By ROB W. ANDERSON
While local hunters may be bagging their share of deer during the regular season, drivers in Cherokee County are taking out their fair share, too – and this year, the number of accidents involving deer seems higher than before.
Unseasonably warm weather and drought conditions in 2012 have impacted the availability of food and water, and have caused deer to move outside their normal patterns. This has brought them in closer contact with populated areas and human activity.
According to Cherokee County Game Ranger Brady May, the likelihood of bagging a deer under controlled conditions – like with a corn feeder – increases, as will the chances of meeting a deer trying to cross the road. The chance of seeing deer on roadways is at its peak during mating season.
“People may see deer along the highway during the rub, when they’re moving and breeding, which is pretty much over now,” May said. “This year, it was right around muzzleloader season and over by the time gun season started.”
Outdoor sportsman who enjoy hunting deer have from Oct. 1 to Jan. 15 to claim their trophy bucks in Oklahoma. In 2011, Cherokee County reported 3,293 kills, second only to Atoka County, which reported 3,386 deer harvested.
Nationally, about 1.5 million deer-vehicle accidents occur each year, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office reports that about 1,650 animal-related crashes take place each year.
Because not every accident is reported to authorities, it is difficult to provide exact numbers, officials say. Lifelong residents of Oklahoma should be aware of the road dangers deer season can present and need to exercise caution when driving early in the morning or late at night, said May.
“What you, as individuals, have seen on the highway hasn’t changed in the past 10 years,” he said. “They know when deer season is and know when they start rutting and running. They need to start slowing down on the highway at night. People around here have a long history associated with hunting and deer season, and that’s not news to them.”
According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the archery deer season opens Oct. 1 and runs through Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. The muzzleloader season began Oct. 27 and closed Saturday, Nov. 4, while the deer gun season opened Nov. 17 and closed Sunday, Dec. 2.
The total number of deer harvested in Cherokee County this season won’t be available until after Jan. 15. But as of Dec. 2, the Tahlequah check-in station, or the Phillips 66 convenience store on Allen Road, has recorded 121 kills, while the Keys check-in station, Jimmy Houston Outdoors, has logged 363 used deer tags.
Though drivers seem to be seeing more deer along roadways, the need to expand the hunting season to manage the deer population is not a big topic of discussion, said May.
“After our 16-day gun season, most people are sick of hunting. There was very little participation this last week,” he said. “And we have so much opportunity with the holiday coming up. Deer season, basically, starts Oct. 1 and runs into January. I haven’t seen any public hearing notice or request to open up additional opportunity. Even if we did, I don’t think there are enough sportsman to take advantage of it, and you’re limited on the number you can harvest. You can take up to six a year, but most only take one or two.”
According to the ODWC, the combined season limit for deer archery, youth deer gun, deer muzzleloader and deer gun seasons is no more than six deer per hunter. This limit may include no more than two antlered deer, reduced from three to two five years ago, and may be reduced to a one-buck limit, said May.
“There is some discussion about trying to reduce the number of younger bucks harvested. I believe there is a public hearing scheduled in January,” he said.
Drivers along State Highways 10 and 82 have reported the number of dead deer on the roadside seems to have increased.Sportsmen point out some of these deer may have been injured by a hunter and later died elsewhere. A few reports have been logged indicating the antlers of deer killed on the highway have been taken for trophies, either by drivers who hit them or trophy hunters passing by.
“The idea to restrict hunters to harvesting just one antlered deer during muzzleloader or gun season denotes the number of individuals trying to bag their trophy buck,” said Scott Pettus, a local outdoor sportsman who owns hunting acreage in the Tahlequah area.
“Our deer population around here is certainly healthy. I think Cherokee County is either second or third in the state ever year, as far as deer harvest numbers go.”
Hunters using the online check-in system has made monitoring the number of used tags difficult on a local level, said Cherokee County Game Ranger Anthony Clark.
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