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Oklahoma officials detail rut; rifle season opens Nov. 20

From the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

-- Oklahoma's deer rifle season kicks off Nov. 20, and conservation  personnel are reporting the rut is heating up just in time.
           
Hunters have been harvesting mature deer throughout archery and muzzleloader seasons. Even celebrities are getting in on the action. Country music star Blake Shelton took a trophy buck Nov. 12 in south central Oklahoma.

"Making music is my livelihood, and I love it, but when it comes to my time,  I head to the woods," Shelton said. "I can't wait to be in the deer woods. Deer season is like early Christmas around our place."
           
The rut typically occurs around the second week of November, but deer activity can be influenced by factors such as day length, temperatures, moon phase and herd condition.
           
Northwest Oklahoma has excellent deer hunting - not to mention big deer - and biologists believe recent fall weather has triggered deer activity in the area.  According to wildlife supervisor Wade Free, conditions during deer muzzleloader season were unusually warm and windy.
           
"There were a few really nice bucks harvested, but overall the harvest was down, mostly a result of hot, windy conditions," he said. Free also noted most winter wheat fields were not going strong and deer were not moving to and from crop fields.
           
He expects different results this weekend. "Rifle season has the potential to coincide perfectly with rutting activity."

In the opposite corner of the state - the southeast - the rut is increasing in intensity but has not seen its peak, according to Jack Waymire, senior wildlife biologist. "Archers are harvesting mature bucks, and bucks are cruising, chasing does," he said. "The highest peak of the rut is still ahead."
           
The region's acorn production is poor although some can be found along river systems. Deer movement is picking up, increasing the chances for hunters to see and harvest deer. "If the weather cooperates, it's shaping up to be a good deer gun season," he said.
           
Southeast Oklahoma is known for large expanses of public land open to deer hunting, particularly on wildlife management areas.
           
For $40 - the cost of a Land Access Permit - Oklahoma hunters can gain hunting or fishing access on the Honobia Creek and Three Rivers Wildlife Management Areas where the upcoming deer season is expected to be a good one.
           
"Our 2010 deer surveys were even better than the record-breaking 2009," according to Kyle Johnson, ODWC biologist stationed on Honobia Creek and Three Rivers WMA. "With a little effort and willingness to do some hiking through the woods and hunting away from roadways, hunters will have a good opportunity to see deer this gun season."
           
Johnson also has noted increased rutting activity in the southeast region, but reports from the southwest region indicate the rut has been slow to develop.
           
"This is probably good news for those planning to hunt the deer gun season opener," Rod Smith, southwest region supervisor said. "The cool wet weather last weekend should increase deer movements and typical rutting behavior."
           
Smith said deer activity through muzzleloader season and controlled hunts in early November was very slow. Last week, hunters reported new scrapes, but adult bucks were still being observed in groups. Hunters in the field didn't observe significant rutting activity last week, yet there was an increase in vehicle-killed deer, a sign the rut is beginning.
           
In the central region, hunters observed increased rutting activity toward the end of muzzleloader season.
           
"A cool front dropped temperatures to the lows 30s at daylight and high 50s at sunset," said Rex Umber, central region senior biologist. "Above normal temperatures followed with limited activity, and bucks appear to be on the move again." The deer harvest is currently down about 25 percent in the central region compared to last year, Umber said, with some mature bucks harvested during archery and muzzleloader seasons.
           
"The acorn crop appeared good in early summer, but weather conditions were not favorable for development in July and August," Umber said. Acorns are spotty, but the persimmon crop is good and deer are hitting these sites very hard. Wheat crops are also spotty."        

While Umber refrains from predicting central region rut dates, he notes Nov. 15 as the usual time to observe the rut.
           
In the northeast, rutting activity has picked up and, though it could wind down in the early part of deer gun season, deer will still be active. The northeast region also experienced a warm early muzzleloader season, but as the season progressed, pre-rut activity picked up.

Reports submitted by Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor, indicates deer harvested during muzzleloader season were in good physical condition and a number of good average bucks were harvested, though few may have been considered trophy animals.
           
Hunters in the northeast region should expect the rut peak to be winding down and adjust techniques accordingly. Scouting is key, and doe estrous calls, antler rattling and grunt tubes may work, but hunting travel lanes to bedding or feeding areas could be more effective.

Endicott reports most oak species in the northeast produced at least some acorns, and deer are feeding on them. Oak stands and other food sources where does may be feeding, make ideal locations as breeding activity lingers.
           
Deer gun season runs Nov. 20 through Dec. 5. For more information about license requirements, regulations and antlerless deer hunting requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Hunting Guide or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
                       
Hunters are advised to use weekdays as much as possible, and to stay in the woods as long as they are able. The second week of the deer gun season should not be overlooked as a prime time to harvest a buck. Hunters not successful early on opening day should remember deer frequently get up to feed and move about around mid-morning to mid-day. Hunters who are still in the woods during those times take a deer home.

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