The 2019 deer season already has produced a ton of big bucks and great stories and it’s not even halfway done yet — not in numbers of deer taken, anyway.
Oklahoma’s biggest hunting season opens Saturday, and more than 150,000 participated last season, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Dallas Barber, big game biologist for the department, said about 60% of the harvest comes during the rifle season, which is open Nov. 23-Dec. 8.
As anyone knows, when you get that many people together doing something, someone, somewhere, is bound to do something dumb. And as any deer hunter knows, there are a lot of ways to goof up.
I turned to some voices of experience greater than my own to compile this list of “10 Mistakes Deer Hunters Commonly Make.” Read on, and try to avoid at least these most common issues.
10. Field dressing faux pas
You’ve made the big shot, now think minimal impact. That’s the advice from Charlie Disbrow at Nowlin’s Deer Processing in Sand Springs. In 35 years in the business, he’s seen too many ruined tenderloins, the best cut of meat on a deer. It’s under the spine and inside the abdominal cavity. “They’re always getting cut up or ruined. People just try to go too far with it,” he said. Also, unless the weather is hot and you are hours away from a processor, there is no reason to open up the sternum or split the pelvis. That just exposes potential table fare to dirt and contamination.
9. Hacking tarsals and hocks
Disbrow said many hunters still believe the strong tarsal scent glands on a buck’s rear legs will spoil the flavor of deer meat so they cut them off, sometimes even taking the hocks off with them. Butchers hang deer carcasses by their hocks in the cooler, so cutting them off is a problem. As for tarsals, he said, “just leave them alone, and just don’t touch the tarsals and then touch the meat.”
8. Failure to practice
Bass Pro Shops sales manger Chris Edwards, an avid deer hunter and former guide, said he hears it about rifle scopes all the time, “It was on last year,” hunters say. Once a rifle and scope are sighted in that doesn’t mean they are sighted in for good. Sight it in every year at the very least. Practicing with it regularly is even better because shooting off a limb or post or shooting sticks at a potentially moving target is much different than punching paper off a bench-rest at the range.
7. Not sitting long enough
Barber said the rifle season takes place during rut and post-rut periods when deer are active throughout the day, so early morning and late evening aren’t the only times to connect on a deer. “Pack yourself a lunch and sit as long as you can,” he said.
6. Getting stuck In a rut
Jack Morris, longtime guide and Tulsa World Pro Tips contributor, said rifle season is a time to get a wider view. Don’t get stuck in a rut of going to that stand over a small spot in the timber you use for bow hunting. “Sit where you can see the most countryside,” he said. “A lot of times you can size things up with binoculars during the rut and you can get down and go to them.”
5. Failure to read the signs
Morris added that too many hunters tend to be “hunting spot” oriented and fail to take note of rubs, scrapes, well-used trails, and crossing points that might change based on a deer’s surroundings from year to year. “Read the signs and know where they like to travel,” he said.
4. Forgetting to speak up
Greg Koch, wildlife lands manager and consultant and founder of the American Whitetail Authority, said he never leaves home in November without a deer call. “For the entire month of November bucks will respond to a grunt call. Sometimes it’s like magic,” he said. Most often a buck will circle downwind of where it heard a call, unless it is a dominant buck ready to take any doe away from the buck that made that grunt, he added.
3. Expecting deer out in the open
Koch said a good strategy is to hunt well inside the timberline downwind of an open field. “Today I’m 80 yards inside the timber downwind from an open field. The bucks are traveling about 60 yards inside the timber from the field’s edge using the wind,” he said. “Bucks don’t like to step out into the field unless there’s a doe in estrus out there.”
2. Taking only bucks
As long as hunters have been encouraged to take a doe — or two — for the good of population management, some still resist. “It’s more important than ever to put an emphasis on antlerless harvest,” Barber said. “It puts meat in your freezer and keeps herds healthy and thriving.”
1. Failure to follow the rules
Wildlife Department Game Warden Lt. Paul Welch at Skiatook said the most citations still are written for two of the easiest rules to follow. “Wear orange and tag your deer,” he said. Hunters take advantage of high-tech phones to e-check their deer but forget the simple field tag, which can be done with a piece of duct tape and a marker. “Hunter orange” on the head and body must be worn “at all times” in the field. “That includes inside your blind and up in your stand,” he said.