The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission met Feb. 5 and voted to approve a slate of hunting and fishing related rule changes to go into effect this year. Some of the commission’s most notable actions at its meeting included unanimously withdrawing a proposal to change the structure of the antlered deer harvest limit, rejecting a proposal to lower the age limit on youth deer and turkey season participation, creating a new fall turkey hunting opportunity for youth and amending a proposal to change rules regarding the transportation of bait.
The actions taken by the commission come after a wave of feedback received during a public comment period held by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation from Dec. 3 to Jan. 11. The wildlife department received thousands of comments on the list of law change proposals up for consideration this year. Officials confirmed that input from the public always plays an important role in the decision-making process, but this year sportsmen were especially vocal on certain issues.
This year, one proposal was withdrawn that, had it been approved, would have restricted hunters’ annual antlered deer limit to one buck during muzzleloader and gun seasons combined. With no changes made to the current rules, hunters will continue to be allowed two bucks as part of their combined season limit that spans archery, muzzleloader and gun seasons.
By rejecting the proposal to lower the current age requirements for youth deer and turkey seasons, youth seasons will remain open to those under 18 years of age. Additionally, youth will now be able to harvest a turkey during the youth deer gun season if hunting in a county that is open to rifle hunting during the fall turkey gun season. Turkeys harvested during this season are not “bonus” turkeys and do count toward the youth hunters’ fall turkey season harvest limit.
Another proposal that would have prohibited the transport of live bait from any body of water was amended to specify no transport of bait only from reservoirs known to have silver and bighead carp. These non-native, invasive fish can be difficult to distinguish from shad when castnetting for bait, and they can outcompete native species for resources and wreak havoc on fisheries when established in a body of water. The revised language will allow the Wildlife Department to modify and update the list of applicable lakes each year in the Oklahoma Fishing Guide. The rule only applies to “waters of the state” and does not include private waters and farm ponds.
“In so doing, we can make it possible for anglers to transport bait from lakes where there currently aren’t any known infestations of bighead or silver carp, but if we discover any then we can update the list of lakes from which transporting bait is prohibited,” said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department.
Bolton said nearly 400 comments were received on the bait transportation proposal alone during the public comment period, and that the amendment was made after “careful consideration of all the comments and biological considerations.”
While complete details will be available in the next Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Guides, a listing of the changes approved by the Commission at its February meeting will be made available online at wildlifedepartment.com.