The 2016 deer gun hunting season will open a half-hour before official sunrise this Saturday, Nov. 19. Based on field reports from each region of the state, bucks are actively moving and the rutting period is under way.
Rutting activity was heavy or increasing in most areas. Bucks have been seen chasing and tending does, and observers have noted more daytime movement.
Erik Bartholomew, big-game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the weather forecast seems to be cooperating for deer gun hunters this year.
"The modern gun opener looks to be a good one this year. With temperatures falling behind a major cold front moving through the state, the deer will certainly be moving this weekend, giving hunters a better opportunity than they have had in the past couple of gun season openers."
Deer gun season will be open until Dec. 4 statewide.
"My advice this weekend is to skip the football games, grab your rifle and hunter orange and find somewhere to sit for a couple of days. This weekend should be good with the first real cold weather we've seen all season."
So far, the number of harvested deer reported to the online E-Check systemis lower than last year's total at this time. As of midweek, about 31,300 deer had been reported harvested so far for youth deer gun season, muzzleloader season and the ongoing archery season. This is about 8.5 percent below last year's total at this time.
"Youth deer gun season saw temperatures in the 90s statewide with wind gusts of 25 to 30 mph. Not real great deer hunting weather. And it showed, as harvest was down 32 percent compared to youth season last year," Bartholomew said. "It has simply been hot."
To help hunters plan their opening-day outing in the deer woods, here are up-to-date regional rut reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.
By Joe Hemphill, Wildlife Division regional supervisor
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: The rut is in full swing in the Southeast.
HABITAT CONDITIONS:Another excellent mast crop, lots of acorns of all kinds. Just had our first big frost Saturday, so vegetation is still green and thick.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: They are seeing lots of buck activity.
PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Ouachita WMA-Le Flore Unit; Three Rivers WMA; Honobia Creek WMA.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: The ground is very dry in the Southeast, and drought conditions are extreme. Hunters are cautioned to be extra careful when using fire for anything this weekend. Get in the woods early, sit down and be still.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Hunters seem to want to move around too much. Stay put and let other hunters move the deer.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS:
Cold and dry conditions with lots of hunters on opening day. Scout early and stay put.
By Rex Umber, senior biologist
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: Deer have been actively rutting since late October.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: The region had a wet early summer, which created an abundance of natural foods. Where oaks are present, acorns are abundant. The southern one-third of the region was very wet in early summer but exceptionally dry in mid- to late summer. Cover in the southern counties is not as thick as in the northern two-thirds of the region.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: Warm weather has kept daytime deer activity to a minimum, but activity has picked up with cooler temperatures and rutting behavior. Buck rutting activity has continued to increase through mid-November. Some hunters are seeing a few does that aren't being chased by bucks. Does and fawns do not need to move much for food due to abundant acorns.
PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Kaw WMA usually produces the highest deer harvest in the region. Other WMAs that offer good opportunity in north-central areas are Keystone, Skiatook, Heyburn, and the public hunting area portion of Okmulgee. In the south-central area, WMAs around Lake Texoma that provide opportunity include Washita Arm, Hickory Creek, Fobb Bottom and Love Valley. Tishomingo WMU also provides a place to pursue deer.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: With the abundant food resources in most areas, deer will not be as likely to use food plots and feeders, so check native food sources. Deer will also be harder to spot due to the thick herbaceous cover. Hunters may have better luck catching bucks moving through funnels instead of using food resources. Hunters may want to try oak timber instead of food plots and feeders. Hunters have reported good deer activity during mid- to late morning.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: 1. Underestimating a deer's sense of smell. Try to stay as scent-free as possible, and always consider wind direction when hunting.
2. Getting up from stand location too soon. Stay in the stand as long as possible. Many good bucks are taken at midday.
3. Moving too much. Pick a stand location for the hunt period and stick to it. Moving around will often result in spooked deer in your area.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: The deer rut will still be active but just past peak in most portions of the region. If weather cooperates, hunters should do well.
By Brent Morgan, biologist
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: Buck activity is picking up, mainly smaller bucks with a few bigger ones and more scrapes showing up every day. Bucks may be locked down with a doe in heat.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: Vegetation production this summer was again very high, so it's hard to see in many areas. Acorns did fairly well for most of the region, but water sources are very dry.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: Bucks have been seen throughout most of the day cruising, looking for does. Bucks are starting to respond to calling.
PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Cherokee PHA and Camp Gruber are open to antlered hunting only during gun season. Spavinaw PHA is open the first nine days only, and Eufaula is open same as statewide. Check the regulations guide for special restrictions on certain areas.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: Hunters will need to scout around to find "hot spot" feeding areas, and should also not be afraid to hit a grunt call, doe bleat or rattle antlers. Hunt areas where you are seeing lots of does.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Hunters need to remember that bigger bucks typically move during the middle of the day when the moon is full, so sitting longer in the stand will better your odds of filling your tag. Hunters need to remember scent control and wind movement while hunting.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: Weather looks good with a cold front approaching. Hunters should see good deer activity throughout the day. Rut may be winding down a bit with a few does still in heat.
By Eddie Wilson, senior biologist
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: With daytime temperatures finally retreating over this past weekend, deer activity has been on the increase. Young bucks have started chasing does, but the does do not seem very interested yet.
Habitat is in fairly good shape. Summer rainfall produced a good amount of cover, however the rains shut off around the first week in September, and most of the region is very dry.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING:
Landowners and sportsmen are starting to see some rutting activity, young bucks fighting and a few reports of bucks chasing does.
PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Hunters need to be sure and consult the regulations guide for the rules specific to the wildlife management area they choose to hunt. Some WMAs are closed the first weekend for controlled hunts, some are closed to deer gun hunting entirely! All Northwest Region WMAs are closed to antlerless harvest except during some controlled hunts. If you have questions regarding regulations on a specific WMA, you can also contact the biologist or county game warden responsible for the area.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: Scout the area and hunt all day if possible. If you are hunting public land, go a good distance into the area and get away from the roads and campsites. Look for food sources the deer are using.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Being prepared for the hunt is crucial to having a good experience. If you are hunting public land, get a cart to assist in retrieving your deer. Make sure your rifle is sighted in prior to the hunt. Research the regulations for the area in which you want to hunt.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: Deer numbers in the Northwest and Panhandle are still lower than they were prior to the 2011-13 drought. Numbers are starting to recover, and it appears that the rut will likely be in full swing by the first part of gun season. Hunter numbers will likely be high on WMAs that are open.
By Ron Smith, senior biologist
CURRENT BUCK RUTTING ACTIVITY: Rutting activity reported around the region is fairly consistent. Young bucks have been active since Nov. 1. Activity sharply increased Nov. 10 with more mature bucks on the chase. Activity may peak just prior to rifle season but bucks will still be on the move.
HABITAT CONDITIONS: Habitat conditions have steadily improved following two years of above-average rainfall. Unseasonably warm weather has allowed tree and shrub cover to remain heavy. Native forage is in excellent condition. Winter wheat is progressing on schedule.
WHAT HUNTERS, LANDOWNERS ARE SAYING: Archery hunters are reporting a sharp increase in activity the week of Nov. 7. Landowners are reporting much more general deer movement as temperatures have finally dropped to near normal.
PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Black Kettle is open the first nine days only. Packsaddle is open the first nine days only and is closed to antlerless hunting. Fort Cobb is open the first nine days only.
BEST TIPS FOR DEER HUNTERS: Hunters should be prepared to spend the day in the field. Rut activity and weather may create opportunity at any time of the day. Put in as much time as possible scouting. Plan your approach to the hunt area carefully, using wind, cover and silence to your advantage.
BIGGEST MISTAKES TO AVOID: Failure to account for wind may take you out of the game. Patience is important. Leaving the field too early or taking the first shot available greatly limits your potential. Make sure your weapon is still on target.
OPENING MORNING EXPECTATIONS: Rut activity should still be in progress. Deer continue to recover from drought impact. Hunters should expect to see improving numbers of deer and plenty of opportunity.