Duck hunting — like the weather — has been hot and cold this season.
“It's been a tough year weather-wise to figure out how to hunt them,” said Josh Richardson, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Richardson said there will be birds bunched together one day, then they will seemingly disappear the next.
An avid waterfowling friend of mine, Roy Loris, hunts all over the state and thinks the flyway is better west of I-35 this season, even though it has far less water than in the eastern half of the state.
“It kind of almost seems like that,” Richardson said.
More duck food has been available out west with its rich agriculture fields, and less water means the birds are not spread as far. Canton and Fort Cobb lakes have been hot spots for hunting this season.
In eastern Oklahoma, state wildlife officials were unable to seed Japanese millet around lakes like they normally do because of summer flooding.
The high water also destroyed native vegetation, leaving places like Lake Eufaula, usually a place that offers excellent duck hunting, mediocre at best this season.
The Arkansas River and other river systems have provided the best duck hunting this year in eastern Oklahoma, as the moving water keeps rivers from freezing and food is normally nearby for the birds.
“It hasn't been a banner year (for duck hunting), but it hasn't been a bust,” said Jerry Shaw of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Goose hunting, however, has been excellent, and the daily bag limit for Canadian honkers increased to eight this season.
“There are geese everywhere,” Richardson said.
The last day of duck season in zone one is Jan. 19, and the final day of duck season in zone two is Jan. 26.
Goose hunting continues through Feb. 9 for Canada and white-fronted geese.
Deer harvest numbers lowest this century
It appears Oklahoma will have its lowest deer harvest total this century.
With less than two weeks left in the archery season, hunters had checked in less than 88,000 deer as of Friday.
“We are going to have to hurry to get over 90,000,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Since 2000, Oklahoma's deer harvest has never been lower than the 2004 total of 94,689. Only three times has the total not exceeded 100,000 this century.
State wildlife officials attribute the small harvest total to the drought in recent years and the weather during gun season this year.
“We had pretty rough weather every weekend (of gun season),” Shaw said.
Peoples said cold temperatures, snow, wind and fog likely kept more hunters at home.
“Less time in the field equals less harvested deer,” Peoples said. “When it's cold, people don't stay out there and stay with it.”
And there were probably fewer deer in some areas of the state. Record-breaking drought in 2010 and 2011 in parts of the state hurt deer reproduction, Peoples said.
Also, food was plentiful for deer this year due to drought-breaking rainfall, meaning fewer deer were using feeders, he said.
More bobwhites this season
While deer and duck harvest totals are down, quail numbers are up.
Quail season remains open through Feb. 15, and more hunters are finding bobwhites this year.
“It's still not good,” Peoples said of the quail population. “It's still not up to our standards, but it's better than it has been.”