NOVEMBER 2008 NEWS RELEASES 

 

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 26, 2008

 

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 20, 2008

 

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 13, 2008

Special Report: Deer Season '08

 

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 6, 2008

Conservation organizations partner with Wildlife Department on habitat projects
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s fisheries division increased its budget by $60,000 recently thanks to donations from Trout Unlimited and Tulsa Fly Fishers. The money will be used for angler access and habitat improvement projects to the Lower Illinois River Watts Area.
            “These donations will be used to improve our state’s angling opportunities, and as always, our thanks go out to Trout Unlimited, the Tulsa Fly Fishers and all the other angling groups that help improve fishing opportunities across the state,” said Barry Bolton, fisheries chief for the Wildlife Department.
            The donation, which includes $14,000 from Trout Unlimited and $1,000 from the Tulsa Fly Fishers, is being matched with $45,000 from Sport Fish Restoration Funds. Fishing equipment carries a special federal tax that is collected from the manufacturer. These taxes are then distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Sport Fish Restoration program.
            The wildlife division’s budget also increased by $10,000 after a donation of $2,500 from the Indian Territory Chapter of Quail Forever. The funds from the donation will be used with other donations from the National Wild Turkey Federation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to enhance quail habitat at the Spavinaw WMA. It will also be matched with funds from the Wildlife Restoration program, which operates in the same way as the Sport Fish Restoration program.
            The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission accepted the donations and voted to increase the budget at its November meeting.
            The Commission also heard a presentation from Finley & Cook, PLLC including the results of the Department’s fiscal year 2008 annual financial audit. The independent audit, which also reviewed federal grant programs, revealed no findings.
            Additionally, the Commission also accepted a donation of two bronze sculptures from the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc.
            In other business, the Commission recognized several Department employees for their years of service to the sportsmen of the state, among them Thor Carlson, district chief of law enforcement, for 30 years; James Edwards, game warden supervisor, for 30 years; Daryl Howser, game warden, for 30 years; Rick Olzawski, game warden, for 30 years; Gary Roller, game warden, for 30 years; Wade Free, regional wildlife supervisor, for 25 years; David Steele, game warden, for 25 years; and Russ Horton, wildlife research supervisor, for 20 years.
            The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
            The next scheduled Commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 1 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.
 
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Oklahoma Aquarium welcomes newborn otter; sharks and other attractions offer fun for all ages
            After weeks of speculation, a one-month-old North American river otter pup is taking its first public steps and swimming with its mother’s help at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks. The pup and the female and male pair are part of the Hayes Family Ozark Stream exhibit, which just opened this past March and is the Aquarium’s first exhibit to feature mammals.
            Biologists knew there was a possibility that the female otter was pregnant, but weren’t positive until recent weeks. On Sept. 26, biologists were on high alert, as the female exhibited behavior of going into labor and then remained in her den for an extended length of time.  Since otters can be very defensive, Aquarium staff cautiously peered into the den and verified an otter pup had been born. Recently, the mother otter started bringing the offspring out of the den.
            Other exciting news at the Aquarium includes an ongoing cooperative relationship with the Tulsa Zoo. The Aquarium is currently holding three of the Tulsa Zoo’s sharks, each weighing about 200 lbs., in its main tank while the Zoo evaluates a renovation project of its shark exhibit. The Aquarium’s main tank now houses 19 bull, lemon and Atlantic blacktip sharks, adding an additional attraction until the sharks are transported back to the Tulsa Zoo. The Aquarium’s Ray & Robin Siegfried Families Shark Adventure exhibit, which has a walk-through tunnel and dome, also allows you to see the largest bull sharks in captivity swimming alongside you and even right over your head.
            Guests may catch a glimpse of the otter or sharks with a  visit to the Aquarium, which houses over 200 exhibits consisting of both salt and freshwater fish.
            “People need to come out and see the Aquarium,” said Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “The exhibits are awesome, and they even have record fish on site, like the state record blue catfish that you can see up close. This really is a great partnership.”
            Over the last five years, the Oklahoma Aquarium has welcomed about two million visitors, and approximately 1/3 of its guests come from out of state. Additionally, the Aquarium has led to an estimated $100 million in tourism for Oklahoma and has educated more than 100,000 pre-K to graduate level students through organized field trips, internships and other structured programs.
            The Wildlife Department is proud to be a part of the Oklahoma Aquarium’s success. Along with maintaining an office branch at the Jenks-based Aquarium, the Department gets involved by holding aquatic education clinics at the site. Additionally, the Hayes Family Ozark Streams exhibit at the Aquarium was partially funded through the Oklahoma Sport Fish Restoration Program.
            Visitors to the Oklahoma Aquarium can learn about the biodiversity and adaptation of many different species. Learning is only half the fun, though, as the Oklahoma Aquarium holds within it some very special visual opportunities.
            Other exhibits include the Karl and Beverly White Fishing and Tackle Museum, which showcases antique tackle and fishing gear; the Fishes of Oklahoma exhibit, offering the opportunity to see a state record blue catfish, seven-foot-long gars; and an alligator snapping turtle that is more than 120 years old.
             Visitors to the Oklahoma Aquarium who present a current Oklahoma hunting or fishing license upon arrival receive $2 off admission.
            For additional information about the Oklahoma Aquarium and how you can plan your visit, log on to okaquarium.org or call (918) 296-3474.
 
 

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Deadline approaches for youth waterfowl hunt drawing
            Youth who do not have an adult mentor who waterfowl hunts have a unique opportunity to experience the traditions of duck hunting this year thanks to an upcoming drawing held by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            This fall, youth ages 12-15 who apply by Nov. 15 can be part of one of several Department-guided hunts taking place across the state.
            “These hunts provide a way to take youth hunting who otherwise might not get much of a chance to do so, and in turn we are giving them a lifetime respect and appreciation for wildlife and the traditions of hunting,” said Mike O’Meilia, research program supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “Instilling an interesting in conservation through hunting is one of the best ways to ensure the next generation does their part in conserving our outdoor resources.”
            Other than meeting the age requirements, applicants must have proof of successfully completing a certified hunter education course and have an adult guardian who can accompany them on the hunt.
            A Wildlife Department employee will accompany each youth and their adult guardian for the controlled waterfowl hunt at one of several Department-managed areas. Only the youth hunter will be allowed to hunt.
            To be eligible for the drawing, each youth applicant and their guardian must submit the following information on a 3x5 postcard: names, addresses, telephone numbers, youth’s hunter education number and the name of the desired hunt location and two alternate hunt locations where they would like to hunt. The scheduled date of the hunt will be coordinated with successful applicants after the drawing.
            Hunt locations include Altus-Lugert Lake, Ft. Gibson Refuge, Ft. Cobb Lake Refuge, Hackberry Flat Refuge, Okmulgee Public Hunting Area, Vann’s Lake, Webbers Falls Refuge, Wagoner Co. and Wister Lake Refuge.
            Applications must be received by November 15, 2008, and should be mailed to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Youth Waterfowl Hunts, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152. Successful applicants will be notified. Applicants may only apply once.
            The Wildlife Department will provide successful applicants the necessary nontoxic shotgun shells, and a 20 gauge single shot shotgun will be available for use if the youth does not have his or her own shotgun. For more information, contact Jeff Neal, Wildlife Department migratory game bird technician at (405) 424-0122.
 
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Young outdoor writers to share their heritage and win trip of a lifetime
            Every year, young people across Oklahoma share their outdoor heritage by competing in a youth outdoor writing contest for a chance at a trip of a lifetime.
            According to Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Wildlife Department, the essay contest is an ideal way for youth to show their love for the outdoors and, in the process, possibly win a vacation in the great outdoors. There are two age categories (11-14 and 15-17), and one girl and one boy winner are chosen from each one.
            To participate, students must be 11-17 years of age and currently enrolled in any Oklahoma school or home school. Winners of the 2007 contest are not eligible. Applicants must have successfully completed an Oklahoma Hunter Education course by the entry deadline, which is Nov. 19, 2008. Students also must use the theme of “Hunting: Sharing the Heritage” or “Archery: What I like about Archery in the Schools and Bowhunting” or the concept of the theme to develop a descriptive essay or short story.
            Winners in the 15-17 age category (one boy and one girl) will receive a guided antelope hunt in New Mexico, and winners in the 11-14 age category are competing for a scholarship within the Apprentice Hunter Program at the YO Ranch in Mountain Home, Texas. Safari Club International’s Apprentice Hunter Program is a unique, hands-on course designed for girls and boys aged 11-14. The program covers topics such as the history of hunting, the ethical basis of modern sport hunting, wildlife management, field identification, tracking and interpreting sign, game cooking and the SCI Sportsmen Against Hunger Program. There are three sessions — each one week long — during the summer of 2009.
            The four statewide winners and their legal guardians will be invited to Oklahoma City to attend an awards ceremony in March. In addition, the top 25 essay entrants will receive a one-year youth membership to Safari Club International. The winning student essays will be published in the OSCSCI newsletter, “Safari Trails.” Publication qualifies the winning entries for the National Youth Writing Contest sponsored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Several past national winners have come from Oklahoma.
             One educator also will be awarded an all-expenses-paid scholarship for an eight-day conservation education school at Safari Club International’s American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS) at Granite Ranch near Jackson, Wyoming, according to Berg.
            The AWLS program is conducted during the summer and presents an outdoor program for educators that concentrates on natural resource management. Participants learn about stream ecology, map and compass usage, fly tying, shooting sports, wildlife management, the Yellowstone ecosystem, camping, white-water rafting, educational resources, how to implement outdoor education ideas and language arts and creative writing in an outdoor setting.
            Both the essay contest rules and teacher scholarship applications are available from the Department's Web site at wildlifedepartment.com
            Essays and applications must be postmarked no later than Nov. 19, or delivered by Nov. 19 in person to the Department of Wildlife’s Jenks Office at 201 Aquarium Drive, Jenks. Address entries to: Essay Contest, Attn: Education Section Supervisor, ODWC Jenks Office, P.O. Box 1201, Jenks, OK 74037.
 
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Deer gun season opens Nov. 22
            With several exceptional bucks already harvested this year by archery and muzzleloader hunters, the Nov. 22 opener of deer gun season looks promising as thousands of men, women and children will head to the woods and fields for the biggest hunting day of the year.
            Two years ago, deer gun hunters made state history with a record gun season harvest of 72,263 deer. That total contributed to a combined season harvest record of 119,349 deer, over 18,000 more deer than in 2005, and more than 17,000 more deer than the previous combined season harvest record set in 2000. Last year, the total harvest was down slightly, but two state records were taken during the gun season.
            Hunters participating in the 16-day deer gun season will have from Nov. 22 through Dec. 7 to harvest up to one antlered and two antlerless deer. If a hunter harvests two antlerless deer, at least one must be taken in antlerless zone 2. A map of antlerless deer zones as well as dates open to antlerless deer hunting are available on page 21 of the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” available anywhere hunting licenses are sold, or on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Resident deer gun hunters must have a hunting license and a fishing and hunting legacy permit or proof of exemption to hunt deer in Oklahoma. In addition, they must possess a deer gun license (antlered or antlerless) or proof of exemption for each deer hunted.
            Resident youth hunters age 16 or 17 years old must purchase a hunting license and a deer gun license for each deer hunted, unless exempt. Resident youth under 16 years of age are exempt from the purchase of a hunting license and fishing and hunting legacy permit, but they must purchase a deer gun license for each deer hunted. Unless exempt, all hunters under 18 years of age must possess a valid deer gun license, but they have the option of purchasing a $10 youth deer gun license (antlered or antlerless) rather than the $20 deer gun license.
            “Resident youth can use unfilled youth deer gun season licenses to hunt deer during the regular deer gun season,” said Jerry Shaw, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            Additionally, those youth who did harvest a deer during the youth deer gun season can still hunt during the regular deer gun season as long as they can stay within their legal annual combined limit of six deer, of which only two may be antlered.
            Nonresident deer hunters are exempt from a hunting license, but they must possess a nonresident deer gun license (antlered, antlerless or combination) for each deer hunted and a fishing and hunting legacy permit, or proof of exemption. Holders of nonresident lifetime hunting and lifetime combination licenses are not exempt from purchasing deer licenses.
            Those ages 10-35 who have not completed a hunter education course can purchase an apprentice-designated hunting license and go deer hunting with an accompanying adult who is a licensed hunter age 21 or older and who possesses a certificate of hunter education. Persons 21 years old or older who are exempt from either hunter education or hunting license requirements may also accompany an apprentice hunter. Youths age 9 and under must successfully complete a hunter education course to hunt deer in Oklahoma.
            Upon successfully harvesting a deer, annual license holders must complete the Record of Game section of the universal license, and all license holders, including lifetime license holders, must immediately attach their name and license number to the carcass. What the hunter attaches can be anything, as long as it contains the hunter's name and hunting license number and remains securely attached to the animal until it is checked at a hunter check station or with an authorized Wildlife Department employee. All successful hunters must check their deer at the nearest hunter check station. A county-by-county listing of hunter check stations is provided in this year's Hunting Guide, and the most up-to-date check station listing is available at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department, reminds deer gun hunters to put safety first while deer hunting.
            “Remember to apply what you’ve learned in your hunter safety course, and you should have a safe, rewarding hunting season,” Meek said. “Remember to wear the appropriate amount of hunter orange clothing, secure your treestands properly and know your target and what lies beyond your target in all situations.”
            All deer gun hunters must conspicuously wear both a head covering and an outer garment above the waistline consisting of daylight fluorescent orange color totaling at least 400 square inches. Camo-fluorescent orange is legal as long as the total orange meets or exceeds the required 400 square inches.
            “One final safety tip for deer gun hunters, or any deer hunters for that matter, is to wear a safety harness while hunting from a treestand,” Meek said.
            Safety harnesses are available at sporting goods dealers that sell hunting equipment.
            Hunting hours during deer gun season are one-half hour before official sunrise to one-half hour after official sunset.
            For additional regulations, antlerless zones, check station locations, season dates and a wealth of other information, be sure to pick up a copy of the “2008-09 Oklahoma Hunting Guide" available at all license dealer locations, or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Lower Illinois River trout stockings resume with cooler water temps
            Trout stockings that had been temporarily suspended in the lower Illinois River due to warm water temperatures will resume Nov 19.
            According to Jim Burroughs, east central region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department, it was heavy spring rains and a period of extreme heating that combined to create the unusually warm water in Tenkiller Reservoir.
            Wildlife Department officials had hoped to resume stockings by the end of October, but water temperatures remained at critical levels for trout, temporarily preventing further stocking at that time.
            “This has been a very unusual year,” Burroughs said. “Temperatures needed to be 65 degrees or lower in the tailrace during power generation before regular stockings could resume. Temperatures have now reached this threshold level.”
            Anglers won’t miss out on any of the fish that did not get stocked during the suspension, however, as officials with the Department say the same number of fish will eventually be stocked through additional or larger stockings.
            The Lower Illinois River is one of the only two year-round trout fisheries in the state and is managed by the Wildlife Department.
            Oklahoma trout fishing can be enjoyed by all ages and skill levels any time of the year. More information on Oklahoma’s trout areas and seasons as well as trout angling tips and license requirements are detailed on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Watch for bald eagles in the winter sky
            Look up to the skies this winter to spot the seven-foot wingspan of a soaring bald eagle at an eagle watch near you. Seventeen locations all across the state offer more than 50 chances to see the nation’s emblem in the wild.
            As lakes in the northern U.S. and Midwest freeze, eagles migrate south to find open water and food.  Oklahoma has more miles of shoreline than the east and west coasts combined.  The amount of water in Oklahoma makes it one of the top 10 states in the nation for winter eagle viewing.
            “Oklahoma has over 100 bald eagles that live here year-round, including 49 known breeding pairs,” said Lesley McNeff, wildlife diversity information specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.  “During the winter, Oklahoma is host to anywhere from 700 to 1,500 eagles statewide.  The numbers peak in January and February, with the highest concentration of birds located at lakes.  Popular viewing sites include Kaw, Texoma, Tenkiller, Ft. Gibson, Grand, Canton, Great Salt Plains and Tishomingo.”
            McNeff said that between 1985 and 1990, the Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program began an initiative to restore breeding eagle populations in Oklahoma, and the George M. Sutton Avian Research Center assisted with the release of 90 eaglets in eastern Oklahoma, including 59 birds in 1990 alone.
            Biologists transported eggs from Florida bald eagle nests to the Sutton Center in Bartlesville. About nine weeks after hatching, the young eagles were placed in hacking towers and eventually released into the wild with the hopes that they would return as adults and raise their young in the state.
            Since those efforts, bald eagle populations in Oklahoma increase each year. While no pairs of nesting eagles existed in the state in 1990, Oklahoma currently has 49 nesting pairs.
            Eagle watches are hosted by state parks, lake management offices, national wildlife refuges and local Audubon Societies. Event activities will vary. Most events are free.  The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation annually compiles a list of events to help Oklahomans discover where to view this majestic bird. For more information or to view the list, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Conservation organization supports wildlife, sportsmen
            Wildlife and sportsmen in central Oklahoma and across the state will benefit from the generosity and effort of one Oklahoma-based conservation organization.
            The Oklahoma Wildlife Federation recently donated seed to plant a six-acre food plot at the Lexington Wildlife Management Area in central Oklahoma.
            The Lexington Wildlife Management Area is comprised of 9,512 acres located off Highway 77 five miles south and six miles east of Noble in Cleveland Co. Post oak-blackjack, also called crosstimbers habitat, and native grasses overlay Lexington WMA. Many common game and nongame species are found on this central Oklahoma area.
            “We appreciate this donation and all the other support received from the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation,” said Richard Hatcher, assistant director of operations for the Wildlife Department.
            The Oklahoma Wildlife Federation’s outreach and education efforts include several other programs, such as the following:
 
* Providing fish tanks and setup items to schools to share the importance of conserving public water sheds and native game fish.
* Providing schools with bird houses, feeders and seed to encourage the use of outdoor classrooms for educating students on the importance of conserving habitat.
* Providing schools and assisted living centers with materials needed to build butterfly gardens to educate future generation on the importance of habitat maintenance and restoration.
* Providing free fishing tackle and seminars to participants at youth fishing activities.
 
            The Oklahoma Wildlife Federation was also an important partner in the purchase of the Wildlife Department’s Lower Illinois River Watts WMA and also the Drummond Flats WMA.
            Since its incorporation in the 1950s, the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation has served as a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan association of individuals concerned with outdoor recreation, conservation, and environment. For more information, log on to www.okwildlife.org


 
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Rut activity picking up; hunters in luck for gun opener
            Deer rifle season kicks off Nov. 22, and reports from across the state indicate the rut is on and that its timing is just right to provide an exciting opening weekend for hunters.
             The whitetail deer breeding season, or rut, is a biological process that typically occurs around the second week of November. Deer activity during the rut picks up but can be influenced by a host of factors such as temperatures, moon phase and herd condition.
            “The rut seems to be in full swing, and weather permitting, opening weekend of gun season should be a good one,” said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            Hemphill said the first half of archery season, muzzleloader and youth deer season resulted in an increased harvest in the popular hunting destination of southeast Oklahoma.
            Hemphill said southeast Oklahoma hunters may find fewer acorns this year and that they should focus their hunting near persimmons or other food sources instead.
            In the southwest, check station data showed harvest numbers are up this year so far as well. Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said the rut has been going strong and might be a little past its peak during rifle season, but still ongoing. Smith said the southwest region has been very dry in places and that hunters may benefit from a pre-season visit to their hunting areas to see if their hot spots look the same as usual or if a change in opening morning plans is in order.
            Rut activity seems to be just heating up in the northwest, according to Wade Free, northwest region wildlife supervisor for the Department.
            “Lots of recent scrapes, fresh rubs and chasing does just got underway this past weekend,” Free said earlier this week.
            Free said areas that had family groups of does and fawns feeding on wheat in the evenings are now reduced in number and that more fawn pairs are being spotted alone, indicating that adult does are being chased hard by bucks. On the downside, mild temperatures and a recent full moon have kept deer mostly active during the night. Free said it should only get better.
            Free predicts the region is on schedule for a great opening weekend.
            Free reported an unusually high number of spikes and small-antlered bucks in the northwest region, which could be a result of severe drought conditions during the spring and summer of 2007.
            “Hunters should pay close attention when harvesting does so they don’t mistakenly shoot a small-antlered or spike buck,” Free said.
            Hunters in the northeast should hope for weather to put deer on the move, according the Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department. He also said reports from the field show that buck activity has increased since muzzleloader season.
            Though reports that acorns are not plentiful may frustrate hunters, Endicott said some oak species had fair acorn crops in the region and that persimmons are plentiful. Other WMA biologists in the northeast region of the state have reported significant deer activity at night. They also predict the rut may winding down by the start of deer gun season, but that rutting activity will still be taking place early in the season. Additionally, biologists in the northeast have received reports that deer are heavily using food plots and natural browse.
            Deer gun season runs Nov. 22 through Dec. 7. For more information about license requirements, regulations and antlerless deer hunting requirements, consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Deer gun season brings families together
            Deer gun season is one of Oklahoma’s traditional pastimes with a history that reaches back to 1933 when the first season was held. Every year thousands of Oklahomans from all walks of life take to the fields and to the forests, not just in pursuit of game, but also to enjoy the entire outdoor experience.
            “Hunting is a way of life for many Oklahomans and the opening day of deer gun season is like the Super Bowl, the State Fair and Christmas all rolled up into one,” said Nels Rodefeld, chief of information and education for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “For many families, it is the one time of year they all take off work and spend time together. Hunting is something that is passed down from one generation to the other and it is a great way to make memories that will last a lifetime.”
            But hunting is much more than just a way to connect with family, friends and the outdoors. Oklahoma’s record of restoring deer populations and other species of fish and wildlife and protecting natural habitat can be largely credited to the millions of dollars generated by the state’s sportsmen and women.
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is the state agency responsible for managing fish and wildlife. The Wildlife Department receives no general state tax dollars and is supported by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. In the early part of the last century, when deer populations were down to just a few hundred animals, hunters and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation took up the call to once again have healthy deer populations across the state. Part of this conservation effort began with the historic deer trap and transplant projects in the mid-1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, Oklahoma can boast having deer in every county and a whitetail population of nearly 500,000 animals.
            For each hunting gear purchase, a portion of the money is returned to state fish and wildlife agencies for conservation efforts. Through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, passed in 1937 at the request of the hunting and shooting sports industries, special excise taxes on hunting gear have contributed billions of dollars for wildlife conservation.
            For more information about Oklahoma's deer season, consult the “2008-09 Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” or log onto wildlifedepartment.com.
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Oklahoma deer hunters play important economic role
            Many Oklahomans may view the sport of deer hunting as simply a pastime, but hunting actually plays a significant role in the state’s economy as well, sustaining jobs, drawing in-state as well as out-of-state business and flooding the economy with millions of dollars each year.
            The number of people who hunt in Oklahoma could fill Owen Field and Boone Pickens stadium almost two times, and deer hunters make a large portion of those hunters.
            “The role deer hunters play in the state simply by participating in the outdoors is far-reaching, and truth be told, Oklahoma’s economy would not be the same without this life-enriching tradition,” said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            Original expenditures made by hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers generate rounds of additional spending throughout the economy. The total economic effect of deer hunting activity in Oklahoma during 2006 was estimated at $499,510,340, and the total economic effect from 2006 hunting activity in Oklahoma in general was estimated to be $843 million.
            If not for the jobs supported by fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing, Oklahoma’s ranks of unemployed would be 40 percent higher according the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Related Recreation).
            Expenditures made for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching activities support jobs throughout the state. Many of these are in companies that directly serve recreationists such as retailers, restaurants, and more. Others are in companies that support the first companies and employees such as wholesalers, utilities, manufacturers, grocers and more. Total jobs, full and part time, supported in Oklahoma in 2006 from deer hunting-related activities was estimated at 5,662.
            Given that outdoor recreation dollars are often spent in rural or lightly populated areas, the economic contributions of fish and wildlife resources can be especially important to rural economies.
            “Deer season draws hunters to Oklahoma from across the country as well as thousands of our own sportsmen, and these hunters purchase gear — some of which is made right here in Oklahoma — and they stay in small-town hotels and spend money at local grocery stores, restaurants, and other venders,” Streich said. “Hunting is big business in Oklahoma and an important part of the fabric of our economy, which if relatively healthy compared to other parts of the country. During hard economic times, that says a lot. And not only that, it draws families and friends closer together for a pastime that people of all ages and walks of life can enjoy.”
            
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Share the heritage through apprentice-designated hunting license
            Experienced deer hunters have a great opportunity to share the hunting heritage by inviting a rookie hunter to go hunting with them using an apprentice-designated hunting license.
            The apprentice-designated hunting license enables individuals age 10-35 who have not completed a hunter education course to hunt, but they must purchase the appropriate licenses, and they must be accompanied by a licensed hunter 21 years old or older who possesses a certificate of hunter education or who is exempt from the hunter education requirements.
            “The apprentice-designated license makes it even easier to invite someone to go hunting with you,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “It paves the way for sportsmen looking to mentor a youth or introduce a family member, friend or co-worker to the outdoors even if they haven’t completed the course and don’t have time to before the season opens. It also gives parents an opportunity to teach their kids how to hunt firsthand.”
            When hunting big game, an accompanying hunter must remain within arm’s length of the apprentice hunter or close enough to be able to immediately take control of the firearm or archery equipment of the apprentice.
            Youth age nine or younger who hunt big game (deer, antelope or elk) are required to have hunter education.
            Hunters 36 years of age and older are exempt from hunter education requirements in Oklahoma. Others exempt include those honorably discharged from or currently on active duty in the United States Armed Forces or members of the National Guard.
            “The Wildlife Department has worked hard to provide more and better hunting opportunities,” Meek said. “Taking a hunter education course is still the best way to get the most opportunity from your hunting season. The class teaches you to hunt safely and allows you the most freedom when going afield.”
            About 15,000 students enroll in hunter education courses each year. The course covers hunter responsibility, firearms safety, wildlife identification, wildlife management, survival, archery, muzzleloading and more.
            Hunting licenses can be purchased at more than 800 outlets across the state, including Wal-Marts, sporting goods stores, tackle shops or online at wildlifedepartment.com. For more information about hunting licenses and hunting in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
            The apprentice-designated hunting license may be used for small game hunting as well. For more information, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
How to hunt deer with an apprentice-designated license
If you are a resident of Oklahoma, age 10-36, and have not completed a hunter education course but want to hunt during the deer gun season:
* Log on to wildlifedepartment.com or go to the nearest hunting license vendor and purchase an apprentice-designated hunting license and the appropriate apprentice-designated deer license (buck and/or doe).
* Go hunting with a mentor age 21 or older who possesses a certificate of hunter education or who is otherwise exempt from hunter education. Be sure to consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for season dates, harvest limits and regulations.
* Be sure to stay within arm’s reach of your mentor, and enjoy hunting this season.
* As soon as possible, attend a hunter education course. Course schedules are available online at wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Hunters can share harvest with less fortunate Oklahomans
            One of the many benefits of hunting is the satisfaction of providing meat for friends and family to eat, whether at camp, holiday gatherings or family meals around the table, but hunters can also share their harvest with those less fortunate.
            Each year Oklahoma hunters donate thousands of pounds of venison to the Hunters Against Hunger program.
            Hunters Against Hunger is a program in which hunters who legally harvest a deer during any deer season can donate the meat to feed hungry Oklahomans.
            During the 2007-08 season, hunters donated over 30,000 pounds of venison, which provided thousands of meals to hungry Oklahomans.
            To donate, hunters should deliver their deer to the nearest participating meat processor after checking their deer at a hunter check station. A list of participating meat processors is available starting on page 32 of the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide.”
            To help with processing charges, each donor is requested to contribute a tax-deductible $10 to assist processors with the program. The ground venison will then be distributed to the needy through a network of qualified, charitable organizations.
            Hunters Against Hunger is partially made possible through generous contributions from NatureWorks, a Tulsa-based wildlife artists organization dedicated to funding wildlife restoration projects, and from the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International, an organization dedicated to protecting the freedom to hunt, educating people on the value of hunting as a management tool, conserving wildlife and assisting in humanitarian services such as the Hunters Against Hunger program.
 
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Pheasant season opens December 1
            With deer, quail, and several small game seasons in full swing across Oklahoma, sportsmen may wonder if it could get any better — it can. Dec. 1 brings with it yet another hunting opportunity — pheasant season.
            “From our surveys and reports from the field it looks like this pheasant season will be similar to last year’s season, and that is good news for hunters because many of them experienced a very memorable season,” said Doug Schoeling, upland game bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            According to Schoeling, there are two main factors that determine how many pheasants will be available for hunters to pursue this season — how many adult birds survive the winter and how many young birds survive in the spring and early summer.
            The Wildlife Department keeps tabs on these two critical factors through two different surveys.
            First, biologists conduct the annual Crow Count Survey, which provides an idea of how many adult birds survived through the winter. In late April and early May, biologists drive county roads and listen for crowing pheasants. These 20-mile surveys are conducted in Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Texas, Woods, and Woodward counties.
            In the Panhandle the crow counts were up 19 percent and in the other ten counties the crow counts were up 25 percent.
            “The Crow Count Surveys reflect the fact that a strong proportion of cock pheasants survived through the ice and snow of the winter months and were looking for mates this spring,” Schoeling said. “But this is just the first piece of the puzzle. To have a great pheasant season we also need to see strong reproductive success and that is why we conduct the Annual Brood Survey.”
            The Brood Survey conducted in late August helps biologist determine how many pheasants were produced during the nesting season. Observers count the number of pheasants observed and classify the size of young birds to provide an index of pheasant abundance (number seen per 20 mile route) and reproductive success.
            The brood survey is conducted in the same counties as the Crow Count Survey. The survey showed a 64 percent decrease from last year in the number of young pheasants in the Panhandle and 49 percent decrease in the other 10 northwest and northcentral counties. According to Schoeling, the decline can likely be attributed to the weather conditions during the spring and early summer, particularly in the panhandle, because of the low amounts of rainfall early in the nesting season.
            According to Wade Free, northwest region wildlife supervisor, Panhandle pheasant hunters can still look forward to another good season.
            “The pheasant population has been very strong in the Panhandle the past couple of years and with good carryover from last year, hunters can expect another good year,” Free said. “While it may not be as good as the last two years it could still be one of the better seasons we have had over the last ten years.”
            Pheasant hunters in the rest of the state also have plenty to look forward to according to Free.
            “Hunters in the northwest and northcentral counties can expect pockets of good pheasant populations, but they may notice a decline in overall numbers due to the low nesting success,” Free said.
            According to Schoeling, there is only one way for pheasant hunters to really learn about pheasant populations in their area.
            “While we work hard at these surveys each year, the best way for hunters to find out if there are pheasants is to get out there after them,” said Schoeling. “The great thing about pheasant hunting is that it is a sport you can enjoy with friends and family – in fact the more the merrier.”
            To see figures from the 2008 Crow Count and Brood surveys, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
            Pheasant season in Oklahoma runs Dec. 1 through Jan. 31 (only in open areas) and offers hunters a chance at a popular gamebird that, though not native to Oklahoma, thrives in northern portions of the state. The ringneck pheasant was first introduced into Oklahoma in 1911, and the colorful birds prefer cultivated farmland habitat mixed with weedy fencerows and overgrown pastures common across northcentral Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
            Hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for open counties and wildlife management areas. The daily bag limit for pheasants is two cocks, with a possession limit of four after the first day and six after the second day. Evidence of sex (head or one foot) must remain on the bird until it reaches its final destination. When the deer gun and the holiday antlerless deer seasons (in open zones) overlap with pheasant season, all pheasant hunters must wear either a hunter orange cap or vest.
            Before going afield, be sure to pick up a copy of the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” available at all hunting and fishing license dealers or log onto wildlifedepartment.com. Resident and non-resident hunters must possess a valid hunting license and a fishing and hunting legacy permit or proof of exemption. Beginning this season, the non-resident five-day hunting license is valid for hunting pheasant.
 
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Cottonwood Creek Wetland Units at Keystone WMA to honor Bob Hawkins
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, along with Ducks Unlimited, recently dedicated the Cottonwood Creek Wetland Units on Keystone Wildlife Management Area in memory of Robert J. “Bob” Hawkins.
            Hawkins was a long-time supporter of conservation, and funds raised in his honor are being used to restore the popular Cottonwood Creek Wetland Units.
            “Hawkins was an enthusiastic supporter of projects like these,” said Greg Duffy, director of the Wildlife Department. “His hard work and dedication to conservation has left a legacy for generations of hunters and conservationists.”
            Funding for the project was provided by the Wildlife Department, Ducks Unlimited, the Harold C. Stuart Foundation, and NatureWorks, Inc., of which Hawkins was a founding member.
            The Cottonwood Creek Wetland Development Unit is located on the Keystone Wildlife Management Area. Totaling 275 acres, this unique wetland is nestled at the confluence of the Cimarron River and Cottonwood Creek and was originally completed in 1991. Wildlife Department employees have begun an ambitious restoration project with the help of many different partners, including Ducks Unlimited and NatureWorks in recognition of Robert Hawkins.
            The project reflects the Wildlife Department’s philosophy of maintaining and improving existing wetlands. Biologists from both the Wildlife Department and Ducks Unlimited agree that this approach gives sportsmen the most bang for their buck.
            Like many wetland development units, Cottonwood Creek is managed as a moist soil unit and is seasonally flooded or drained to encourage annual native plants. These plants provide important food sources such as seeds, tubers and browse. Additionally, these soil, plant and water conditions serve to provide critical habitat to attract other equally important waterfowl foods such as aquatic invertebrates. Depending on the year and weather conditions, some units or portions may be dry or disked to maintain and improve habitat conditions. After all, wetlands are not always wet.
            The first phase of the Cottonwood Creek restoration is the replacement of the water control structures in many of the units.
            The timing of water can make a huge difference in the quantity and quality of the food sources available for ducks. When the water control structures are broken, leaking or inaccessible, it could very likely mean less food for waterfowl and less ducks for hunters. The new water control structures will allow managers to more precisely move water into and out of the units. The second phase of the restoration will be the construction of a permanent pumping station with a 21-inch pipe near the Cimarron River. This should allow managers to flood some of the units just in time for future hunting seasons.
            Bob Hawkins was represented at the dedication by his widow, Jacque Hawkins-Noble, as well as his son, daughter, granddaughter and sister.
            Hawkins-Noble said Bob’s focus in his later years was the Greenwing program for youth.
            “He believed that passing the love of conservation and waterfowling to the next generation was his duty,” Hawkins-Noble said.
            For more information about wetland units or waterfowl hunting in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Watch for bald eagles in the winter sky
            Look up to the skies this winter to spot the seven-foot wingspan of a soaring bald eagle at an eagle watch near you. Seventeen locations all across the state offer more than 50 chances to see the nation’s emblem in the wild.
            As lakes in the northern U.S. and Midwest freeze, eagles migrate south to find open water and food.  Oklahoma has more miles of shoreline than the east and west coasts combined.  The amount of water in Oklahoma makes it one of the top 10 states in the nation for winter eagle viewing.
            “Oklahoma has over 100 bald eagles that live here year-round, including 49 known breeding pairs,” said Lesley McNeff, wildlife diversity information specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.  “During the winter, Oklahoma is host to anywhere from 700 to 1,500 eagles statewide.  The numbers peak in January and February, with the highest concentration of birds located at lakes.  Popular viewing sites include Kaw, Texoma, Tenkiller, Ft. Gibson, Grand, Canton, Great Salt Plains and Tishomingo.”
            McNeff said that between 1985 and 1990, the Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program began an initiative to restore breeding eagle populations in Oklahoma, and the George M. Sutton Avian Research Center assisted with the release of 90 eaglets in eastern Oklahoma, including 59 birds in 1990 alone.
            Biologists transported eggs from Florida bald eagle nests to the Sutton Center in Bartlesville. About nine weeks after hatching, the young eagles were placed in hacking towers and eventually released into the wild with the hopes that they would return as adults and raise their young in the state.
            Since those efforts, bald eagle populations in Oklahoma increase each year. While no pairs of nesting eagles existed in the state in 1990, Oklahoma currently has 49 nesting pairs.
            Eagle watches are hosted by state parks, lake management offices, national wildlife refuges and local Audubon Societies. Event activities will vary. Most events are free.  The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation annually compiles a list of events to help Oklahomans discover where to view this majestic bird. For more information or to view the list, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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