Contact: Kent Keene, Lower Midwestern States Coordinator
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and the Oklahoma Wildlife Commission are currently seeking public comments on a series of 34 rule changes that have been proposed for 2020. These proposed changes include, among other things, amendments to: sport fish length requirements and bag limits, permitted activities on state-owned wildlife management areas, and deer season dates and seasonal bag limits.
One of the most notable changes for Oklahoma hunters is the proposal to increase the deer rifle season from 16 days to 23 days. This proposal is the result of current studies of deer population and harvest trends, as well as hunter behaviors in Oklahoma. In an interview published on ODWC’s website, the agency states that based on current deer harvest trends, ODWC does not expect that this increase in the rifle season will have any negative impact on deer populations in Oklahoma.
Though this increase in the length of the rifle season could lead to more opportunity for hunters who prefer to use a rifle, current data on hunter behavior suggests that hunters may not take full advantage of this extra opportunity. Corey Jager, Legislative Liaison for ODWC, reported that current surveys revealed hunters spend an average of six days afield, likely corresponding with the three weekends that occur during rifle season. However, she also points out that these surveys were conducted under the current season length and there may be shifts in hunter behaviors in response to this seven day (and one full weekend) increase in opportunity.
In addition to increasing the length of the deer rifle season, the Wildlife Commission has proposed increasing the bag limit to six deer during the rifle and muzzleloader seasons in some deer management zones, though only one of these deer may be antlered. The combined-season limit will remain at six deer, with no more than one antlered deer included in that limit. Currently, hunters may only harvest three deer during rifle and/or muzzleloader season (one antlered and two antlerless). This proposed increase in the seasonal bag limit is designed to increase antlerless deer harvest in zones that have seen recent drops in antlerless harvest rates. Maintaining the appropriate levels of antlerless harvest rates is necessary to ensure that deer population management goals are achieved. In management zones with lower deer populations, bag limits are unlikely to change.
State wildlife management agencies and wildlife commissions rely on the best available science to make management decisions of this nature. However, public input is also an important part of the rule-making process. For more information on all of the proposed rule changes, or for information on how to comment on any of these proposals, click here. This public comment period will remain open until January 3, 2020 at 4:30 pm CST. Additionally, ODWC will be hosting two public hearings on January 2, 2020 at 7:00 pm CST. These will occur at the ODWC Headquarters (1801 N Lincoln, Oklahoma City, OK 73105) and at the Broken Bow Public Library (404 N. Broadway, Broken Bow, OK 74728).
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?