Oklahoma Rut Report: Deer Moving Ahead of Gun Season Opener

The 2017 deer gun hunting season will open a half-hour before official sunrise this Saturday, Nov. 18. Based on field reports from each region of the state, the deer population is in good shape and the rutting period has started in many areas.

Dallas Barber, big-game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said deer gun hunters have plenty to look forward to beginning this weekend.

“I have been getting lots of reports of chasing and even breeding in some areas,” he said. “It’s looking to be mild weather, which could obviously change between now and opening day. But regardless, it is a great time to be out in the woods.”

Barber said deer hunters in Oklahoma are off to a great start after several weeks of archery and muzzleloader hunting. “As of Nov. 9, we have harvested just under 35,000 deer. Not only have we been seeing great harvest numbers, but the quality has been up as well, with multiple large bucks being harvested.”

And that’s saying something after last year’s deer hunting success stories that saw several notable big bucks added in the upper reaches of Oklahoma’s Cy Curtis Award lists.

“Movement should be starting to kick up to an ‘all day’ situation. It’s definitey time to start packing a lunch and sitting all day,” he said.

To help hunters plan their opening-day outing in the deer woods, here are up-to-date regional rut reports from Wildlife Department field personnel.

Southeast Region
Reported by Jeff Ford, wildlife biologist

Current Buck Rutting Activity: Bucks are chasing does. Scrapes are being worked. Bucks have been seen breeding does at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

Habitat Conditions: In excellent condition. Beneficial rainfall occurred the last two weeks of October, ending about a monthlong dry spell. There is another bumper crop of acorns this year, and deer are primarily staying in the timber and not having to travel to find food.

Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters are reporting good deer movement in the morning about an hour after daylight, with young bucks cruising and mature bucks chasing does. They are still seeing some does with fawns, which indicates all does aren’t ready to breed.

Public Land Best Bets: Ouachita, Three Rivers and Wister WMAs

Advice for Deer Hunters: Look for scrapes close to thickets. Be in your hunting spot before daylight. Hunt all day.

Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Moving around too much. Stay put if you see fresh sign. The deer will move when the woods quiet down.

Opening Morning Expectations: It should be a great year. The mast crop is the best I’ve ever seen, and I expect some records to be broken. The deer have not been in this good of shape in more than a decade. Public lands that are open for deer gun season always draw crowds, but if you hike off the road a few hundred yards, you can usually find places with little or no pressure.

Central Region
Reported by Rex Umber, senior wildlife biologist

Current Buck Rutting Activity: The changes in photoperiod have triggered deer hormones and they are reacting. Bucks have been actively scraping for a while, and more buck activity has been observed during daylight hours, especially in the last week or so.

Habitat Conditions: Habitat conditions are good. Acorn production is spotty at best regionwide, so hunters should check out areas with alternative vegetative food sources.

Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters are reporting good deer movement. The slightly earlier calendar dates of this year’s gun season should increase the chance that hunters will encounter bucks chasing does. Bucks have already been seen tending does.

Public Land Best Bets: In south central Oklahoma, hunters can try their luck at Hickory Creek, Love Valley, Washita Arm, Tishomingo and Fobb Bottom WMAs. In addition, portions of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Murray County are open to gun hunting (check with the National Park Service at (580) 622-7234 for specific area regulations). Hunters in north-central Oklahoma can choose from Kaw WMA, which is consistently one of the top producers in the state, or Keystone, Heyburn, Skiatook and John Dahl WMAs. The PHA portion of Okmulgee WMA also is open for gun hunters. Check the current Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations Guide for specific regulations, as some WMAs are only open for nine days and some have restrictions on antlerless harvest.

Advice for Deer Hunters: Keys to success on public lands are similar to deer hunting everywhere: Hunters who scout before the season and spend the most hours being patient on stands are the ones with the best success. One other tip is to stay put on opening morning, even if you see activity from other hunters. Often the activity from other hunters will push deer to those who remain on their stands. Other tips include 1.) Spend time in the woods scouting before season to locate food sources, scrapes, funnels and travel patterns. 2.) Stay on stand! Especially if air temperatures are at or below normal. Late morning and even midday produces well for those who stick it out. 3.) Resist the temptation to move around. This is especially important for those with limited hunting areas. Get to your stand and commit to stay there for the hunt.

Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: 1.) Underestimating a deer’s nose. Always consider wind direction and make efforts to reduce human and human-related scent while hunting. 2.) Going to the woods without scouting. 3.) Getting up and moving around versus taking a stand location. Moving around spreads human scent through the woods. Unless you have a great deal of acreage to hunt on, have several stand locations selected before season then pick one for that morning or evening hunt.

Opening Morning Expectations: Hunter activity will be heavy on opening weekend. If the cool weather holds, bucks should be very active. Hunters should stay in the stands most of the day if possible. Let other hunters’ midday activity to and from stand locations work to your advantage. Be sure to select stand sites based on wind direction.

Northeast Region
Reported by Scott A. Cox, wildlife biologist

Current Buck Rutting Activity: It is now the early-peak phase of rutting activity. Bucks are starting to chase. Bucks have been scraping and chasing hard the last 10-14 days. Deer movement is on the rise, and they are moving late evening, mid-morning and dusk. Since muzzleloader season and the colder weather, there has been movement throughout the day.

Habitat Conditions: Acorns are in great shape and started falling several weeks ago. The persimmons were hit and miss, with most of them already used up. Also, late rains increased browse, forbs and succulent production. Agricultural fields are in fair condition in most of the region, and other foods are in good abundance with the spectacular growing season that the region observed.

Hunter and Landowner Reports: Deer seem to be in good shape with good body fat content. Deer herd health looks to be good. Fawn numbers are good. Water has been somewhat limiting, but with the abundance of foods, most are in outstanding body condition. Ponds are full but it is somewhat dry across the countryside. Rutting activity doesn’t seem to be affected at this time. Hunters and landowners are reporting the same things as our area biologist in the region and are observing rutting activity, great conditions of the deer, great habitat conditions where it applies, and hunting has improved with the colder weather.

Public Land Best Bets: Always check the regulations for each of the WMAs across the northeast for the best opportunities during rifle season. If you plan to hunt these areas, be sure to be conscientious and respectful of other hunters, read the regulations, and be aware of boundaries (GMA portions versus PHA portions, private land, etc.) and regulations on the areas to be hunted.

Advice for Deer Hunters: Hunters should be patient. Look for rubs, scrapes, trails and heavily used areas, especially where water is available. Always have a checklist of items needed in the field (grunt call, rattling antlers, bleat call, rope, knife, orange, compass, clothing, binoculars, etc.) and use the wind to your advantage. Watch the weather for fronts, for moisture, changes in wind direction, and dress appropriately. Chased does will act differently, especially looking backward on several occasions. If you see this, a rutting buck is likely chasing her.

Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: 1.) Not dressing appropriately, 2.) Leaving an area too soon. 3.) Not scouting ahead of time. 4.) Not using the wind to your advantage or not watching the weather.

Opening Morning Expectations: Opening weekend is always crowded and hectic. Be patient, watch for other hunters in your area, look for good signs (scraping, rubbing, trails, recent activity, etc.), know what the weather is going to do, hunt throughout the day, look for good acorn sources and water in secluded areas, always observe does for rutting activities, and make sure that you have a good line of sight before taking the shot. If it looks like a bad shot, it’s better to pass it up and wait for a better, safer shot. Weekdays are usually less crowded, so hunt them if possible. Also, the second week will almost certainly be less crowded, and deer should have a few days to settle down. If able, hunt “deeper.” Scout, scout, scout. Have a backup plan if you can. Scout and go prepared to stay out as long as possible. Good hunting and be safe!

Southwest Region
Reported by Ron Smith, senior wildlife biologist

Current Buck Rutting Activity: Very little rut activity had been observed by Department staff or hunters as November opened. A few young bucks were seen trailing does, but in general the bucks were grouped up or within the general area of others, and does were going about their normal daily patterns of movement and foraging. Into the month’s second week, hunters noted mature deer trailing does, and rutting ctivity was beginning to steadily increase.

Habitat Conditions: Good throughout the region. Good late-summer moisture finished off the growing season for native vegetation. Winter wheat is progressing very well, though conditions are becoming dry again. Good cover and forage may keep deer spread evenly throughout favorable habitat early in the season.

Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters have been very encouraged by increasing deer numbers following the drought. Deer taken through archery and primitive seasons have been in very good body condition. Many have noted an absence of 4- and 5-year-old deer due to low recruitment through the drought years of 2011-12. Enough mature deer are still being found to keep interest high for what the rut may bring out. Landowners are noting deer numbers not seen since 2010 and very healthy individual deer. Favorable native habitat and mild weather have yet to concentrate deer on cropland. Cooler weather will quickly change that.

Public Land Best Bets: Black Kettle, Packsaddle and Ellis County WMAs are all good producers.

Advice for Deer Hunters: Hunters should be willing to put as much time as possible into scouting. Be willing to spend all day in the field. During peak periods of rut activity, deer can move any time of the day. Always try to use wind to your advantage when moving to and from hunt areas and while set up. Keep your eyes in the field and off your phone.

Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Leaving the field too early may take away the one critical opportunity to put a hunter in position. Stay aware of changing weather to take advantage of deer movement patterns without letting wind take you out of the game.

Opening Morning Expectations: Increasing deer numbers and rut activity should produce great opportunity for deer hunters. Many hunters will be in the field, so keep safety first on your priority list. Traditional hunt areas may have changed. Neighboring properties may have completely new hunting scenarios, so stay aware of your immediate area as well as what may be just beyond the fence.

Northwest Region
Reported by Eddie Wilson, senior wildlife biologist

Current Buck Rutting Activity: Temperatures are actually feeling like it is November this year. As a result, deer activity seems to be ahead of schedule. Signs of pre-rut activity started showing up last week. Bucks are no longer in bachelor groups, buck necks are starting to swell, and young bucks have started chasing does.

Habitat Conditions: June and July were hot and dry for the most part throughout the Northwest and the Panhandle. August provided good amounts of moisture and unseasonably cool temperatures, which led to better-than-average cover regarding habitat this year. The rains stopped in mid-September, so it is starting to get dry throughout the region. Some low temperatures have dropped to the teens and 20s, so native food sources are dormant, and deer are using wheat and other agriculture crops on a regular basis.

Hunter and Landowner Reports: Hunters are reporting seeing young bucks sparring and chasing does, but not many mature bucks. Hunters are also reporting an overall increase in deer numbers, and a good fawn crop for the year. Landowners are noticing an increase in deer feeding on their wheat fields.

Public Land Best Bets: Hunters need to be sure and consult the regulations for the rules specific to the wildlife management area they choose to hunt. Some WMAs are closed the first weekend for controlled hunts, and some are closed to deer gun hunting entirely! All Northwest Region WMAs are closed to antlerless harvest except during some controlled hunts. If you have questions regarding regulations on a specific WMA, you can also contact the biologist or county game warden responsible for the area.

Advice for Deer Hunters: Scout the area and hunt all day if possible. If you are hunting public land, go a good distance into the area to get away from roads and campsites. Look for food sources and heavily traveled trails the deer are using.

Biggest Mistakes to Avoid: Being prepared for the hunt is crucial to having a good experience. If you are hunting public land, get a cart to assist in retrieving your deer. Make sure your rifle is sighted in prior to the hunt. Research the regulations for the area in which you want to hunt.

Opening Morning Expectations: Deer numbers in the Northwest and Panhandle have still not recovered to the density we had prior to 2011, however we are finally getting close. Rut will likely hit a little early this year, and will likely peak before opening day of gun season. But rut activity should carry on well into opening weekend. A new moon opening weekend should also increase deer activity during daylight hours. Deer gun hunter numbers will be high on Northwest Region WMAs that are open to deer gun hunting.

See much more information about deer hunting in Oklahoma on the Wildlife Department’s Deer Hunting Home Page at www.wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/species/deer.