Apparently, the conventional thinking that “if it's brown, it's down” still prevails in Oklahoma.
On Monday, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission decided against the proposed deer hunting regulation that would have limited hunters to one buck during the combined gun and muzzleloader season.
Commissioners didn't vote on the proposal, but instead voted unanimously to withdraw it from consideration, perhaps to give them some cover when they face their constituents that supported it.
Commissioner John Zelbst of Lawton, chairman of the Wildlife Commission's rule committee, said afterward that the proposal is dead for this year. It could be reintroduced next year but, “I do not believe it will come up again for maybe two or three years,” Zelbst said.
The proposal to reduce the buck limit for gun hunters was very controversial and the majority of Oklahoma deer hunters didn't support it, he said. Based on the feedback that the Wildlife Department received, about 60 percent of the deer hunters were against it, he said.
“We want to look at it a little longer and see if we have good science,” Zelbst said.
Even though all eight wildlife commissioners voted unanimously to withdraw the proposal from consideration, Commissioner Dan Robbins of Altus expressed some disappointment. Robbins said 22 other states have laws that protect yearling bucks.
“We protect young fish with slot limits, but we do not offer that for our deer herd,” he said. “Why don't we do the same with the deer herd? It makes biological sense.”
Robbins admitted afterward having mixed feelings about the vote. Even though the majority of Oklahoma deer hunters did not specifically support the one buck limit, the majority of hunters did support some type of restrictions to improve the age structure of the state's deer herd, either through a buck limit, antler restrictions or requiring hunters to harvest a doe before they use their buck tag.
Of the 1,809 public comments received by the Wildlife Department, 744 people favored the one buck proposal, 702 were against it and 363 people were against it but supported and suggested other regulations for stricter management to improve the health of the state's deer herd and increase the number of older bucks.
“Everybody gets hung up on the trophy stuff,” Robbins said. “But it's about improving the health and age structure of the deer herd. Antler size is just a byproduct.”
But many Oklahoma hunters who don't kill two bucks in a season still want the opportunity to do so, said Alan Peoples, head of the wildlife division for the Wildlife Department. Most Oklahoma deer hunters don't get excited about shooting does, he said.
“I heard a lot about it (the buck limit proposal). Yesterday in church they were on me out in the lobby,” Peoples said. “It tugs at the heartstrings of a lot of deer hunters. It shows to us that people take their hunting and fishing very seriously. They are passionate about it.”
In other action, the Wildlife Commission did unanimously approve a rule that would prohibit the transfer of shad from any body of water in Oklahoma that has been identified as being infested with Asian carp.
Shad and tiny carp are similar in appearance and state wildlife officials are trying to prevent the spread of the Asian carp.
The original proposal would have made it illegal to transfer shad from any lake or river in Oklahoma to another public body of water, but was modified to only waters that are infested with Bighead or Silver carp. The Wildlife Department will list those bodies of infested waters in the Oklahoma Fishing Guide.
Oklahoma waters where Asian carp have been discovered are the Red River and its tributaries below Denison Dam downstream to the Arkansas state line; Grand Lake; The Spring and Neosho rivers from Grand Lake upstream to the Kansas state line; Hudson Lake and the Grand River and its tributaries upstream to Grand Lake.
Wildlife commissioners also passed a rule that hunters who take feral hogs on wildlife managements areas during deer or turkey seasons must use a method of harvest that is legal for those hunting seasons.
Also approved was a measure allowing hunters during the youth deer gun season to also shoot a turkey in those counties that are open to fall turkey hunting.
The proposal to lower the age limit for youth deer and turkey season was rejected.