Ray: Irrigated Crops Drawing Oklahoma Deer

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer … Continued

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Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family’s Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.

I got 1.2 inches of rain at ranch headquarters last week here in the Texas Panhandle. That makes roughly 2.5 inches at the ranch in the past 30 days. Still a long ways from breaking the drought, but it helps. I almost feel guilty reporting it considering many parts of the region are still as dry as they were in August.

Last year, I hunted whitetails in northwestern Oklahoma with my friend Shawn Hoover. We hunted land that’s been in his family since the 1920s. It’s a mix of agriculture near cottonwood-lined river bottoms, rolling hills with sagebrush, and open rangeland. I asked Shawn to give me an update on the drought and prospects for hunting deer in the Oklahoma Panhandle this season.

“The drought in the Oklahoma Panhandle has had a big impact on the local deer herd. This year the fawn crop is down. In years past it was very common to see twins and some triplets. This year, however, it has been only some singles (I look for a big impact in mature buck sightings in about 4 years.)

“The key to a great deer season is going to be access to irrigated crops as these areas are getting hammered by the local herds. The drought has caused area farmers to only plant wheat if they have an irrigation system in place, since there is not any subsoil moisture in non-irrigated crop fields. On the irrigated fields, deer are traveling much further distances than usual to feed. These fields (like alfalfa) are being grazed so heavily that crop damage is occurring. Last night on a survey of two of my family’s irrigated circles, we lost count of the number of deer when we hit 110!

“This is the largest number of deer I have ever seen on these fields in my 42 years. Talking to the rest of the family, they all agree there have never been this many deer coming in to feed here in the entire ranch’s history, which dates back to the 1920s.”

If you plan to hunt in northwestern Oklahoma this season, now is the time to ask farmers with irrigated crops for permission to hunt. You can bet wheat and alfalfa fields, especially near cover like river bottoms, will hold lots of deer through the rut and into the winter.