By KELLY BOSTIAN
• Tulsa World
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Calling factors that affected the 2013-14 deer-hunting season a “perfect storm” in many ways, the big-game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said this year’s 18.4 percent decline in deer harvest numbers should turn around this coming season.
“If you look back at the numbers over time, we have had years where there is a dip in numbers and it will grow again, and there will be a dip and it will grow again,” biologist Erik Bartholomew said.
Over the long term, the 2013-14 season should eventually stand out as an anomaly, the Tulsa World reported.
“It’s not something we expect will continue,” he said.
The state’s annual big game report, which will be printed in the September/October issue of the Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Oklahoma magazine, lays out the harvest numbers after the first year that all information was collected online.
Deer hunters claimed a total of 88,009 deer kills for 2013-14, 52,197 bucks (59.3 percent) and 35,812 (40.7 percent) does. It is an 18.4 percent decrease from the 107,848 killed the previous year, and 26 percent lower than the record harvest of 119,349 taken during the 2006-07 season.
The report will show declines in all three major types of deer hunting seasons: archery, muzzleloader and gun, with the largest decline in muzzleloader season. Muzzleloader hunters took 14,981 deer, down 6,624 animals (30.7 percent) from the previous year.
Gun season harvest was 51,588, down 11,447 animals (18.2 percent), and archery hunters took 21,440 deer, down 1,768 deer (7.6 percent).
Factors contributing to the decline are continued drought in much of the state, difficult hunting conditions in parts of the state springing from the drought, and severe weather events at key points.
With fewer deer born in 2011 and 2012 the population in some areas is the smallest it has been in many years. Places continuing to suffer from drought had poor food sources and even fewer deer available. Parts of the state that did have a moist summer and fall had fewer deer that were moved around less because of an abundance of natural food sources like acorns and persimmons. When the deer did move they were well hidden because the return to a moist environment spurred growth of dense vegetation and tall grasses.
“In many areas they weren’t coming to feeders and food plots,” Bartholomew said. He hunted an area with persimmon trees “so full they were bending over to the ground.” Hunters had to adjust accordingly. “You had to target the available food sources,” he said.
Bad weather also played a direct part in reducing the deer harvest in 2013-14. The gun season was affected by two major winter storm events over its 16-day run, along with several days of heavy fog in many areas of the state. Significant winter weather also affected the opening few days of the holiday antlerless season.
A lesser factor may include the inaugural year of the Department’s “Hunters In The Know Let Bucks Grow,” program, which encourages hunters to pass up shots on younger bucks in favor of taking only mature bucks.
Some hunters have worried openly that the online e-check system is to blame for a part of the decrease because they believe it is easier for hunters to cheat the system now that all reporting is done online. Bartholomew said he doesn’t believe that is the case.
“It is more convenient now than ever to check your deer,” he said. “It is just as easy to drive past a check station and not physically check a deer as it is to fail to report it online.”
The system aids biologists and game wardens, who have instant access to all reports.
Subscriptions to the Outdoor Oklahoma magazine are available through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife by calling 800-777-0019 or going to tinyurl.com/OutdoorOklahoma.