State primed for deer season
Food plots are planted and trail cameras are mounted. Many hunting enthusiasts in Oklahoma are gearing up for deer season.
It does not just put food on the table and provide sport for hunters. Deer hunting season and management of the deer population are essential for many reasons.
"Back when we didn't have seasons, we lost our game species," said Jim Shaw, Oklahoma State University professor of natural resources ecology management. "White tailed deer in Oklahoma were virtually extinct in about 1914."
Great strides have been taken since the mid-1950s to restore the population of white tailed deer in Oklahoma. Now, with a booming population of over an estimated half million, deer hunting season in the state is vital to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's mission to manage the deer population.
"There are a lot of places in Oklahoma and the rest of the country that have too many deer," Shaw said. "Once they get past a certain point they begin to be a pest."
Not only can too many deer cause damage to agricultural plots such as orchards, but also motor accidents increase with the deer population.
"A number of people are killed every year and a lot of damage is done to vehicles from collisions with deer," Shaw said. "In some states it even affects insurance rates."
However, it is not just humans who are affected by an abundance of deer.
"You're also getting an increase in Lyme disease in northern states such as New York, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. A bigger tick population in Oklahoma translates into risks for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is the most dangerous tick-born disease in the region," Shaw said. "There are all kinds of different effects of having too many deer. It's not a healthy situation."
Even with the state's extended rifle season, the deer population has continued to rise. One wonders what would happen without any hunting season.
"We would either have a much higher population, or because we couldn't afford adequate law enforcement, poaching would be greatly increased to where we would have too few deer," said Shaw. "The Department of Wildlife Conservation would be deprived of its major revenue stream from the purchase of licenses and tags."
The funding from licenses and tags is used to insure a healthy population of wildlife in the state, including the use of game wardens to enforce the rules. A big operation like the ODWC takes a lot of money to operate.
Since the 1930s, a manufacturer's excise tax has been placed on sporting arms and ammunition at 10 percent of the cost. This tax has been passed on to the consumer and collected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Services, Shaw said.
After a three-to-one match from the federal tax, the ODWC receives millions of dollars in funding, which is only available for use in wildlife management. Shaw said that about a third of the ODWC's budget comes from this federal aid, plus an equivalent program on sport fishing equipment.
"Between the license sales and the federal aid money, you've got big revenue sources," Shaw said. "It's a self-funding system and has wide public support. It's a beautifully conceived system."
Archery season in Oklahoma opened Oct. 1 and runs through Jan. 15. However, the bulk of the harvest will come during the first weekend of gun season, which opens the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs for 16 days.
For more information on deer hunting in Oklahoma, visit the ODWC website at www.wildlifedepartment.com.