Numbers Appear Higher, but Deer Hunters Point Fingers at Drought

Oklahoma deer hunters are offering mixed reviews of the prior season and are uncertain about the 2015 season.

Oklahoma deer hunters are offering mixed reviews of the prior season and are uncertain about the 2015 season.

Deer hunters often have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on in the field from their observations, talking with fellow hunters, past experiences and the like. Combine that with the official state wildlife agency data from check-in or tag information (for the states that do that) and it can give you an idea of what’s happening with deer, ducks, turkeys or whatever.

Out in the Southwest, a combination of drought, predation and some tough years have some deer hunters wondering if the 2015 season will be tough. Here’s the skinny from the OPreliminary data from the Wildlife Department’s online E-Check system show that hunters reported killing more than 98,500 deer in Oklahoma through Jan. 15, 2015, the last day of deer archery season. But it appears hunter success was much better in certain regions of the state than in others.

Erik Bartholomew, big-game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said E-Check data from early December suggested the overall statewide deer harvest was about 10 percent higher compared to the same time last year.

Deer gun season hunters checked 49,408 deer for the 2014 season, a 13 percent increase over the 2013 gun season. Bartholomew said the harvest number was a preliminary total from the online E-Check system and does not include deer killed during controlled hunts or by participants in the Deer Management Assistance Program.

In 2013-14, hunters killed 88,009 deer in all seasons.

A Different Story
While overall deer harvest numbers this year seem to be higher statewide, reports from the field in western Oklahoma tell a different story.

Eddie Wilson, biologist at Cooper and Fort Supply Wildlife Management Areas, said the consensus of Wildlife Department biologists based in northwestern Oklahoma is that deer numbers were lower this year than in past years. The main reason for the decline appears to have been the prolonged drought.

“I’ve had hunters who have come to Fort Supply and Cooper for years tell me they were staying home due to low numbers this year,” Wilson said. As a result, hunter success appeared to be lower this year in those areas of the state, he said.

Alan Peoples, Wildlife Division chief for the Wildlife Department, said he hunts deer exclusively in northwestern Oklahoma.

“My family, friends and contacts in the northwest agree this is the slowest year we have seen in many years,” Peoples said, “An area where in an average year we would see 25 to 30 deer in a morning, we saw maybe five or fewer. We saw more coyotes than deer, and that is unusual.”

Wilson concurred that the coyote population in the northwest is healthy, but that trend has been apparent since the drought began.

“High coyote numbers have been a point of conversation with hunters and landowners alike since 2011,” he said.

Similar trends were observed in southwestern Oklahoma.

Rod Smith, Wildlife Division southwest region supervisor, said depressed deer numbers there are thought to be a result of poor reproduction in 2011 and 2012. “The drought and extreme summer conditions in those years greatly affected fawn survival,” he said.

Smith said he expects this year’s data to show a below-normal deer harvest in the southwestern region.

While drought persists, the deer population in southwestern Oklahoma will remain below what is considered normal.

“But we fully expect deer populations to increase when adequate rainfall returns to the southwest for a few years,” Smith said.