By Michael Newell
October 1 is the opening day for several major archery hunting seasons in Oklahoma. And prospects are looking good for most of those seasons, experts with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said.
“Oklahoma really is a land of opportunity for archery hunters,” said Erik Bartholomew, big-game biologist with the Wildlife Department. “Not only do we have several archery seasons opening Oct. 1, but they each provide ample time and opportunity for diligent hunters to go afield and have an enjoyable time in the outdoors.”
Seasons on public lands may vary from statewide season dates. Complete details and regulations for each season — including hunter education and apprentice-designated license requirements — can be found in the “Oklahoma Hunting” regulations guide, available free online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print anywhere hunting licenses are sold.
Deer Archery — Oct. 1 to Jan. 15 statewide – The most popular of the archery hunting seasons is for deer, with close to 100,000 hunters going afield last year. Those hunters took home 29,094 deer in 2017, a new archery record for the state. That also accounts for more than 27% of the overall deer harvest. And although the 2018 numbers have not been released yet, coffee shop talk seemed to reflect a good year for deer hunters, too.
And there is no reason to expect this fall to be any different. Habitat conditions are ideal for deer production.
“The mild summer weather and some timely rains have provided some much-needed relief to many parts of the state,” Bartholomew said. “We’ve had quite a few reports of does with twins and even some seen with triplets. If a doe is raising triplets, that means the habitat is in good shape.”
Persimmons and other soft mast have been in good supply in most of the state this year. And the acorn and pecan crops are looking good, as well. “Find a tree that is dropping acorns and set up your stand,” Bartholomew said.
Scouting ahead of your hunt can help pattern deer movement. And since the food resources are plentiful this year, the deer might have changed their routines from years past.
But good habitat conditions also can make visibility an issue, as many hunters experienced last year. Most forested areas have thick undergrowth, and many prairies are covered in native grasses reaching five feet in height. Hunters are going to have a difficult time seeing the deer in such conditions. Bartholomew said it is more important than ever for hunters to positively identify their targets before deciding to take a shot.
And another indicator of a good deer season ahead: summer spotlight surveys have shown that deer numbers have increased from last year.
The bag limit is six deer, which may include no more than two antlered deer. For license requirements and information on field tagging and checking, consult the “Oklahoma Hunting” regulations guide or go online to wildlifedepartment.com.
Elk Archery — Oct. 1 to Jan. 15, statewide on private lands only (except in Special Southwest Zone) – The elk herd on private lands in Oklahoma continues to grow.
“Many parts of the state have seen an increase in elk numbers, and hunters now have the opportunity to pursue them through all seasons until the zone quota is met,” Bartholomew said.
The beginning of the elk archery season coincides with the end of the elk rut, he said. “Hunters should capitalize on this and call in their first Oklahoma elk!”
For the statewide elk season, Oklahoma is divided into seven zones. Each zone has its own bag limit (one or two elk) and harvest quota. A Special Southwest Zone will be open for archery hunting on private lands (see below).
Hunters may harvest one or two elk, depending on the zone, combined for all elk seasons. All hunters must check online at wildlifedepartment.com before their hunt to find out if the season is closed for the zone they intend to hunt. Once the quota is met in each zone, the elk season will close in that zone.
Archers took 38 bulls and 37 cows in the 2017 season. Those numbers are expected to be up even more for 2018.
Bartholomew said some areas of the state are known to have good elk populations. In the Northeast Zone, he advises hunters to target Mayes, Delaware, Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah Counties. In the Southeast Zone, pockets of elk can be found in Pushmataha, Coal, Johnston and Pontotoc Counties. And hunters in the western Panhandle should find some success.
Elk Archery Special Southwest Zone – Oct. 5-9 and Dec. 7-11 –The Special Southwest zone includes private lands in Caddo Kiowa and Comanche Counties.
By far, the largest concentrations of elk occur in the Special Southwest Zone, Bartholomew said. And while the season dates are more restrictive in this zone, there is no zone harvest quota.
The zone bag limit is two elk, but at least one must be antlerless.
To find out about license requirements, field tagging and checking, landowner permission, zone bag limits and zone harvest quotas for private land elk hunts, consult the “Oklahoma Hunting” regulations guide or go online to wildlifedepartment.com.
Bear Archery — Oct. 1-20 in Choctaw, Haskell, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties only – In 2017, hunters harvested 57 black bears in Oklahoma. Of those, the majority were taken by archery hunters. In fact, 53 of the total were harvested by bow.
Jeff Ford, southeast region wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Department, said this year’s bear season could turn out better than last year’s. And hunters will have additional area in which to hunt, as the bear open zone was expanded from four counties to all or part of 12 counties in southeastern Oklahoma.
“With another cool and wet summer in Southeast Oklahoma, the bear numbers are in excellent condition,” Ford said. Mast production should be great.”
“Hunters should key in on areas with white oaks. These trees start dropping acorns in late September and are a preferred food source for bears in the fall,” Ford said.
For archery bear hunters, there is no season harvest quota. So, these hunters can be more selective in making a harvest decision since they may hunt the entire 20 days. Hunters may take only one bear for all seasons combined.
All hunters are required to have a hunting license or proof of exemption, and a bear license (no exemptions). Bear archery hunting licenses must be purchased before the season opens. No bear archery licenses will be sold after that date.
For more information about prohibited activities, field tagging and checking for bear, consult the “Oklahoma Hunting” regulations guide or go online to wildlifedepartment.com.
Antelope Archery — Oct 1-14 in Cimarron County and Texas County – After several years of severe drought, the pronghorn populations in the western Oklahoma panhandle are depressed. And any hunters who are planning a public-land antelope hunt are likely to find minimal numbers of antelope, said Weston Storer, northwest region wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Department.
Hunters lucky enough to draw into the Wildlife Department’s antelope gun hunts are the more successful of those seeking to harvest a pronghorn, but archery hunters did harvest 24 (22 bucks, and 2 does) animals last year. 128 total pronghorns were harvested in 2017, combining all the seasons.
Private lands will likely offer better chances for success, he said. “There will be some taken on private lands around watering holes,” Storer speculated.
He said several years without any appreciable rainfall along with livestock grazing have left many areas with no grass. That, in turn, creates problems for does raising fawns, as the poor habitat makes survival more difficult.
Hopefully with a wetter summer this year, and adding a couple of more to this one, we can see an increase in fawn production, and a population increase.
But for those antelope hunters wanting to make a trip, he suggested that Texas County might have better numbers of animals than Cimarron County. He based the assessment on preseason fawn counts, which showed an average of one fawn for each 3.5 does in Texas County and one fawn for each 3.9 does in Cimarron County.
By and large, the majority of pronghorns harvested in Oklahoma are done through the Wildlife Department’s controlled hunts and through landowner permits. Only about 10% of antelope are harvested by over-the-counter permits.
To find out about license requirements, season limit, field tagging and checking, and landowner permission, consult the “Oklahoma Hunting” regulations guide or go online to wildlifedepartment.com.
Turkey Archery — Oct. 1 to Jan. 15, statewide – All counties are open for the fall turkey archery season. Hunters may harvest one turkey of either sex during all fall seasons combined. Any turkey harvested statewide must be checked in using the E-Check system at wildlifedepartment.com or the new wildlife app available on cellular devices.
It’s common for deer hunters to head to the field along with the proper fall turkey license in case they get an opportunity to harvest a turkey while deer hunting.
Read more in the October issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.