MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 23, 2012

COLUMN: Change looms for deer hunters

By John KIlgore
Phoenix Outdoors Columnist

— A major change in state hunting regulations could be headed deer hunters’ way in 2013. Over the winter, state wildlife officials will propose that only one buck be taken during the combined muzzleloader and gun seasons.

Deer hunters still would be allowed a total of two bucks for all seasons and bowhunters could still choose to fill both buck tags during archery season.

The proposed change is another step by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to manage the state’s deer herd and, hopefully, encourage hunters to be a little more selective in what they harvest.

Currently, the combined annual limit is six deer, no more that two of which may be antlered.

“It’s something that will be discussed as part of our annual regulations process,” Erick Bartholomew, big game biologist with O.D.W.C., said.

The proposal, along with several other hunting,trapping and fishing regulation proposals will officially be open for a public comment period beginning Dec. 3 on its website, www.wildlifedepartment.com, and will remain open until Jan. 11, 2013.

“I think it will be something folks will feel pretty strongly about one way or another,” Micah Holmes, spokesman for the wildlife department, said. “We encourage people to take the time and go online and tell us what they think, and how they we should move forward.”

A public hearing on the proposed rule change will also be held Jan.8 in Oklahoma City at Wildlife Headquarters on 1801 N.Lincoln. Any proposed rule change must be approved by the eight-member Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the governing body for the Wildlife Department.

According to Heath Herje, the man how started Oklahoma’s first Quality Deer Management chapter in the state, thinks the proposal is a positive move.

“I think it is going to be a great compromise for the guys who are still interested in having two buck tags, and the hunters interested in some better quality, and older age class bucks,” said Herje.

Based on the samples from last year’s deer harvest nearly 50 percent the bucks killed by Oklahoma’s hunters were two years old or younger.

More than half of the deer killed last year were taken during the deer gun season . Nearly a quarter were taken during archery season and less than 20 percent percent during the muzzleloader season.

Limiting the number of bucks taken to one for the combined muzzleloader and gun season should make a difference, Herje recently said.

“I think it will definitely improve our quality,” he said. ”Antler sizes are going to increase across the state, I would expect. It may encourage some guys that are only muzzleloader and rifle hunters to get into archery hunting,”

Longtime hunter Bobby Harris of Fort Gibson says he needs to gather more intel before rendering a verdict.

“My dad’s unable to archery hunt anymore but still enjoys going out muzzleloader and rifle seasons,” Harris said.  “Perhaps they could allow senior citizens, people with disabilities and youth hunters,etc.to stay at the limits now in place. It would be more feasible but again I need to take a closer look before forming an opinion.”

According to recent reports, state wildlife officials have always maintained that the majority of deer hunters in the state want them to manage for quantity and not for trophy animals. But, this appears to be changing somewhat, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out . I will keep you posted.

With deer gun season nearly a week old there’s a program called Hunters Against Hunger program. If you have more  meat than you can use, contact meat processors listed on the ODWC website to donation it to the needs through a network of qualified, charitable organizations.

Two processors listed for our area are Dan Martin at 482-2693 and Thomas Meat Processing at (918) 989-5252. To help with processing charge, each donator is requested to contribute a tax-deductible $10 to assist with the program.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. You may contact him with news or other information at (918) 348-9431 or at jkilgoreoutdoors@yahoo.com