Oklahoma will have a statewide elk hunting this fall, with the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voting Monday for a more liberal harvest in the Panhandle than the rest of the state.
Using surveys from wildlife biologists and game wardens, the Wildlife Department estimated elk populations in each region of the state.
The dividing line for the elk hunting zones will be basically Interstate 35 and Interstate 40, excluding the Panhandle, which will be its own elk hunting zone.
The archery, muzzleloader and elk season will be the same dates as the deer seasons for those methods of harvest.
“Our estimate in the Panhandle was about 300 animals,” said Alan Peoples, head of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlfie Conservation. “There are liberal elk seasons in New Mexico and Colorado and when they get to pushing them, they come over on us.”
The commission voted to set a limit of 60 elk that could be a killed by hunters in the Panhandle, by far more than any other region of the state.
“We are going to go after them (elk in the Panhandle) more aggressively because of the damage they are causing to corn crops,” People said.
Most of the Panhandle elk are in Cimarron County, but there are elk scattered across the Beaver River system in the Panhandle, he said.
In the rest of the state, where most of the elk either have either escaped or been released over the years from commercial hunting operations and private elk farms, the commission chose to be more conservative to protect the population.
The population in northeast Oklahoma is about 200 scattered about on private land and hunters will be able to kill 20 in the fall.
The limit will be 10 elk in northwest Oklahoma, but only two in the combined counties of Dewey, Ellis, Woodward and the northern half of Roger Mills, north of SH 47.
The limit will be five elk in southwest and southeast Oklahoma. That number is excluding the elk taken in the controlled hunts or the elk hunts already established on private land in Kiowa, Comanche and Caddo counties, where elk have escaped to from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
The elk herd in southeast Oklahoma is about 250, and state wildlife officials hope that legalizing an elk hunting season will deter poaching in the region.
“There are a lot of elk getting killed right now from poaching,” Peoples said. “We would like the legal hunters to get a crack at them.”
Landowners also will become much more tolerant and protective of elk when they can charge a trespass fee to hunters, he said.
“We’ve learned from the Wichita Mountains model (which allows limited elk hunting on private land in the surrounding counties) that when you open a hunting season, (elk) go from a liability to an asset,” he said. “They are a liability to agricultural producers until they are a value.”