The most highly anticipated day of the year for thousands of Oklahoma hunters arrives this Saturday, Nov. 18, 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 Sunday, Dec. 3.
This year’s Rut Report indicates plenty of hunter success is likely, as plenty of deer movement is being reported in all regions of the state. See all the latest reports from the field listed below by region.
Big Game Biologist Dallas Barber with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, is reminding deer hunters that harvesting antlerless deer remains an important part of the state's deer herd management strategy.
"Antlerless deer harvest is even more important when populations are growing," Barber said.
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. 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, which has helped with overall herd health across the state. Every time a hunter takes a shot, he or she had made 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 deer hunters plan their opening-day outings in the forest or field, here are the most recent regional reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.
Reported by Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Senior Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Some smaller bucks have been on the move over the past week. Mature buck activity has not kicked in yet.
Habitat Conditions: Habitat conditions are good this fall. Vegetative cover is heavier than normal due to a cool, wet summer. Conditions are currently dry, but most winter wheat is up and being used by deer as a food source.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Landowners are reporting good deer numbers this fall. Hunters were not seeing much for deer movement this past weekend. Warm temperatures this week have slowed deer activity.
Public Land Best Bets: There are a number of wildlife management areas open to deer gun hunting throughout the northwest region, however some WMAs are closed to deer gun hunting and some have controlled hunts only. Be sure to consult the 2023-24 Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations pertaining to the WMA you intend to hunt prior to entering the WMA. If you have questions regarding WMA regulations, you can also call the biologist or Game Warden responsible for the area you choose to hunt.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Be sure to sight in your rifle prior to the hunt. Bring a range finder and know your limitations. Always have a good pair of binoculars. Bring a deer cart to assist with retrieving your deer.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Research the hunting regulations before you go. Be prepared to hunt all day if you can, not just morning and evening. Always use the wind to your advantage and hunt into the wind.
Opening Morning Expectations: With cooler temperatures forecasted for opening weekend, deer movement should increase. Rut will likely be in full swing sometime during the next week. I expect deer hunting to be good throughout the northwest region. Expect a high number of hunters on WMAs open to deer gun hunting. Good luck!
Reported by Brent Morgan, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity:The buck activity has really started ramping up with lots of rutting, scraping, chasing, and cruising. Bucks have been seen throughout the day cruising looking for a doe. Bucks are also being seen locked down with a doe.
Habitat Conditions: Habitat conditions are good. Good forb growth throughout the summer. Acorn production is all over the map, with some areas seeing decent mast and others almost nonexistent. Cover is good. Summer burns and timely rains have made habitat conditions ideal.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Lots of buck movement day and night. Big bucks on the move. Bucks being seen cruising in the daytime, chasing, and locked down with does. Slow in the heat, but cool fronts have activity picking up. Scraping activity slowing down with the chase picking up.
Public Land Best Bets: Cherokee and Camp Gruber are both very popular WMAs for gun season, but be aware that they are restricted to the take of antlered deer only. Oologah WMA also has a high number of deer hunters, but check the regulations for any special restrictions.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Scout, hunt mid-day, and do what the other hunters aren’t doing. Hunting water may be a good bet with the dry conditions in the region. Key in on food sources like acorns. Pack a lunch and stay in the woods as long as possible. Pay attention to the wind forecast and know how your local topography is going to alter that.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Getting out in the field late, not double-checking equipment, not using the wind right, and relocating too early. Walking into your spot through where deer should bed or travel could diminish your chance at success.
Opening Morning Expectations: Opening day should have lots of hunters afield, especially on popular WMAs. Cool mornings and evenings should have the deer up and moving. With the rut being on the tail end, bucks can still be seen cruising looking for does. Rain is in the forecast, so pack some rain gear.
Reported by Jay Rouk, Wildlife Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Younger bucks are actively monitoring scrapes. Older bucks have begun searching and, in some cases, chasing does. Much of the activity has been at night, according to trail camera reports. The does have been relatively less visible, possibly attributed to the substantial acorn crop attracting them to forested areas. Certainly, many does have become receptive and breeding has begun, as mid-November is peak breeding time.
Habitat Conditions: The most notable item is the very substantial acorn crop this year. This seems to include most oak species found in the central region such as oaks in upland environments as well as river bottoms. Midsummer rains also promoted growth of grasses and forbs, creating tall grassland fields and dense forest edges. Wheat fields in most areas have had enough rainfall to make them lush and green.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters have indicated some frustration with the lack of daytime activity. Trail cam photos reveal rut activity is ongoing during the night. Cooler weather will enhance daytime activity. A waxing new moon may help move the activity to daytime as well.
Public Land Best Bets: Kaw WMA, found in the north central, consistently produces the highest yields in that area. Keystone WMA, while not very far from Tulsa, is always a proven destination. Love Valley and Texoma/Washita Arm, found near Texoma Lake, are excellent choices for southern hunters.
Advice for Deer Hunters: If you have oaks, check your area for acorns. If your food plots are unusually tall or unused, you likely have oaks dropping good acorns nearby. Acorns are always the most energy-efficient food and will pull deer from other sources. Tracks and droppings found with the acorns is a sure sign of recent deer activity. Fresh rubs and/or scrapes will confirm you have a buck using the area.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Losing confidence will cause a hunter to go home or start walking, which may decrease chances for success. Lack of proper preparation: Pre-scouting, checking rifles, having stands/blinds already set and in good condition are steps to take to maximize opportunities. Not respecting the wind direction: try to set up downwind of anticipated deer movement. Deer depend on their noses to make decisions, and human scent will certainly alert them.
Opening Morning Expectations: The weather forecast predicts cooler weather should be in place by opening morning. Deer should be up and on their feet. It will be a great time to be in the woods. However, this is the most highly anticipated event of the year in deer hunting, and hunters will be out in force, especially on public areas. Remember to be courteous and kind to other hunters. Cooperation is key for everyone to have a good experience. Success may be measured in fellowship, experiencing nature, and, with a little good luck, venison on the table!
Reported by Eric Suttles, Southeast Region Supervisor
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Field reports seemed to suggest that peak activity might have occurred early in November. However, there is plenty of activity ongoing throughout the region.
Habitat Conditions: With mild weather and recent rainfall, food availability is not an issue for herd health. Acorns are spotty with many trees in the white oak group throughout the region having a down year in production. Limited acorn production typically trends for better hunting success. Resources on the landscape are more concentrated, allowing for deer to hold on to tighter behavior patterns.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Lots of reports of early November success. Which means deer were on the move and hunters were in the field. It is worth noting that much success is early morning and late evening. The higher daytime temperatures we have been experiencing are suppressing midday activities, both for hunters and deer.
Public Land Best Bets: Top wildlife management areas in the region for deer gun season include Honobia Creek WMA, Three Rivers WMA, and Ouachita WMA. Things to note about these areas. Honobia Creek and Three Rivers WMAs require an additional Land Access Permit that must be purchased before your trip ($40 residents, $85 nonresidents). Please check your hunting regulations and the area-specific regulations that begin on page 52. Some management areas may be open for archery hunting activities but closed for deer gun season.
Advice for Deer Hunters: We often get used to hunting the same spots and tree stands. My tip for the day is to try something different. Instead of hunting a "spot," hunt the sign. That might be a big scrape that you find while scouting/walking the woods, or a rub line. Sometimes a different spot will bring with it different opportunities and experiences.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: The biggest mistake that we are all guilty of from time to time is our attention to safety. Safety is more than wearing orange. Orange while in the field is both required and needed, but be mindful of other details that keep us safe in the field. All the things that we are taught in hunter education courses need to be executed during deer gun season. Keep in mind that getting in a ground blind or tree stand is a dangerous time as you are moving gear and body in a limited space. It is best to not load a gun until you are fully situated, and unload the gun before exiting the stand or blind.
Opening Morning Expectations: The weather forecast looks great. There's no reason to believe that opening weekend will not be a great time to be in the woods. If going to public land, expect plenty of other hunters, but also expect plenty of opportunities to harvest a deer.
Reported by Marcus Thibodeau, Southwest Region Senior Biologist
Current Buck Rutting Activity: Bucks chasing does have been observed across the region. Smaller bucks are fighting. Some mature bucks have been seen in daylight hours.
Habitat Conditions: Varies across region, but generally in good shape. Summer rains made plentiful cover and native food. Recent rains have helped the wheat crop in portions of the southwest.
Hunter and Landowner Reports: Seeing mature bucks start to chase does.
Public Land Best Bets: Black Kettle, Packsaddle, and Ellis County WMA.
Advice for Deer Hunters: Pay attention to boundaries and road-closed signs.
Hunt all day.
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Time put into scouting and success go hand in hand. Be mindful of the wind. Be patient.
Opening Morning Expectations: The weather forecast for opening weekend does have chances of rain in some portions of the region. It should be a great opening weekend in the southwest.
To learn about license requirements, hunting hours, bag limits, field tagging and online E-Check rules, read the Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations online at wildlifedepartment.com, in the free Go Outdoors Oklahoma mobile app for Apple and Android, or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
CWD IN OKLAHOMA
Take a few minutes to watch this special segment from Outdoor Oklahoma TV that provides important information about chronic wasting disease (CWD) and the three selective surveillance areas (SSAs) in Oklahoma for this year’s deer seasons. Watch online at https://youtu.be/H8Ed8Se5ikg.
For more information on CWD, how it could affect hunting, restrictions on importing cervids from outside Oklahoma, and proper disposal of infected animals, go to wildlifedepartment.com/sites/default/files/2023-07/CWD%20Trifold.pdf.
Additional information on human health related to CWD is available at usgs.gov/centers/nwhc/science/chronic-wasting-disease#publications.
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.
Be sure to check out the Deer Hunting Resources Page on the Wildlife Department's website. And don’t forget to make sure you are legal in the field. Visit Go Outdoors Oklahoma to get the required licenses at license.gooutdoorsoklahoma.com/Licensing/CustomerLookup.aspx.