Oklahoma's deer and bear archery seasons kick off Oct. 1, not even a full week after the close of the second annual antelope archery season.
"While Oklahoma has always offered tremendous opportunities to hunt big game, we are at a historical high point for hunting opportunity," said Jerry Shaw, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "You can start your big game hunting season with the mid-September archery antelope season, take a few days break, and then continue hunting deer through the start of the new year."
Archery seasons for deer and bear run concurrent, with deer hunting available statewide and bear hunting limited to Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties in southeast Oklahoma.
The whitetail deer is by far the most sought after big game animal in Oklahoma, with thousands of hunters taking to the woods each year and thousands of deer harvested.
Last year, archery hunters harvested 19,887 of the 116,175 deer checked by hunters, for a total of 17 percent. While that figure is low compared to rifle hunters who tagged 62 percent of last year’s harvest, archery still provides the longest deer season, the most generous harvest limits and most readily available opportunities on public lands.
Though opportunities for archery hunting abound, the skill can be more challenging and require extra practice to become proficient. But according to Shaw, that added challenge and extra time afield can be rewarding.
According the Shaw, the short-range nature of archery equipment and the lack of noise make bowhunting a great method of hunting in many suburban areas closed to firearms.
"Many of these locations are within a few minutes drive of our major metropolitan areas and can be loaded with deer," Shaw said.
Throughout most of the year, deer can be described as "creatures of habit," and early season archery deer hunters can be successful by patterning deer in August and September and setting up stands within shooting range of observed travel routes.
"Scouting is the key," said Shaw. "If you have been watching a deer or an area where deer frequent and you know their schedule, your chance of harvesting one goes way up."
To hunt deer during archery season, resident hunters must have an appropriate hunting license. Additionally, all deer hunters must possess a deer archery license for each deer hunted or proof of exemption. Nonresident deer hunters are exempt from a hunting license while hunting deer, but they must possess a nonresident deer archery license for each deer hunted, or proof of exemption. Holders of nonresident lifetime hunting and lifetime combination licenses are not exempt from purchasing deer licenses.
New this year, successful hunters must also record the date and time of harvest in addition to their name and hunting license number on field tags, and deer must be checked within 24 hours of leaving the hunt area. Hunters must check in their animal at the nearest open hunter check station, with an authorized Wildlife Department employee or online at wildlifedepartment.com .
"If you have not checked out the online game checking system, you need to," Shaw said. "The system is fast, easy and open twenty-four/seven."
For those without Internet access, a county-by-county listing of hunter check stations is available in the current “"Oklahoma Hunting Guide" or at wildlifedepartment.com.
Though fewer hunters take to the mountains of southeast Oklahoma for bear archery season, the excitement still draws hunters from across the state to the region in hopes of harvesting an Oklahoma bruin. <
Black bears once ranged across North America, including the entire area of what is now Oklahoma, but by the early 1900s, sightings had become rare. Factors like land use changes, unregulated hunting and habitat fragmentation caused black bear numbers to eventually decline drastically.
In the late 1900s, however, black bears began making a comeback in Oklahoma after the successful reintroduction of black bears in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. That initial relocation of about 250 bears from northern Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada, turned into thousands of bears in the mountains of Arkansas, which then expanded into southwest Missouri and eastern Oklahoma.
This successful reestablishment of black bears led to a renewed black bear hunting season in Arkansas in 1980.
Today bears have a growing population in southeast Oklahoma and are an important part of the state's wildlife diversity. Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have collected biological data mainly from bear surveys and research projects. Information has also been gathered from bears killed by vehicles, poachers or while responding to nuisance bear calls. The best information thus far has come from the 19 bears harvested in last year's inaugural black bear season. Research projects conducted by the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit with Oklahoma State University show the bear population in Oklahoma can sustain a limited hunting season.
The bear archery season will run from Oct. 1 through Oct. 22 or until the season quota of 20 bears has been met. If the season quota is not met during bear archery season, black bear muzzleloader season will open Oct. 23 and run through Oct. 31 or until the season quota is met. Hunters must check by phone or online at wildlifedepartment.com before hunting each day to see if the quota has been reached. Once the quota of 20 bears is reached, the season will close. The use of dogs is prohibited, and baiting is prohibited on wildlife management areas.
According to Jeff Ford, southeast region wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Department, hunters should concentrate on areas along ridge tops early in the season to take full advantage of white oak acorn crops, which fall earlier than other species of oak.
Ford also suggests that hunters scout areas near where timber harvest has occurred, since plants and trees that produce soft mast thrive in such locations. Finding a watering hole near a food source can increase a hunter's chance for success as well.
To hunt black bears in Oklahoma, resident hunters must possess a hunting license. Additionally, resident bear hunters must possess a bear license. Nonresident bear hunters are exempt from a hunting license while hunting bear but must possess a nonresident bear license.
Lifetime license holders are not exempt from the purchase of a bear license. Bear licenses for the archery season must be purchased prior to Oct. 1 and bear licenses for the muzzleloader season must be purchased by 11:59 p.m. Oct. 22. An unfilled bear license from the archery season is valid for the bear muzzleloader season if the season quota of 20 bears has not been reached. Once the quota has been reached, the season has closed.
Extra Wildlife Department personnel will be available in the four-county hunt area during early bear season to help check in bear harvests, visit with sportsmen, and to help ensure compliance of bear hunting regulations. Wildlife Department personnel will collect biological data from each bear harvested, including a tooth for age determination and specific size measurements. Additionally, bears harvested may be subject to forensic analysis to ensure legal means of harvest were observed. The Wildlife Department also will work in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service to establish several hunter check points throughout the hunt area for checking bear hunters.
In addition to the opening of archery season for deer and black bear, Oct. 1 also marks the opening of turkey fall archery and rabbit seasons. For more information, log on to wildlifedepartment.com .