Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Turkey season opens Monday but fewer gobblers await hunters
Turkey season opens Monday in most of the state and there will be fewer turkeys out there, and perhaps fewer turkey hunters, as well, because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many Oklahomans undoubtedly will be going turkey hunting next week. Frankly, being isolated in the woods or at the lake is one of the safest places to be. Ticks will be a bigger risk while turkey hunting than COVID-19.
"Being in a turkey blind is a great place to be for people concerned about getting the virus," said Gene Muse, a retired orthopedic surgeon and hunter in Oklahoma City.
But anyone heading outdoors should take precautions against the virus. Any travel involves some risk, and the the greatest chance for a hunter or angler to come in contact with the virus is the points in between their homes and their hunting or fishing destination, such as stopping to get gas or something to eat.
"That is your potential exposure," Muse said. "You are much better off being out in the open."
Minimize contact with others as much as possible and wear gloves and a facemask in public places, not just for your protection, but for the protection of others. Even better, travel to the hunting camp and back without stopping if possible.
Most public hunting areas will be open across the state for turkey hunting, including all of the state's wildlife management areas.
"These are the outdoors," said Rod Smith, wildlife supervisor for the southwest region of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "As long as you are following all the guidelines from the state Department of Health, and the CDC and the governor's executive order, if you are doing all those things, from our standpoint you are good to go."
That means staying 6 feet away or more from others, washing your hands frequently, and no gathering in groups of 10 or more. Oklahomans older than 65 and anyone with serious underlying medical conditions are under the governor's executive order to stay home. Otherwise, getting outdoors is a good way to get exercise and relieve stress.
"What we are hearing is lots of people are going (turkey hunting) just to get outside," Smith said.
Oklahoma is a popular turkey hunting destination for out-of-state hunters, and state wildlife officials have contacted out-of-state residents with Oklahoma hunting licenses to urge them to comply with the guidelines and advisories.
Gov. Kevin Stitt has issued a statewide Executive Order that requires individuals to quarantine for 14 days once entering Oklahoma from states where significant community spread of COVID-19 has been identified, which currently includes New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Louisiana, California, and Washington.
Some out-of-state hunters are skipping turkey season this year. The Black Kettle National Grasslands and the Black Kettle Wildlife Management Wildlife Area near Cheyenne is a prime public destination for turkey hunters each year. The Cheyenne Motel is normally filled to capacity during turkey season, but this year it's down 50 percent, said Arthur Trammell, manager of the motel.
"I don't know whether it is the economy, or the virus, or both," Trammell said. "We've had some out-of-staters cancel. People in Kentucky called and said their governor don't want them to leave the state, and people form Louisiana, our governor barred them from coming in."
Trammell fears there are hard times ahead economically for Cheyenne.
"Oil and gas and hunting seasons really helps our little town," he said.
The turkey hunting is expected to be tough, too. Smith said the Rio Grande population is down this year.
"It's down especially in the west. The southwest was hardest hit," he said. "They haven't reproduced as well as normal in the last couple of years. There are birds out there. They are just not going be as abundant."
His best turkey hunting tip this season is to be patient.
"Without a lot of those young, dumb gobblers out there, (hunters) are just going to have to be extra patient and really work on not overcalling," Smith said. "This year, more than most, the harvest may not be the important part. It's just being out there."
Texas A&M student requests turkey feathers for research project
A Texas A&M student is requesting Rio Grande turkey feathers from Oklahoma hunters as part of a research project.
Amanda Beckman, a doctoral student in the ecology and evolutionary Biology program at Texas A&M, is asking Oklahoma hunters to pluck 10 breast feathers and mail them to her in sealable plastic bags.
For her dissertation, she is studying genetic differences between turkeys in different regions and hybridization with other subspecies.
"The Rios' original range only included Eastern Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, but in an effort to restore turkey numbers we moved Rios across the western U.S. and Hawaii," Beckman said in an email. "No one has done a genetic 'check-up' across the Rios' range, though. I am interested in seeing if there are genetic differences in different regions of the U.S."
State wildlife officials said Oklahoma hunters can send turkey feathers through the mail but must have e-checked the turkey and included their hunting license number and date of harvest in the package.
If interested, contact Beckman at www.amandatalksturkey.org.
Oklahoma Turkey Season
When: April 6-May 6
When: April 20-May 6