Oklahoma's Current Rut Activity at a Glance
Deer rifle season kicks off Saturday, Nov. 19, and promises as usual to be the biggest day of the year for hunting in Oklahoma.
With 63 percent of last year’s total deer harvest coming from Oklahoma’s rifle hunting seasons, it accounts for the greatest portion of deer taken by hunters. Surveys indicate that last year, more than 156,000 hunters took part in the 16-day regular deer gun season alone, and when taking into account the youth deer gun and holiday antlerless deer seasons, that number jumps to nearly 204,000.
Preliminary harvest numbers from muzzleloader season show that the current state harvest is similar to what it was this time last year, with physical deer check stations down slightly over 30 percent in the number of deer checked, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s online check station up by about 34 percent in the number of deer checked.
“We are on par with last season,” said Jerry Shaw, big game biologist for the Wildlife Department. “While many feel we are off to a slow start, we are tracking pretty closely with last year’s data.”
In anticipation for what is hopefully another great year for deer hunters, personnel with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are offering information just in time on current rutting activity in regions across the state. The rut, or deer breeding season, is a biological process that typically occurs around mid November. Deer activity during the rut picks up but the amount of activity can be influenced by a host of factors such as day length, temperatures, moon phase and herd condition.
The northwest region of Oklahoma is famed for its excellent deer hunting — not to mention big deer — and biologists believe opening weekend will be timed well with rutting activity.
Drought has had an impact on food and water availability in the region. All spring and summer food plot plantings on northwestern wildlife management areas failed, and water and food availability in the region is limited. However, fall food plots on WMAs and wheat fields in the area appear to have benefited from recent rains and are reportedly in fair condition.
According to Steve Conrady, northwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, rut activity in the northwest region is “fairly consistent” year to year, and most reports so far indicate that only the early stages of rutting activity have occurred. These signs include immature bucks sparring and chasing unreceptive does, and increased activity at scrapes.
“The general consensus is that the deer rut will be very near the peak by opening weekend of deer gun season,” Conrady said.
According to Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Department biologists stationed at Cooper and Ft. Supply WMAs, the deer rut in his area “usually kicks off somewhere between Nov. 15-20.”
“With the dark of the moon coinciding with opening weekend, hunting should be good,” Wilson said.
According to Weston Storer, biologist stationed at Beaver River, Optima, Rita Blanca and Schultz WMAs, the Panhandle has received some needed rain, but forage is limited. Storer said young bucks are showing early rutting activity.
“On Nov. 10, in the middle of the day, a buck destroyed both my archery targets in my backyard,” said Storer, who expects the rut to be in “full swing” by the opening weekend of gun season on Beaver River WMA.
According to bowhunters using Canton WMA during the weekend of Nov. 12-13, deer movement has continued to remain “very slow,” with most deer activity taking place during the last hour of legal shooting light. Kyle Johnson, biologist stationed at Canton, said rattling has drawn attention from young bucks, and scrapes are being actively visited after shooting hours.
“At this point, it looks favorable that at least the early part of the deer gun season should be very good for rut activity,” Johnson said.
Rutting activity in the northeast region may be more underway than in the northwest, with reports that bucks of all age classes “are chasing hard.” According to Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, the rut may already be reaching its peak, but breeding activity will likely remain strong through the first week of rifle season.
“Movement of deer is on the rise, with bucks chasing does throughout the day,” Endicott said. “Most movements have been observed in areas with good food availability.”
Endicott expects deer activity to continue to pick up with the onset of coming cold fronts, rain and cooler temperatures.
“Hunters should be patient and stay in the woods as long as they can,” Endicott said. “Bucks will be cruising all day looking for that first receptive doe. Remember to scout. Look for good food sources, especially acorns, which can be in short supply. Locate some good trails to set up on that have seen very recent use.”
Endicott said successful public lands hunters are those who spend lots of time scouting.
“There is good hunting on the WMAs, but with the high usage associated with these areas, hunters need to scout for some less used corners and back areas. Try targeting bedding areas that will hold does and keep an eye out for signs of buck activity such as rubs and scrapes. Rutting on WMAs is really gearing up. Remember, be patient and spend time in the woods or on the stand. If you are hoping to harvest a mature buck, let the young ones pass.”
“If it keeps going the way it is, gun season is going to hit it right on the nose,” said Joe Hemphill about the rut in southeast Oklahoma. Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said controlled hunts at McAlester Army Ammunition Plan have had smaller harvest numbers this year than in years past, and said there has yet to be much buck activity in the region.
Hemphill suspects the extended period of high heat at the end of the summer may have “backed everything off,” but he did say that despite the heat and drought, food sources are available.
“There are remarkably more acorns than you would think,” he said, adding that hunters who find acorns or good water sources may be in luck.
With opening day just days away, rutting activity may be timed just right for southeast region hunters.
The rut is beginning to build in intensity, according to Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department.
“In the past few days, bucks apparently in search of does have been observed during daylight hours,” Smith said. “Since the deer rut appears on the upswing, we may experience near peak rut conditions during the opening week of deer gun season.”
Smith said availability of native food sources for deer have been abnormally low, but like in other regions, recent rains have increased the availability of certain fall food sources. Still, areas with agricultural crops may be a good place for hunters to start.
Deer have also been underweight compared to normal, which Smith said could be contributing to later-than-normal rutting activity, along with warmer weather during the first part of November.
“Because the rut is just now getting ‘into the swing,’ hunters should look for new scrapes and other sign that could appear at any time,” Smith said, adding that “hunters should revisit areas that may not have had much sign a week or two ago.”
With most of the region still in the “exceptional” or “extreme” drought category, Smith said deer distribution might appear different than in years when there is no drought. Recent rain has resulted in winter wheat germination and growth in food plots on WMAs in the region.
Like in some other parts of the state, reports from hunters and Wildlife Department personnel in the central region indicate the rut is slightly behind the “normal” schedule.
“Rutting has picked up the second week of November, with some bucks seen chasing does and an increase in the number of road kill deer,” said Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “It appears that opening weekend of deer gun season will occur at or very near the peak of the rut.”
Pennington said 2011 drought conditions had a negative effect on food production in the region, but that overall deer activity has been higher this fall due to the associated nutritional stress.
“Despite the terribly dry conditions, patchy portions of the region produced a surprising number of acorns,” Pennington said. “Locations that still have good acorns will be prime hunting spots during gun season as drought-stressed deer try to replenish energy reserves. While the region is still in drought status, there have been sufficient fall rains in most areas to get wheat fields up and growing. In areas with no acorns, deer are already heavily using these fields.”
While drought is never considered good for wildlife, Pennington did say the drought limited the height of grasses and other vegetation, which could increase hunter visibility this year.
“If the weather cooperates, I look for the 2011 gun season to provide excellent hunting conditions in the central region due to the late peak of the rut, the limited food availability, and reduced cover,” Pennington said.