State wildlife officials will suggest a major change to the deer hunting regulations for the 2013 hunting season by proposing that only one buck could be killed by hunters during the combined muzzleloader and gun seasons.
Deer hunters still would be allowed a total of two bucks for all seasons, but under the proposal, one buck would have to be taken with a bow and the other harvested during either muzzleloader or gun season.
Bow hunters could still choose to fill both buck tags during archery season.
The proposal is another step in the direction by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to manage the state's deer herd for bigger, or trophy, bucks.
A growing number of deer hunters in the state are clamoring for state wildlife officials to manage for bigger bucks with more conservative hunting regulations.
The Wildlife Department officially will open a public comment period on hunting and fishing rule changes for 2013 beginning Dec. 3 on its website, www.wildlifedepartment.com. The public comment period will remain open until Jan. 11.
“I think it will be something folks will feel pretty strongly about one way or the other,” said Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Wildlife Department. “We encourage people to take the time and go online and tell us what they think, and how they think we should move forward.”
A public hearing on the proposed rule change will also be held Jan. 8 in Oklahoma City at Wildlife Department headquarters on 1801 N. Lincoln.
Any proposed rule change must be approved by the eight-member Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the governing body of the Wildlife Department.
Heath Herje, the man who started Oklahoma's first Quality Deer Management Association chapter in the state, thinks the proposal is a good move.
“I think it is going to be a great compromise for the guys who are still interested in having two buck tag, and the guys who are interested in some better quality, and older age class bucks,” Herje said. “It's probably going to allow more bucks reach an older age class.”
Based on samples from last year's deer harvest, almost half of the bucks killed by Oklahoma hunters were 2½-years-old or younger. More than three-fourths of bucks taken last year in Oklahoma were 3½-year-olds or younger.
Sixty-one percent of the deer killed last year were taken during the deer gun seasons. Twenty-one percent were taken during archery season and only 18 percent during the muzzleloader season.
Still, reducing the buck limit to one for the combined muzzleloader and gun season should make a noticeable difference, Herje said.
“I think it will definitely improve our quality,” he said. “(Antler) sizes are going to increase across the state, I would expect. It may encourage some guys that are only muzzleloader and rifle hunters to get into archery hunting.”
State wildlife officials have always maintained the majority of deer hunters in the state want them to manage for quanity and not for trophy animals. But they admit that margin has narrowed greatly in recent years.
Still, there is expected to be a lot of opposition to the one-buck proposal for the combined muzzleloader and gun seasons.
“I think it will be a good compromise,” Herje said. “I think we can be more competitive as a state and retain a lot of these hunters who are leaving Oklahoma and going to other states like Kansas to kill bigger deer.”
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Deer gun season is here
State wildlife officials try to time the opening of the deer gun season on Nov. 17 with the peak of the rut, but that rutting activity always varies across the state.
The rut, or the deer breeding season, is when deer are on the move and they are the most susceptible.
Here is what Oklahoma's deer biologists at the Wildlife Department were saying about deer movement in their regions last week.
- NORTHWEST: “Rut is usually going on strong by the 20th of November in the Woodward area,” said Eddie Wilson, wildlife biologist at the Cooper and Fort Supply Wildlife Management Areas. “Hunters can focus on food plot areas and hope a hot doe will bring in a buck.”
- NORTHEAST: “The weather patterns and moon phase are effecting deer movements but, in general, they seem to be feeding on acorns on timbered ridges and benches during the morning and mid-day, then moving onto field and food plots in the late evening,” said Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor.
Endicott suggests using a grunt call to stop a buck on the move, allowing for a clean shot. Also, be on the alert for does that are being trailed by bucks.
“Chased does will always act differently, especially looking behind them on several occasions,” he said.
- SOUTHEAST: “The rut that I'm seeing is in full swing,” said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor. “By the time next week gets here, we probably will be on the backside of the rut.”
Still, deer should be on the move.
“They're going to be very active,” Hemphill said. “They still have to eat. They're still going to be on the acorns.”
Bucks have been fighting and sparring and “there's lot of scraping activity going on,” he said.
-SOUTHWEST: “Pre-rut activity seems to indicate heavy rut activity will likely be in full swing for the opening of rifle season,” said Rod Smith, southwest regional wildlife supervisor. “Younger bucks have made themselves more visible and hunters report seeing an increased number of scrapes.
“Bucks have been observed tracking but not yet in full chase mode. Bucks observed mingling with does are showing increased interest, while does remain unreceptive.”
-CENTRAL: “The rut will almost always peak in the central region between the 10th and 20th of November,” said Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor.
Locations that still have good acorns will be prime hunting spots during gun season, Pennington said.
“The height of grass and other vegetation is very low again this year, which should make deer highly visible to hunters,” Pennington said. “The drought conditions will be tough for the deer, but should make for very good hunting conditions.”
What do you think?
Are you in favor of the Wildlife Department's proposal to limit the buck limit to one for the combined muzzleloader and gun seasons? Share your opinion by emailing Ed Godfrey at email@example.com