Preliminary data from the Oklahoma Wildlife Department’s online E-Check system show that hunters reported harvesting more than 98,500 deer in Oklahoma through Jan. 15, 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 that the overall statewide deer harvest was running 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 pointed out that the harvest number was a preliminary total from the online E-Check system and does not include any deer harvested during controlled hunts or by participants in the Deer Management Assistance Program.
In 2013-14, hunters harvested 88,009 deer in all seasons.
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. And 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.
“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.