Deer in 'good shape' for hunting season, biologist reports
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Friday, November 16, 2012
11/16/12 at 5:34 AM
Drought or no drought, the fields and trees will blossom with hunter orange this weekend as the rifle season for white-tailed deer, the state's most popular hunting season, opens Saturday through Dec. 2.
In spite of extraordinary heat and drought the past two years, deer have by and large remained healthy across Oklahoma thanks to scattered and well-timed precipitation and plentiful mast in some areas of the state this fall.
"All the reports that I've had is that they're in pretty good shape," said Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "We've had a little precipitation now and the winter wheat, some winter browse is coming on now."
Reached Thursday afternoon by cell phone from his own deer-hunting stand, Bartholomew said deer activity is picking up with the breeding season, or rut. "The weather is going to be good and people should have some great opportunities this year," he said.
While a three-month archery season is open Oct. 1 into January and the nine-day muzzleloader season ended on Nov. 4, it is the rifle season that traditionally draws hunters to the woods with more than 60 percent of the annual kill coming the next 16 days.
Hunters must check regulations for their area, however, as the seasons vary by county and some public areas are open only for nine days.
Rifle hunters killed 68,410 of the total 112,863 Oklahoma bucks and does taken last year. About a third of those typically fall on opening weekend of the rifle season.
Last fall 195,821 deer hunters participated in either the general gun, youth gun or holiday gun seasons, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation 2012 Big Game Report.
Thanksgiving and the peak of the breeding season are traditional factors in Oklahoma's gun season, which is set by law to open the Saturday before Thanksgiving and run 16 days. Last fall 152,905 hunters took advantage of the 16-day season, according to the annual report.
The rut influences deer activity and makes the animals more available to hunters as biology outweighs caution and deer become preoccupied with reproduction. Timing of the rut depends on multiple environmental factors but typically occurs around mid November in Oklahoma.
A summary of a regional rut reports from Wildlife Department biologists issued Wednesday follows:
NORTHEAST: Beginning stages of the rut are underway and the peak was expected between muzzleloader and gun seasons. Deer seem to be focused on acorns and timbered ridges and benches in the morning and mid-day, then moving on to fields and food plots to browse late in the evening.
SOUTHEAST: Deer gun season hunters may be entering the woods toward the end of the rut in southeast Oklahoma. Still, deer should be active and will be focused around acorn sources.
CENTRAL: Muzzleloader hunters saw higher than normal rutting activity with excellent weather conditions. Rut activity picked up again during the first full week of November, with some bucks observed chasing does during the middle of the day. The peak is expected between Nov. 10-20, as is typical. Despite dry conditions patchy areas of high acorn production can be found, especially with black oaks along creek drainages. Growth of wheat and other typical cool season foods have been limited by the drought.
SOUTHWEST: Forage and water levels are below normal levels in the southwest, and unseasonably warm, dry weather has been dominating the region, but hunters could see some active rutting on opening weekend. Hunters in southwest Oklahoma may want to place greater emphasis on available water and fresh forage. Food plots on regional public areas are reportedly in fair condition due to the drought. Wheat is in good enough condition to provide a usable food source.
WEST: Reports note an increase in fresh scrapes, but still little movement during daylight hours in western regions. Panhandle counties note minimal activity thus far. Activity is expected to pick up if the weather stays cool. Hunters are advised to focus on food plots and wheat fields and hope a hot doe will bring in a buck. Northwest Oklahoma notes some increased "following" and that heavy activity may arrive for opening weekend.
Original Print Headline: Deer in 'good shape' for season
Kelly Bostian 918-581-8357