Proposed legislation that would make it illegal for deer hunters to shoot a buck that had less than six points on either side was incorrectly written, the legislative assistant for state Rep. Colby Schwartz said Tuesday.
The bill, authored by Schwartz, has angered many deer hunters who have flooded the Yukon Republican’s office with phone calls and emails.
“They are upset,” said Caitlin Harwell, Schwartz’s legislative assistant. “My email is a little out of control…
“We are by no means trying to take away the sport of hunting and keep people from hunting in any way.”
The bill was never meant to be written the way it reads, Harwell said of House Bill 2978, which has been assigned to the House agriculture and wildlife committee.
It was intended to be written to read that adult Oklahoma deer hunters could not shoot any buck whose antlers had less than a total of six points, she said.
“Our staff lawyers are not avid deer hunters,” she said. “It was never meant to be written as a 6-point on each side.”
Harwell said she has asked the staff to substitute the language in the bill to correct it, but even then Rep. Schwartz isn’t planning to request that the bill be heard by the committee.
“We did it to start a conversation about deer management,” she said. “It has done that.”
Harwell said both she and Rep. Schwartz are deer hunters, but the proposed legislation is the result of concerns by their constituents who believe too many young bucks are being killed by Oklahoma hunters.
Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said an antler point restriction would not be an effective way to manage for mature deer.
“In a healthy deer herd, a year and a half old buck will at least have eight points,” he said. “Why would you target the age class you are trying to save? At least in Oklahoma, it would be biologically unsound to manage with an antler point restriction.”
Harwell said both she and Rep. Schwartz realize that counting antler points is not the best way to identify the age of a deer, or that a point restriction system for hunters is the best management tool.
“We filed the bill so the Department of Wildlife would come over here and have a discussion about what is being done to cultivate a more mature buck population,” Harwell said.
“At this point we are not even sure if (the bill) will be heard in committee. We just wanted to start the conversation.”
Peoples said the Wildlife Department does assist landowners who want to manage their property for bigger deer. But many deer hunters in Oklahoma are more interested in opportunities than trophies, he said.
“For a certain segment of our constituents, they are not after a trophy, they just want to a shoot a deer and be back home watching a football game by noon,” he said.
The Wildlife Department does encourage Oklahoma hunters to pass on young bucks to let them grow into maturity. Peoples said the department would like to get hunters to practice sound deer management through education rather than regulation.
Oklahoma currently is ranked No. 5 in the nation for quality deer hunting by the Quality Deer Management Association, Peoples said.
“We might be doing something right,” he said.
However, Peoples would not rule out future regulations it they would improve Oklahoma’s deer hunting.
“We are continually looking at ways to improve,” he said. “We’ve got some commissioners focused on the quality deer movement.”