The most highly anticipated day of the year for many thousands of Oklahoma hunters arrives this Saturday, Nov. 19, as the state’s deer gun hunting season officially begins a half-hour before sunrise.
For many sportsmen and sportswomen, this will be the best time to put venison in the freezer and maybe hang a trophy on the wall. Deer gun season will run 16 days, through Dec. 4.
This year’s Rut Report indicates plenty of hunter success is likely, as deer movement has been reported in all regions of the state. See all the latest reports from the field listed below by region.
“A lot of people have been kind of concerned with all the drought that’s been going on,” said Big Game Biologist Dallas Barber with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “But what we see with drought a lot of the time is that we have a higher harvest. … Deer are having to move a lot farther to meet those needs that they have.”
Again this year, Barber is urging deer hunters to do their part to help the state’s overall deer herd health by harvesting antlerless deer.
“It still remains as important as ever to place emphasis on doe harvest to keep a healthy, thriving population,” Barber said. Antlerless deer harvest is even more important when populations are growing.
To encourage a greater harvest of does, the Department allows each hunter to take as many as eight antlerless deer combined over the various hunting seasons, and has increased open dates for antlerless deer harvest. Hunters who applied for this year’s controlled hunts may take even more antlerless deer, as controlled hunt deer harvests do not count toward a hunter’s overall season limit. Also, ODWC continues to promote the "Hunters in the Know ... Take a Doe!" public awareness campaign.
Barber praised hunters for their voluntary participation in the past, because every time a hunter takes a shot, he or she makes a decision about deer herd management. And with about 95 percent of Oklahoma's land under private ownership, hunter participation is critical to effectively manage deer statewide.
To help hunters plan their opening-day outing in the deer woods, here are the most recent regional reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.
Reported by Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Senior Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Rut activity is just starting to occur in the northwestern counties. Bucks appear to be in full rut throughout the Panhandle.
Habitat Conditions: Thanks to some summer rains, cover is good throughout most of the northwest. Rain has been very isolated since late August. The far western counties and the Panhandle have not received much rain at all. Some of the counties east of Woodward have received fairly good rainfall. Browse is limited, as most of the region has had a hard freeze. With some recent moisture, the wheat crop from Woodward County west is just now starting to come up. To the east of Woodward, most of the wheat crop is in fair to good condition. Rainfall in the northwest has been very hit or miss this fall.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters and landowners are reporting very limited buck activity to this point. The exception is the Panhandle, mature bucks are chasing does and are on the move there.
Public Land Best Bets: Canton, Cooper, and Fort Supply offer good deer hunting opportunities. Canton is closed for controlled hunts during opening weekend. Cooper and Fort Supply are open the first nine days of deer gun season to buck-only hunting. Be sure to check the Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations for the WMA you choose to hunt.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Prepare for your hunt! Make sure your rifle is sighted in and you know your limits on distance. Bring a rangefinder and binoculars. If you hunt a WMA, bring a deer cart to retrieve your deer. Add the county Game Wardens’ phone numbers to your phone in case you have regulation questions or need to report a game violation.
Also, Cimarron County hunters need to learn about a Selective Surveillance Area in effect due to concerns about chronic wasting disease.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: A very common mistake WMA hunters make is failing to read the hunting regulations for the WMA they choose to hunt. Scout the area prior to your hunt if possible. Approach the hunt area with the wind in your face, and always use the wind to your advantage. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions.
Opening Morning Expectations: With rut just now starting to kick off in most of the northwestern counties, bucks will likely be on the move and in rut by opening day. Cool temperatures will likely increase deer movement this weekend, so opening day should be good. Wildlife management areas open to hunting will likely be crowded. Hunt safely, and good luck!
Reported by Colby Farquhar, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Rut activity is currently peaking. Reports of mature buck movement and harvest have dramatically increased over the previous week.
Habitat Conditions: Due to the drought this year, food availability is highly variable across the region. Forb production seems to be lower than normal, and both hard and soft mast production range from poor to locally abundant. Most of the region has seen some precipitation at this point, so water is less of a draw than it was earlier in the season.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Daytime movement has been increasing significantly over the past 10 days, with mature bucks being seen on their feet cruising, chasing, and breeding does at all hours of the day and night.
Public Land Best Bets: Eufaula WMA and Cherokee PHA are top choices, but don't overlook the smaller areas such as Ozark Plateau and Tenkiller WMAs. These smaller areas often see less pressure and can grant those who put in a little work a great hunting experience. As always, consult the current hunting regulations for accurate rules and area restrictions before heading afield.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Pre-scout your hunting area. Get up earlier, walk farther, or think outside the box as far as access goes to help you get away from other hunters. Use hunter pressure to your advantage. Hunt weekdays and be prepared for all-day sits. Pay attention to both the prevailing wind and thermals. Make sure you’ve practiced and checked the accuracy of your gun.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Not taking the wind into consideration. Not being prepared for the weather. Not hunting the mid-day. Calling can be exciting but don't overdo it. Wearing your hunting clothes in the truck, at the gas station, etc., because clothing can absorb unnatural odors. Not practicing with your weapon of choice.
Opening Morning Expectations: I would expect most public land to see a decent bit of pressure on opening day. The weather forecast looks great with clear skies, low wind, and temperature in the mid-40s for highs and high-20s for lows. The rut may have peaked by then, but expect bucks to still be looking for receptive does. This should be a great weekend. Stay safe and good hunting.
Reported by Jay Rouk, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Peak breeding time is upon us, and observed buck activity reflects that. Hunters report bucks checking scrapes, cruising, and locked down with does. The recent hot weather and full moon had daytime deer activity suppressed.
Habitat Conditions: The persistent severe drought that the central region endured this summer has finally given way to fall weather. Much of the habitat shows lower plant production. Acorn-producing oak trees, a preferred food source, are spotty and may be difficult to locate. When found, the acorns may be undersize from the lack of water. An oak dropping healthy acorns, that have not been damaged by weevils, should be a rare find and highly attractive to deer. Green wheat plots were delayed by lack of rain. But in most areas, the wheat is finally up and looking lush and green.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: When the most recent cold front arrived, hunters reported a substantial increase in daytime activity from rutting bucks. Young bucks were commonly observed checking scrapes. Older bucks have been observed cruising or locked down with does.
Public Land Best Bets: Kaw WMA or Keystone WMA in the north; Deep Fork WMA or Okmulgee PHA in central Oklahoma; and Texoma/Washita Arm WMA, Love Valley WMA, and Hickory Creek WMA in the south.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Conditions are perfect now, and hunters should be in the woods when they can. Aggressive tactics like rattling, grunting and doe bleats may all be effective at this time. Hunters should check out field edges for scrapes and rubs. They should also look for stand positions on topographical saddles, creek crossings, and other bottlenecks to ambush cruising bucks.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Hunters should endeavor to master all of the variables they can control. Interviews with hunters reveal that many failed hunts are due to lack of preparedness. Here are some suggestions:
- Be early to the stand.
- Be proficient with your equipment, and be familiar with your rifle so that operating it is second nature.
- Have your tree stand/blind properly prepared by clearing shooting lanes and addressing any squeaks.
- If possible, have alternate stand positions prepared for different wind directions.
- Remain focused on your surroundings (not your phone), and try to avoid being caught off guard. Hunters should remember that patience is key and that the longer they stay on stand, the greater their chances are at success.
Opening Morning Expectations: The waning moon and continued cooler weather should provide perfect conditions for opening day. Bucks will be rutting, and many hunters will experience some fast and frenzied action. If you are planning to hunt public lands, please be kind and considerate to fellow hunters. Public lands will be at peak use this weekend, so cooperation is key for everyone to have a positive experience. Opening morning is a grand event we all look forward to each year. Be sure to take time to enjoy some camaraderie, stories, and hopefully your favorite venison dishes.
Reported by Myles Reel, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: As of early November, buck sightings have increased along road shoulders and green fields. As the days cool, bucks and does should increase their daytime activity. Scraping activity has become minimal as the rut and chasing activity has picked up.
Habitat Conditions: Acorns are playing out quickly in the region due to summer drought. This will continue to affect the region as we move toward winter. Food sources are somewhat scarce.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Bucks are beginning to chase does. Deer are spreading out due to rut activity.
Public Land Best Bets: Honobia Creek, Three Rivers and Ouachita WMAs.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Cover up your scent; find food sources; use trails.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Wearing your camouflage into stores and restaurants where clothing can absorb strong odors; not being familiar with your firearm; leaving the hunt area too soon.
Opening Morning Expectations: High success rate.
Reported by Ron Smith, Southwest Region Wildlife Supervisor
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Deer activity picked up sharply with the changing weather. Younger bucks have been moving and working scrape lines since the last weekend of muzzleloader season. Mature bucks have recently been more visible and are on the chase. Greater numbers of does are also being seen over much of the region.
Habitat Conditions: Habitat conditions vary widely. Dry weather throughout the year has reduced cover and native food sources. Recent rains have finally allowed winter wheat to germinate and become a usable food source. Water resources may be limited in many areas, with many ponds and creeks being dry or poor quality.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Landowners are reporting notable changes from previous years. Most are seeing greatly increased activity, while some are seeing improved numbers. Others in the more drought-impacted areas are seeing lower numbers overall. Hunters are reporting increased activity and sudden observations of breeding behavior ramping up. Bucks are on the chase.
Public Land Best Bets: Packsaddle, Ellis County, and Black Kettle are open for rifle season and offer good opportunities.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Be prepared to spend the day in the field. As rut activity increases, opportunity may present itself throughout the day. Pay careful attention to wind conditions throughout the day when planning your approach, and stay in the field. Rut activity may have their attention, but they remain aware of their environment.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Leaving the field too soon may take you out of the game. Failure to put in the time scouting will always give deer the advantage.
Opening Morning Expectations: Weather conditions may be the best in many years. Recent rains and cooler weather will bring improved hunting conditions over the hot, dry weather we faced in 2021. Rut activity should be in full swing for opening day.
For complete information and license requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations found online at wildlifedepartment.com, on the Go Outdoors Oklahoma free mobile app for Apple or Android devices, or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
OUTDOOR OKLAHOMA TV DEER SEASON SPECIAL 2022
Take a few minutes to watch this special segment from Outdoor Oklahoma TV that provides a load of valuable information about this year’s deer gun season and the state’s deer hunting opportunities in general. Watch online at https://youtu.be/7SLZFMmP4jU.
SHARE YOUR HARVEST WITH THOSE IN NEED
Through Hunters Against Hunger and Deer Share, Oklahoma hunters have two opportunities to share their harvest.
Hunters Against Hunger (HAH) is a cooperative program between local meat processors, the Wildlife Department, and deer hunters to provide fresh meat to hungry Oklahomans. Hunters who legally harvest a deer during any of this year’s deer seasons can simply deliver the deer to the nearest participating processor after E-checking their harvest. Each donator is asked to contribute a tax-deductible $10 to assist with the program. The venison is distributed through a network of qualified, charitable organizations that feed hungry Oklahomans. Hunters can find participating processors at wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/processors/main.
Deer Share is another Department effort that enables hunters to donate harvested deer to help others in need. Hunters post their contact information on the Wildlife Department's website before their hunt so that anyone in need can reach out to them and make a commitment to accept their harvest. With a successful hunt, the hunter can quickly transfer the fresh deer to the interested party, who can then process the deer themselves or take it to a local processor. People can learn more about the program and hunters can sign up to give at wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/species/deer/deer-share.
Don’t forget to make sure you are legal in the field by getting the required licenses at license.gooutdoorsoklahoma.com/Licensing/CustomerLookup.aspx.
Other topics that deer hunters should be aware of include chronic wasting disease (including a Selective Surveillance Area in Cimarron County) and rules concerning importing cervid carcasses or carcass parts from outside of Oklahoma.