As Sooner State bowhunters anticipate the arrival of this weekend’s opening bell for the 2017-18 Oklahoma deer archery season, it’s easy to understand the excitement that many of them have.
In fact, it’s likely that many of the state’s bowbenders are downright giddy as they sharpen their broadheads, scent-proof the camouflage clothing, and load up their treestand backpacks for the Oct. 1-Jan. 15 season that begins this Sunday morning a half-hour before sunrise.
After all, by almost any measure, the 2016-17 bowhunting season for white-tailed deer was a tremendous success across the state, record setting in more ways than one.
For starters, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reports that there was a record number of whitetails harvested during last year’s deer archery season with a total of 26,151 animals taken by stick-and-string enthusiasts.
Last year was also a record setter thanks to two huge non-typical bucks that were tagged by Sooner State archers within a couple of days of each other.
The first, a 37-point non-typical that net scored 245 5/8-inches, was arrowed in Cleveland County on Nov. 10, 2016 by Moore, Okla. bowhunter Jeff Parker. Two days later on Nov. 12, 2016, Lawton, Okla. archer Travis Ocker tagged his own giant non-typical, a 245 2/8-inch bruiser in Comanche County that sported 28-points.
Those are massive whitetails in any deer hunting spot across the North American continent, even in the big buck heavens of Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, South Texas, and Canada, places known for producing giant non-typicals.
In fact, the Parker buck is the current ODWC Cy Curtis Program state record archery non-typical while the Ocker buck checks into second place by a scant 2/8 of an inch on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring scale.
With that in mind, what can Sooner State bowhunters expect this season?
With a little luck, more of the same.
“After a wet spring in portions of the state, habitat conditions are great for deer numbers in many areas,” said Dallas Barber, the new ODWC big game biologist who started on the job earlier this month.
As an Oklahoma native who grew up in Edmond and graduated from Stillwater’s Oklahoma State University, Barber is a deer hunter himself and says that he’s excited about what lays ahead for hunters this fall.
“There should be plenty of opportunity for bowhunters this year and that includes the immediate opening day coming up on Sunday, Oct. 1,” said Barber. “With the cooler (and wetter) weather across the state, the deer should be on their feet. It should be a great time to get out into the woods.”
With the state’s excellent habitat currently in place, don’t overlook finding the local whitetail chow hall says Barber.
“Efforts at the beginning of the season should be focused on early season patterns,” he said. “Look for deer near agricultural fields and in the travel corridors (from food to bedding areas).”
As October deepens, one wild card on many archer’s hunting ground will be the dropping of red oak and white oak acorns across the state.
“This year’s mast crop should be good with all of the moisture that we’ve had,” said Barber. “Once the acorns start dropping, that’s going to be the place to be.”
Later in October, as the pre-rut phase of the whitetail autumn begins to approach, food will remain important for does, but less so for bucks beginning to get love on their mind.
But don’t necessarily wait until then, thinking that the fall’s best action is during the crazy days of the November rut.
“During the early season, there comes a little bit more ease of patterning big bucks,” said Barber. “At this time of the year, they tend to stick to a schedule of some sorts. So if you can figure out the pattern, then the early season is probably your best chance to take a big buck.”
That being said, the rut is the annual deer hunting version of the circus as bucks quite literally throw caution to the wind as does begin to come into estrous.
“When the rut comes in, they can kind of go crazy,” said Barber. “They don’t think very clearly then and some of their survival instinct kind of goes by the wayside.”
Thanks to ODWC’s regulation package that tries to manage for older bucks while still allowing hunters the chance to put venison in their freezers, local hunters can expect more good hunting opportunity here in Bryan County.
After all, Bryan County was home to the Oklahoma state record typical whitetail for a number of years, thanks to the giant buck tagged in the northern portion of the county back on Nov. 21, 1997.
That’s when Atoka County game warden Larry Luman enjoyed a day off in a treestand, tagging a giant whitetail that gross scored 199 2/8-inches and net scored 186 2/8-inches. The huge Bryan County buck stood guard for a full decade as the top Sooner State buck in the Boone and Crockett Club’s Records of North American Big Game record book
Truth be told, don’t be surprised to find a big buck falling to an archer this fall in just about any corner of the Sooner State, the local woods included. In fact, Barber says that there really isn’t a county where a bruiser buck couldn’t fall to a well placed shot.
“Absolutely, in almost any county across the state, as far as trophy bucks go, there really aren’t any bad spots,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty diverse state in terms of habitat and bucks have got what they need to grow big in just about any county.”
But while the hope for a big buck drives many archers across the state, Barber knows that others are most satisfied by simply putting succulent venison on the table.
“We’ve done a good job in recent years in educating our hunters in terms of managing our deer herd (for more older age class animals),” he said. “But we know we have different types of hunters – some are trophy hunters, others just want to fill up their freezers. Hopefully, we’re providing a little something for everyone.”
All in all, whether a Sooner State archer is hoping to call the taxidermist or the deer processing plant – or both, for that matter – the upcoming 2017-18 season should be long on opportunity.
“I’d say from recent trends over the last few years, hunters can expect hunting this fall that’s pretty close to what we observed last year, if not even a little bit better,” said Barber.
And on the heels of a record setting bowhunting season a year ago, what’s not to like about that?
Hunter Note: Oklahoma has one of the more liberal season bag limits nationwide for archery deer hunters, allowing six deer (only two of which may be bucks). All deer taken during archery season count toward a hunter’s combined season bag limit, and hunters must always field tag and report their harvest using the online E-Check system.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for the Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and lives in Denison, Texas