Oklahoma Deer Hunters Post Record-Breaking 2020 Numbers

by Chris Haney

A recent report by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) showed an increase in license sales during the 2020-2021 deer hunting season and a record-breaking harvest.

According to Chandi Gregory of 5NEWS, Oklahoma’s all-time high in license sales led to a record-setting harvest of more than 120,000 deer. Additionally, the ODWC announced that anterless harvests made up more than 40% of the total harvest. That set another deer hunting record in the state. Furthermore, the Holiday Antlerless Season harvest came close to doubling since the previous year.

It is suspected that the COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to the record-breaking deer hunting season in Oklahoma. Many Americans looked for new opportunities to explore the outdoors last year. Also, many hunters had more time on their hands because of the pandemic.

Another factor in the uptick could be the economic uncertainty that surrounded COVID-19. With meat shortages around the country being a real issue, securing meat through hunting became a viable option for some.

Oklahoma and Arkansas Hunters Break Records During Pandemic

Oklahoma’s neighboring state of Arkansas shared a similar increase across the board for their deer hunting season. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) reported record numbers as well.

The AGFC stated that meat shortages during the pandemic could have influenced hunters’ mindsets last year. They likely harvested more deer to make up for the meat shortage. Many considered venison as a healthy and sustainable alternative to beef and pork.

“I know of several people who harvested, or attempted to harvest, more deer than they normally would this season to fill their freezer for the coming year,” said Ralph Meeker, AGFC deer program coordinator.

“We’ve also likely seen some hunters who had not purchased a license in a few years get reactivated this year. But those are only two factors that went into the high harvest,” Meeker continued. “All of the factors that hindered harvest in 2019 were nearly the exact opposite in 2020.”

The record-breaking 2019-2020 deer harvest season was a combination of multiple factors. Flooding the previous two years and a huge crop of hard mast also contributed to the large increases in the state.

“Spring and summer flooding in 2018 and 2019 contributed to lower fawn recruitment in certain parts of the state,” Meeker explained. “Then a massive crop of hard mast, primarily acorns, reduced deer movement and made deer feeders much less productive. On top of that, flooding during the peak of the gun season closed hunting in some parts of the state.”