For the second year in a row, Oklahoma deer hunters hit six digits with their harvest, but that shouldn’t really be a surprise anymore. Oklahoma’s deer herd is in great shape and history says it’s ready to produce for seasons to come.
Oklahoma’s deer herd has come a long way. The first statewide deer gun season was held in 1954. In 1955, the total harvest was 1,344 animals. Today, that many animals are probably harvested in the first minute of the opening morning of gun season.
When I started deer hunting in the early 1990s, the state’s total deer harvest exceeded 50,000 for the first time. By the year 2000, that number doubled. During that time, resource managers and hunters had to change their approach.
The first special antlerless season was introduced in 2001, along with the expansion of antlerless archery harvest into January. 2003 brought the first youth deer gun season, along with the expansion of gun season to sixteen days state-wide. It also saw doe harvest exceed 40 percent of the total harvest.
What had happened was what everyone hoped for – the deer herd blossomed into the resource that everyone dreamed of. Since that time, deer hunting in Oklahoma has flown under the national radar. The crazy number of really big bucks harvested last season brought overdue notoriety to the state, but local hunters have been very aware of how good the hunting has been for the last 20 years.
There is something about the number 100,000 as the modern benchmark for annual harvest. It’s more important that how many really big bucks were harvested last year. It’s the bar that each season will be measured by for the foreseeable future.
Oklahoma deer hunters have moved the decimal point more than not over the last 20 years. They’ve done their part by embracing doe harvest. They’ve done their part by letting young bucks go to see another season.
We’ve had 20 years to appreciate as hunters the potential our state’s deer herd had. It’s brought an increase in big bucks and the expectation that 100,000 deer a year will be harvested.
It would be easy to think a record season could come very soon. We have had several years of good habitat conditions. Deer have had plenty to eat and plenty of places to hide. It would be easy to think if drought occurred and habitat conditions offered hunters an advantage, we could see a harvest that exceeded 120,000 in the next few years.
Deer hunting in our state has been great for the last 20 years and the numbers prove it. They also prove that next season, and the seasons after that, should be no different.
Unfortunately ducks hunters have only a few days left to hunt. Duck hunting in Zone 1 closed Sunday. Hunting in Zone 2 remains open until Jan. 27. Hunting for Canada geese will remain open until Feb. 17. Hunting for white-fronted geese closes Feb. 10.
Jon Kocan is the Stillwater News Press outdoors writer and a longtime hunter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.