Oct. 1 marks the opening day of archery hunting opportunities in Oklahoma.

Most popular and widely available is the deer archery season, which runs through Jan. 15 and offers the opportunity to harvest up to six deer. Adventurous archers also have the opportunity to hunt for turkeys, antelope and black bears beginning Oct. 1.

“Oklahoma really is a land of opportunity for archery hunters,” said Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Not only do we have several archery seasons opening Oct. 1, but they each provide ample time and opportunity for diligent hunters to go afield and harvest an animal.”

Last year, more hunters took to the outdoors during deer archery season than ever before with numbers approaching 6-figures, according to the Game Harvest Survey conducted by the Wildlife Department.

Bartholomew has advice for archery hunters headed to the field this year.

Hunters will need to do some extra scouting this year, due to the varying amounts of rainfall spread across the state. In some areas that received rains at the right time, natural food crops such as acorns and pecans are plentiful, while other areas will be very sparse in forage foods.

Bartholomew also said the increased rainfall has resulted in heavier vegetation, which could also mean visibility could be lower for hunters.

“You may not be able to see deer as well this year as you could in recent years when drought has pretty much dried up much of the vegetation,” he said. “Deeper grass and thicker brushy cover helps to conceal animals, especially in the early seasons.”

“Deer will be going into the winter in good shape this year,” Bartholomew said.

With plenty of food and vegetation, deer stand a better chance of eating well and preparing for colder months ahead than they do when food is limited.

“I expect we’ll have a great deer archery season this year as usual,” Bartholomew said.

The most drastic declines the last couple of years came from harvest during the gun season. Cold, wet weather had more impact on the harvest than originally estimated. So combining the decline of participation due to cold and a drought that has had some impact on the deer population, a down curve in harvest is not a surprise.

Hopefully the harvest will continue to grow this year and once again eclipse the 100,000 mark. 2006 was the best harvest in history with more than 120,000 deer harvested, last year just over 100,000 deer were taken.

If taking a deer with your bow is getting routine, then perhaps you might want to get in on some of the other archery opportunities happing in the Sooner State.

While deer archery season is open statewide, antelope hunters must hunt in Cimarron Co. and that portion of Texas Co. west of state highway 136. Black bear season is open only in Choctaw, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties, and portions of McIntosh, Muskogee and Sequoyah counties.

Antelope populations continue to be down from traditional numbers, but a greater availability of food and water sources should benefit antelope going into the winter while challenging hunters to look beyond limited watering holes and feeding locations that have proven successful in the past.

“The prepared archery hunter will have scouted, talked to several landowners, secured the required written landowner permission they need to hunt, and will be ready for action Oct. 1,” Bartholomew said.

Antelope archery season runs Oct. 1-14.

Bear hunters in southeast Oklahoma should be prepared to hunt this year in areas with plenty of natural food sources as well.

According to Jeff Ford, southeast region wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Department, the region has a decent mast crop this year but a late April freeze effected some areas, which could lead to good opportunities on public lands as well as private lands.

Last year’s conditions were similar and because of the natural food sources bears did not come to bait as readily. Consequently the harvest has been low the last couple of years. Archery hunters continue to take the majority of bear harvested in Oklahoma.

Ford suggests hunters should not rule out hunting on wildlife management areas simply because baiting is prohibited on those lands. About 25 percent of the total bear harvest last year was reported harvested from public lands.

The upcoming annual black bear archery season will continue to offer ample hunting time and opportunity to sportsmen. Archery season will run Oct. 1-18 with no set quota for archery (a muzzleloader season with a 20-bear quota will start Oct. 24 and run through Nov. 1).

Ford says the structure of the bear season secures better opportunities for hunters compared to the first few years when quotas caused bear season to end in a matter of days or less.

“You’ll have at least two full weekends to hunt,” Ford said. “You won’t feel the need to rush out and getting your hunting done the first day.”

More time to hunt also allows hunters to be more selective about which bears they harvest, since they won’t feel the pressure to harvest a bear before a season quota is reached.

Fall turkey archery season runs Oct. 1 through Jan. 15, 2020, and hunters may harvest one turkey of either sex, statewide. It’s common for deer hunters to head to the field with the proper fall turkey license in case they get an opportunity to harvest a turkey while deer hunting.

Seasons on public lands may vary from statewide season dates. Complete details and regulations for each season — including hunter education and apprentice-designated license requirements — can be found in the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” available free online or in print anywhere hunting licenses are sold.

Getting ready for bow season

With bow season just a couple of weeks away, it is time to get on your game face. If you plan to head to the woods beginning October 1, hopefully you’ve began the process of getting ready. If not, it is time to start.

The National Bowhunter Education Foundation (NBEF) offers education programs across the country to certify bowhunters. Some states require this training before a hunter can purchase the require bow tags to hunt. Oklahoma currently does not require the certification, but other states that Sooner hunters travel for yearly hunts do.

A few classes are offered in the state, but can also be taken online at the NBEF’s website. In fact, any new bowhunter should log on and take the online course just to brush up on the skills that are required during this season.

Sighting in your bow is probably one of the most important pre-season practices a bowhunter need to undergo. The ability to hit a small target consistently from a variety of distances is imperative in bowhunting. A shot just a few inches offline can cause the wounding of an animal, something every hunter tries to prevent.

Sighting-in is the process of adjusting your sights (or sight picture on traditional bows) to hit the bull’s-eye or vitals area on a sight-in target. Here are a few suggestions from the NBEF to get you started right.

Begin by shooting a minimum of five arrows at a standard target from 10 yards away. Even though you’re aiming for the bull’s-eye, hitting it isn’t the key. The goal is to place a grouping of arrows anywhere on the target. A grouping indicates that your stance, anchor point, aim, sight picture, release, and follow-through are consistent. Tight groups also show that you are consistent in your attempts to hit your aiming spot.

If you have difficulty placing a grouping, then there is more wrong than the sights being off. Check to make sure the sights or peep are not loose, also make sure that your release and release point are being anchored to the same spot every time you shoot. If problems persist seek help at an archery pro shop or seek the advice of a more experienced archer.

Once the grouping is established, “follow the arrow” when adjusting your front sight. That is, if your arrows are grouping below and to the right of the bull’s eye on the target, move your front sight down and to the right. This sometimes seems backwards, but it will work.

Remember small changes at the bow mean large differences at the target. Make a small adjustment and shoot five more arrows. There are no instant bowhunters. Learning to hit your target accurately with a bow and arrow requires practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll shoot.

The NBEF also offers these practice tips for new and experienced bowhunters alike.

· Safety — Make safety your first consideration when practicing with your bow. Always make sure your target is in a safe practice area, which includes a safe background. Don’t practice in a location if there is even a remote possibility that your arrow could escape the area and endanger people, pets, buildings, or property. For a nominal fee, many archery shops offer indoor shooting, which is a great way to practice year-round.

· Proper Form — All the practice in the world won’t help if you shoot with poor form. Seek professional assistance at your local archery pro shop. It’s not too difficult to find an instructor to teach you the correct shooting form.

· Shooting Distance — Start your practice sessions with close-up bull’s-eye targets. As your skill improves with closer targets, you can work farther away. Over time, you’ll determine your maximum range for accurate shooting.

· Frequency — The quickest way to build accuracy and confidence is with regular practice. It’s only after you become a competent archer that you can make the transition to bowhunter.

Just like in golf, when a shooter makes a bad shot there are usually one reason for the error. If your shooting (or your golf game) is like mine, the trouble is finding that reason and then making the proper adjustment.

The reasons for a bad shot can usually be broken down into three major areas of letdown: poor follow-through, inconsistent anchor point, or poor release.

I took an archery class in college and one of the first things my instructor taught us was to over exaggerate the follow through when shooting. This means holding the bow steady well after the shot has been released. This is the quickest way to develop consistency in bow shooting.

Finding a consistent anchor point for the string or release is one of the most important aspects of shooting. I use the knuckle of my thumb sunk into the corner of my mouth. Depending on the type of release you use, or if you shoot instinctively without a release, this will vary.

Almost all other type of misses are caused by a poor release such as jerking or cheating up on the string. Flinching or twitching during a release—often caused by “target panic” or “buck fever” can cause a miss. Tight finger grip on the string or muscle fatigue from holding and drawing, or tension from nervousness can all cause a non-smooth release.

All of these can be overcome by practice. By putting yourself in the position of shooting at a deer over and over again makes the process second nature and usually results in better shots.

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