy your time in the outdoors!
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Try not to move around a lot. Find a good spot, stay put and be patient. Scout the area you intend to hunt prior to opening day. Be sure you have checked the regulations for the WMA you intend to hunt.
Opening Morning Expectations: The weather forecast is for cooler temperatures, which should improve deer movement opening weekend. Rut appears to have peaked in the northwest, however bucks should still be actively searching for receptive does. Hunter numbers will likely be high on WMAs open to public hunting. Good luck!
Reported by Brent Morgan, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: In the past week, buck activity has really picked up. Bucks have been spotted checking out scrapes in the middle of the day. Deer have been using food plots late in the evening, and acorns and browse during midday. Deer activity will no doubt pick up with some cooler fronts pushing through the region. Bucks are being seen chasing does at all times of the day. Mature bucks are cruising midday looking for does in heat.
Habitat Conditions: Habitat conditions look great with lots of acorns available. But the soft mass is mostly gone because of early freezes. The northeast had a very wet summer that produced food readily available and abundant. Deer also have an abundance of browse where controlled burns were conducted.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Most deer being observed are bucks with does or bucks cruising looking for does. Very few does are seen alone. Deer are also off their pattern trails as the bucks have pushed them away from their norm.
Public Land Best Bets: If you plan on hunting a WMA, make sure to learn any special regulations for that area. All WMAs are not alike and don’t exactly follow the statewide regulations. WMAs will have more hunting activity than private land so be cautious and aware of the area you are hunting because you are more than likely sharing with fellow hunters. Cherokee WMA and Camp Gruber WMA are always popular destinations for gun season but be aware those areas are open the same as statewide dates but closed to antlerless harvest. Fort Gibson WMA has produced good harvest numbers in the past, but notice the boundaries when hunting and be aware this WMA is only open the first nine days and closed to antlerless harvest.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Scouting is the best advice for hunters on opening weekend of gun season. Scout for food sources around or near buck sign as that will be your best shot at locating a buck. If hunters are persistent and have done their scouting homework, there is no reason they shouldn’t harvest a nice buck. Calling and rattling can also be effective in luring in a lone buck.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Scent control is very important; hunt the wind direction. Hunters are reporting that the does are busting them by catching their scent, so be careful about scent control. A hunter rushing their shot on a deer or forcing it through a marginal spot can result in a crippled animal and a tag unfilled.
Opening Morning Expectations: It should be the tail end of the rut on opening morning with a few does that might still be in season. But it should be a great opening morning of gun season as long as the weather cooperates. Visibility is great as we have experienced some hard freezes and most of the leaves have fallen. The WMAs should have a good number of hunters, but persistence is the key. Stay as long as you can as the deer movement has been very good midday.