Oklahoma has a lot of deer. Estimated populations are anywhere from 550,000 to 650,000, so this year’s rifle season harvest should be a good one, as far as total numbers go.
However, the quality of deer that hunters harvest may be slacking a little due to the extreme hot and dry weather over the summer and continuing into the fall, said Jerry Shaw, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation big game biologist.
Check in stations may see some pretty big differences in body weight of deer, especially in the western and southwestern parts of the state, where the drought hit the hardest.
“Most of the forage down there is dry and not very palatable,” Shaw said. “Some of the deer in that part of the state are in pretty bad shape, as far as body weight. They’re going to start slimming up pretty quick.”
Mature deer should not quite feel the same effects as they are not trying to gain weight, rather maintain their bodies. However, these breeding age bucks may have a difficult time even doing that as they search for does.
“The more mature bucks are going to be doing the majority of the breeding and that’s going to be pretty difficult on them,” he said. “They will be spending a lot of energy trying to find does, and they’re going to be hard pressed to try and replace that energy.”
It will not be just the bucks that are hurting, either.
“It’s been really difficult for does that conceived and actually had fawns over the summer,” said Jim Shaw, professor in the department of natural resource ecology and management at Oklahoma State University. “It’s difficult for them to try to get body weight on themselves and have enough nutrition to be able to lactate and feed their fawns.”
There have been reports of fawns being abandoned in western Oklahoma where the does simply cannot produce enough milk to feed her offspring, forcing her to leave in an effort to save herself.
Also, a lack of forage is not the only problem for Oklahoma deer.
“As the habitat gets depleted there is no regrowth of the undergrowth,” said Jerry. “Not only the food component, but the cover component is now missing, which increases predation.”
An increase of fawn carcasses has been reported, which indicates coyotes and bobcats have had some easy pickings.
“There’s not a whole lot of places for deer to hide, and they’re having to move a whole lot more to get their nutrition requirements,” Jerry said. “In that regard, we’re probably going to have a pretty good deer harvest this year.”
Hunters with artificial feeders should have great success as deer are on the prowl for food. And, it’s not too late.
“If you were to put out a bait pile, you could have deer show up in a day,” he said.
The 16-day rifle season opens Saturday.