John Kilgore

John Kilgore, Phoenix Outdoors Correspondent

On Saturday, an estimated 160,000 deer hunters dressed in blaze orange will take to the field in search of the Sooner State’s most popular big game animal, the whitetail deer.

Firearm season runs for 16 days and ends on Dec. 8th bringing an ever-increasing economic impact to our state.

Our state’s deer herd has come a long way since I began hunting in the late 1960’s.

I was first introduced to deer hunting in the rugged, mountainous region of southeastern Oklahoma. 

While my memory is no longer the best in the world, I can still vividly recall being allowed to miss school, spending sleep-deprived nights leading up to the hunt and dreaming of an exciting deer camp. 

Hunting in the Honobia area as a youngster, if you saw a deer track, it was an event. Seeing a deer on the hoof was monumental.

Yes, we have come a come along way indeed. 

With our state’s deer population estimated at between 600,000 and 700,000, the herd now is better in many ways than the “good ol' days.”

Several years ago, Jim Shaw, professor of natural resource ecology and management at Oklahoma State University said, “Back when we didn’t have hunting seasons, we lost our game species. White-tailed deer in Oklahoma were virtually extinct in 1914.”

Great strides have been taken since the mid-1950s to restore the population. 

Now, with a booming population, deer hunting season is vital to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s mission to manage the number of deer.

Not only can too many deer cause damage to agricultural plots, such as orchards, but also motor vehicle accidents increase along with the deer population.

Even with the extended rifle season in Oklahoma, the deer population has continued to rise. 

Oklahoma has seen a giant increase in deer population since the late 1970s. In 1979, the legal harvest barely exceeded 14,000. The 2018 total, according to the ODWC, was over 109,000 deer.    

We, as hunters, take on a huge responsibility from the time we load our firearm until it’s unloaded. In addition, the animal harvested should be treated with respect. After all, the real work begins when the animal is on the ground.

Whether you choose to field dress the animal in your hunting area or take it back to camp to do the chore, it is up to the hunter.

I prefer to field dress the deer away from my area if I plan on hunting it in the not-too-distant future. Field dressing and processing the animal should be done as quickly as possible to avoid losing any meat.

Here are some tips I learned from the Deer Hunters’ Almanac 2020:

Spoilage is excessive deterioration of meat as a result of bacteria, molds and yeasts. When the population of these ever-present micro-organisms grows large enough, the meat is spoiled.

In contrast, “aging” meat is deliberate, controlled deterioration that is stopped before it reaches the spoilage state.

The theory behind controlled deterioration is that it breaks down some of the connective tissue, and the meat is more tender, and, perhaps, more flavorful.

The things that factor into spoilage of a deer are moisture, temperature, time and condition. Of the four factors, temperature is the most critical.

A deer’s normal body temperature at rest is about 101degrees Fahrenheit and, just as us humans, they heat up more as they use their muscles. So, a deer’s temperature depends on what they were doing when taken. A hard-running healthy deer’s maximum temperature runs a little over 106 F.

The ideal temperature for bacterial growth is between 70 and 120 degrees. Under ideal circumstances, bacteria can double about every 20 minutes.

With that being said, when the meat (not air) temperature is above 70 degrees the whole time, the microorganisms are multiplying rapidly.

The meat temperature needs to be between 30 and 40 degrees for fresh meat refrigeration. The secret to good venison is quickly cooling the meat. While, on the other end of the spectrum, maintaining meat at a high temperature will cause the meat to spoil.

One other tidbit: a deer left on the ground is much more likely to spoil than one hung on a meat pole. There are exceptions to every rule. Deer intestines are prime producers of bacteria. Nick one with a knife, broadhead or bullet, then you really have no choice but to wash it out.

The one thing the experts all agreed upon is if you use water, get the body cooled down as quickly as possible.

I have family and friends who stand by washing the cavity out and, to my knowledge, they’ve never had a deer go bad. As for me, I’m going the less moisture route.

Above all, be safe and take the time to make memories with family and friends.

As the ODWC reminds us, hunters in the know---let the young bucks grow.

Reach John Kilgore at

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