Oklahoma doesn’t perform a deer population estimate. But, based on stable harvests going back to 2006, mostly in the 110,000 deer range, the state’s deer herd is doing well, said Erik Bartholomew, Big Game Biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Certain areas of the state are experiencing a prolonged drought which has the potential to impact deer numbers and herd health, but overall, our deer are healthy and plentiful,” he said.
Last summer was very, very dry and deer forage took a beating. Things improved slightly over the winter with some precipitation, though it was below normal levels.
“This spring was more normal with good precipitation falling across most of the state,” Bartholomew adds. “With the normal spring we have seen a good response in native vegetation allowing pregnant does carrying fawns an opportunity to be in good condition. But, since the early spring rains, most of the state is beginning to see the effects of drought.”
The drought is most pronounced in Oklahoma’s Panhandle, plus northwestern and southwestern counties, and it keeps getting worse as the summer progresses. By the middle of August, the area covered by “exceptional drought,” the worst rating available, more than doubled, from just over 16 percent to almost 39 percent. The longer-term forecast indicates things aren’t going to improve here for the next couple months.
By mid August, epizootic hemorrhagic disease was reported in northeast Oklahoma as the cause of death among small numbers of deer near the Verdigris River.
Oklahoma’s northwest region and southeastern counties tend to produce the largest bucks on a consistent basis. “The northwest has a good mix of native habitat, cropland and fewer people, and that allows the bucks to grow,” Bartholomew said. “The southeast part of the state with its rugged mountains and dense vegetation makes hunting more difficult, often allowing bucks to reach a more mature age.”
The second full week of November is usually when the rut peaks in Oklahoma.
The Southern Regional Report
It looks like this will be another strong season for southeastern deer hunters, with deer herds in good to very good condition. Deer populations are stable to slightly growing, and all states expected a strong fawn crop this year. The central south (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) saw drought expand over the region as summer went forward. However, this part of the country did receive substantial spring and early-summer rains, which generated a good deal of forage, so deer went into the summer in pretty good condition.
Top Trophy Zones
AR: Arkansas and Chicot counties.
FL: Alachua, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties.
LA: Avoyelles, Concordia, and East Feliciana parishes.
MS: Delta counties like Bolivar, Tallahatchie, and Yazoo are well represented in the record books. Outside of the Delta, Adams County has produced trophy bucks for the past 50 years, including the current state typical record, a 10-pointer killed in 2010 that netted an amazing 184 6⁄8.
OK: Osage and Coal counties. The latter is developing a reputation as a big-buck county, and that was only enhanced last year when 13-year-old Kelsey McKay shot a 200 7⁄8-inch monster non-typical. It is the largest buck ever taken in Coal, a county well represented in the state record books for both typical and non-typical whitetails.
SC: Orangeburg, Aiken, Fairfield, and Colleton counties.
TN: Cumberland and Van Buren counties, and the Tennessee sections of the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell Military Installation.
TX: Irion, Kennedy, Maverick, Tom Green, and Webb counties.