MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 27, 2013

My how times have changed for deer hunters

By John Kilgore
Phoenix Outdoors Columnist

— If you’re a lifelong deer hunter and old timer, such as myself, you can probably relate and appreciate what I’m about to say.

Having spent a great deal of my youth roaming the mountainous pineywoods in far southeastern Oklahoma, the outdoors was my playground.

In late summer and early fall, I would listen as my elders lay out plans for deer camp and the upcoming season.

When I turned ten, the elders invited me to deer camp and I was hooked for life.

In those days, the clearcutting of the vast mountainous timber had not yet taken place and, to be honest, the deer were few and far between with an annual bag limit of one buck deer.

Three or four years, after I began hunting, you could apply for a doe tag but there were very few to be given out to hunters. You had about as much luck drawing one as the man in the moon.

If you wanted to start an all-out brawl among the elders and other hunters, all you had to do was mention putting in for a doe tag or even think about harvesting a doe.

Mama deer, as the elders called them, where next year’s bucks and more heavily guarded than Fort Knox and the bottom line was you simply didn’t even think about killing a doe.

My, have thoughts, wildlife biologists, and ideas changed since then – or have they? Believe it or not, there are folks out there who still feel the same as my elders.

The holiday antlerless season offers gun hunters one last opportunity to harvest some venison.

The season opened Dec. 20 and runs through Sunday in most areas of the state.

Cimarron and Texas counties in the panhandle of the state, and a number of counties in the southeastern part of the state (check regulations), are closed to antlerless hunting.

Any deer taken during the holiday season will not be included in the hunter’s bag limit.

Last year, 35,000 hunters participated in the holiday season taking 4,385 deer.

“It’s the last opportunity to use a firearm to fill your freezer with tasty venison,” said Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “School’s out so it’s a great chance to get your kids out in the woods again.”

Bartholomew said the approach to hunting during the holiday season should simply be hunting near large food sources or travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas.

High doe harvests help accomplish several important management benefits such as reducing localized overpopulations, improving buck to doe ratios for a more healthy herd, reducing competition for forage to promote greater antler growth in bucks, reducing the potential for deer/vehicle collisions and lessening the extent of potential crop depredation.

According to Bartholomew, overall harvest is down somewhat this year.He and fellow biologists had predicted as much, pointing to the wide availability of natural food sources that became available with the return of rainfall to much of the state.

The deer simply don’t have to travel as far to find good food sources, thus reducing their visibility to hunters.

Also, we’ve have several days of ice and snow and some mornings with very heavy fog. These weather conditions kept some hunters at home during the regular deer season.

If you have the opportunity get out, go hunting and enjoy the next couple of days. After all, it’s a long time until next fall.

By the way, some of the counties in southeastern Oklahoma closed for the holiday gun season are ones in which my elders would never think of harvesting a doe.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. Reach him with news or comments at (918) 348-9431 or jkilgoreoutdoors@yahoo.com.