Wildlife Department continues to add more public hunting land
Big game archery seasons open Oct. 1, and there will be new public places to hunt in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Land Access Program, the new program where the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation leases property from private landowners for public use, now has more than 50 walk-in areas that will be open on Oct. 1 for archery hunting.
Overall, the Wildlife Department now has a total of 34,127 acres through OLAP leased for walk-in hunting access and another 45 surface acres that provide fishing.
The latest addition to OLAP is 22,000 acres in Cimarron and Texas counties where bow hunters can pursue pronghorn antelope. For a complete list and maps of OLAP properties, visit wildlifedepartment.com/olap.
The Wildlife Department also will be opening soon an additional 4,000 acres for public hunting in southern Oklahoma, the Arbuckle Springs Wildlife Management Area in Johnston County.
Arbuckle Springs will become the 69th wildlife management area in the state once Gov. Mary Fallin signs an order that enacts the hunting rules for the property.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission passed the emergency hunting rules for Arbuckle Springs at its September meeting. Fallin has 45 days to sign the order. If she signs the order this week, Arbuckle Springs will likely open Oct. 1.
Arbuckle Springs is west of the small town of Bromide in the Arbuckle Uplift. It will be different than any other wildlife management area in the state, said Jeff Pennington, the Wildlife Department's central region supervisor.
“It's a unique setting,” he said. “I think people will enjoy hunting there just because of the appearance. There is certainly a solid amount of game animals there, too, but I think people will just enjoy the unique aspect of it.
“This isn't the Arbuckles like you think of going down I-35, but it's a close second.”
Arbuckle Springs contains a shallow limestone soil with native grasses and shrubs. The southern and far northeastern parts of the wildlife management area is where it is the most rugged, Pennington said.
“In the middle, it's rocky and got a few ups and downs but pretty gentle terrain,” he said. “It kind of has a little mix of everything, but if people think it's going to be a place with a lot of water, it really isn't.”
There are springs on the property and a few farm ponds with fish, but Arbuckle Springs will primarily be a hunting destination, mostly for deer and turkey.
Under the proposed rules, only hunting, fishing and hunting or fishing-related camping would be allowed at Arbuckle Springs from Oct. 1 through Feb. 15.
The rest of the year, the wildlife management area would be open for other activities such as backpacking and horseback riding. Anyone not having a hunting or fishing license would need a wildlife conservation passport to access the area.
The passports are sold by the Wildlife Department to people who wish to use the agency's 69 wildlife management areas for activities other than fishing and hunting.
Pennington said there are a high density of rattlesnakes on Arbuckle Springs, and he recommends wearing snake boots if visiting during warm weather.
The Wildlife Department is always looking to acquire more land for public hunting, now either through leasing or purchasing. Surveys show the top concern of hunters is having a place to go and the primary reason hunting is on the decline nationwide.
“Our job is to find places for people to hunt,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the agency. “Sometimes (sellers) come to us. They want the state to own it. When we get it, we keep it. We don't sell it.
“For prosperity, they want their grandkids to be able to enjoy it. They know if they sell it to us, they (their grandkids) will be able to.”
Sportsmen and women in Oklahoma help pay for public hunting through their purchase of state hunting and fishing licenses. Included in those sales is the price of a legacy permit and that money is earmarked for land acquisition. About $2 million is raised annually through the legacy permit.
The Wildlife Department then can use Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds (75 percent) to match the state dollars (25 percent) to buy land.
The federal money is a tax collected from manufacturers of guns, ammo and outdoor-related products. The funds are placed with the U.S. Department of Interior then channeled through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to states based on land base and the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold in each state.
After the election of President Barack Obama, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds increased substantially as consumers rushed to buy more guns and ammo out of fear of stricter gun control laws. The taxes collected were a boon for state wildlife agencies getting Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds.
“We have got the most we have ever had right now,” Peoples said.
ARCHERY HUNTING SEASONS
Deer and Turkey: Oct. 1-Jan. 15, statewide
Elk: Oct. 1-Jan. 15 (private land only) except in Southwest Special Zone (Kiowa, Comanche, Caddo counties) where season dates are Oct. 7-11 and Dec. 9-13
Pronghorn Antelope: Oct. 1-14 in designated areas of Cimarron and Texas counties
Black Bear: Oct. 1-15 in Le Flore, Pushmataha, McCurtain and Latimer counties
New regulation: This season hunters may track downed game with a leashed dog. Hunters must notify a game warden beforehand and cannot carry any legal means of take while tracking.