State wildlife officials are hoping to legalize elk hunting statewide in 2014.
Hunters would be able to kill a total of one elk, a bull or a cow, under the proposal. The elk season dates for archery, muzzleloader and gun would be the same as the current deer seasons for those methods of harvest.
Those are the same dates for the current elk hunting season on private land in northeast Oklahoma.
Lifetime hunting license holders would not need to buy a separate elk license, but annual license holders would.
The proposal, which must be approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, would not change the current elk hunting regulations or season dates on private land in the counties surrounding the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the agency's surveys show that 33 counties in Oklahoma each have six or more free-ranging elk.
“And almost everywhere they are, they are causing issues, primarily agricultural depredation issues,” Peoples said.
In Oklahoma, the largest free-ranging elk herds can be found in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which allows limited elk hunting through the Wildlife Department's controlled hunts programs. Hunters must pay for a chance to win a hunt on the refuge.
There are also elk herds on the Pushmataha, Cookson Hills, Spavinaw and Cherokee Wildlife Management Areas. Small herds inhabit private land in Caddo, Kiowa and Comanche counties from elk that have fled the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
The majority of free-ranging elk in the rest of the state either have been released or escaped from commercial hunting operations or private elk farms, Peoples said.
“In Cimarron and Texas counties, those elk could have come from bordering states, but the rest of them (across Oklahoma) are either escapees or (offspring) of escapees,” Peoples said.
Opening an elk season statewide would benefit landowners by reducing crop damage and hunters by providing more opportunities, Peoples said.
“When you allow hunting, those elk will find their safe haven,” he said. “They will find their refuge.”
Landowners could charge a trespass fee to hunters to help recoup their agricultural losses from elk, Peoples said.
“It turns elk from a liability for farmers and ranchers into an asset,” he said.
Other proposed wildlife regulation changes for 2014 include:
— Not allowing any hunting dogs on Three Rivers, Honobia and Pine Creek Wildlife Management Areas in southeastern Oklahoma during deer seasons.
Deer hunting with dogs already is illegal, but banning dogs entirely from the areas would make it easier for game wardens to enforce the law, Peoples said.
— Limiting anglers to two paddlefish per year. Anglers also would have to check the fish online using the Wildlife Department's e-check system. Anglers could still catch and release as many paddlefish as they want after keeping two.
The Wildlife Conservation already approved the regulation as an emergency rule for one year, but it still must go through the public comment period before it becomes permanent.
— Turkey hunters statewide would have to check turkeys online or at a hunter check station. Turkey hunters east of I-35 only had to check gobblers in the past, but state wildlife officials are now concerned about the population of Rio Grandes out west due to recent years of drought.
VIEW THE PROPOSED RULES
A public hearing on all proposed hunting and fishing regulation changes for 2014 is scheduled for Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1801 N. Lincoln Boulevard.
All proposals can be viewed at www.wildlifedepartment.com. Public comments also are being accepted online by the agency through Jan. 10.