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Oklahoma keeps producing trophy bucks

McKenzie Wagoner, 16, of Newcastle killed this 9-point buck last Sunday near Luther. Sunday is the last day of Oklahoma's deer gun season. Archery deer season remains open through Jan. 15. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

McKenzie Wagoner, 16, of Newcastle killed this 9-point buck last Sunday near Luther. Sunday is the last day of Oklahoma's deer gun season. Archery deer season remains open through Jan. 15. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Is Oklahoma now a trophy buck state?

Many hunters consider last year's deer season the best ever for trophy bucks in Oklahoma, and this year appears to be another good one judging from photos posted on social media.

Oklahoma might not be viewed as a trophy buck destination, but it is definitely viewed as a whitetail hunting destination, said Dallas Barber, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"I definitely think the last year put us on the map for a lot of trophy hunters," he said.

Oklahoma is producing more trophy bucks because hunters in recent years have been choosing to shoot fewer young bucks. More hunters are embracing the message from groups such as the Quality Deer Management Association and the Wildlife Department to let young bucks grow into older and bigger bucks.

"A trophy buck doesn't happen at 3½ years old," Barber said.

Over the years, there has been a tremendous shift in the age of deer that hunters are willing to shoot.

In 1985, 65 percent of the bucks killed by hunters during Oklahoma's deer seasons were 1½-year-old deer. Only 11 percent of the total harvest was 3½- and 4½-year-old bucks.

Last season, almost half (49 percent) of the bucks killed by Oklahoma hunters were 3½- and 4½-year-old deer. Just 17 percent of the total deer harvest was 1½-year-old bucks.

Oklahoma deer hunters are being a lot more selective.

"There are three things that it takes for a deer to grow a big set of antlers — age, nutrition and genetics," Barber said. "We can't control genetics, but you can control the age class of the deer you are harvesting."

Barber thinks the popularity of trail cameras is part of the reason so many deer hunters have changed their mindset.

"I think it has really had a big impact on deer hunting, not just in the state of Oklahoma, but everywhere," he said. "The quality and affordability of game cams has really improved over the last five or six years. People are able to put up quite a few of them on their places.

"If a person sees a big deer on their place, they are not going to harvest any buck that walks by. They are going to wait on the big one because they know he is out there."

An Oklahoma buck normally will not live in the wild longer than 8½ or 9½ years, Barber said. A whitetail will reach full maturity at 5½ to 6½ years old, he said.

"That's usually the peak years for antlers in most cases," Barber said.

Even though there is an antler craze among many deer hunters, there are still those who hunt primarily to put meat on the table. Oklahoma has a six-deer bag limit per hunter for all seasons — archery, muzzleloader and gun — and a two-buck bag limit.

"We got a little bit of everything," Barber said of Oklahoma deer hunting. "If you are interested in filling the freezer, we give you ample opportunity to do that. We also provide the possibility of harvesting a trophy buck and doing that over a wide array of landscapes."

The Wildlife Department also provides help to Oklahoma landowners who want to manage the deer herd on their properties.

"There is a wide array of assistance of why people contact us for deer management," Barber said. "Some want more deer. Others solely want to manage for trophy buck potential. We've got people and programs in place to help with all of that."

Sunday is the final day of Oklahoma's deer rifle season. Archery deer season continues through Jan. 15.

The holiday antlerless season runs from Dec. 21 to Dec. 30 in areas of the state where deer are overpopulated.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›