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Youth Deer Gun Season Making Youth Hunting a Priority in 2021

Photo Credit: Smokey Solis

Oklahoma’s youth deer gun season is a chance for kids to go deer hunting for three days with adult supervision before all of the adult gun hunters head to the woods, and participation is easy. Think of this guide as a handbook to walk you through everything you need to know to have a successful youth deer gun season experience, whether you are a youth hoping to hunt or an adult interested in taking a youth on a deer hunt this year. The steps in this guide cover everything from where to go hunting and legal requirements to tips and advice for making your hunt fun and successful. First and foremost, mark your calendars for Oct. 15-17, 2021. These are the dates of the 2021 youth deer gun season, and you don’t want to miss out. It’s easy to participate in this affordable, safe and fun hunting opportunity. It’s also exclusive to youth hunters under 18 years of age. They just need an adult who can take them. Eligible youth and adults who plan to accompany a youth hunter don’t need any prior hunting experience, and there is plenty of time to make the necessary preparations.

Photo Credit Wade Free

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com
Photo Credit: Amy Drabek

Youth deer gun season sounds like a lot of fun, but it also seems so daunting. How will I know what to do or where to go hunting?

If going deer hunting during the youth deer gun season sounds fun but intimidating to you, then this guide is for you. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to participate in this year’s youth deer gun season, whether you are a teenager or an adult hoping to take a youth hunting.

Which Wildlife Management Areas Have a Youth Deer Gun Season?

Photo Credit Whitney Jenkins

One of the biggest questions you may be asking about the youth deer gun season is, “Where can we go to hunt?”

The land in Oklahoma is mostly privately owned, and you may know somebody who will let you hunt deer on their property. But even if you do not, there are thousands of acres of public land available across the state where you can hunt. While most wildlife management areas are open to hunting during the youth deer gun season, some may have regulations that vary from statewide regulations. For example, some of them may only be open to hunting with shotguns or archery equipment, or some may only be open to antlerless deer harvest during the youth deer gun season. No worries. All you have to do to learn more is consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” available free online at wildlifedepartment.com or in hardcopy anywhere hunting licenses are sold. Each WMA and its regulations are covered in detail. You can visit our website listed below for a list of WMA's that have a youth gun season.

https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/species/deer/youth-gun-opportunities

Additionally, the Oklahoma Wildlife Management Area Atlas is available for $25 and features page-by-page details on Oklahoma’s public hunting land. It features topographical maps of almost every WMA in the state. At over 100 pages, the high quality, spiral-bound atlas depicts special features on each WMA such as roads, parking areas, designated campsites, food plots, ponds, wetland development units, non-ambulatory zones and more. You can also use the guide to find driving directions and acreage of each featured WMA. When you purchase an atlas, you also receive a one-year subscription to Outdoor Oklahoma magazine. To purchase a Wildlife Management Area atlas, click here.

Photo Credit Kelly Adams

Hunter Orange

The safest color to wear while hunting is solid hunter orange. In Oklahoma, individuals hunting deer, elk, bear or antelope with any type of firearm must conspicuously wear both a head covering and an outer garment above the waistline both consisting of hunter orange color totaling at least 400 square inches. Camouflage hunter orange is legal as long as there are at least 400 square inches of hunter orange. All other hunters, except those hunting waterfowl, crow or crane, or while hunting furbearing animals at night, must wear either a head covering or upper garment of hunter orange clothing while hunting during any antelope, bear, deer, or elk firearms (muzzleloader or gun) season.

Unfilled resident and nonresident youth deer gun licenses are valid for deer gun and holiday antlerless deer gun seasons. Antlered youth deer gun licenses are not valid for holiday antlerless deer gun season.

Photo Credit willdlifedepartment.com

Log on to wildlifedepartment.com to view the “2021-2022 Oklahoma Hunting Guide” or the Go Outdoors Oklahoma app for all kinds of information about hunting in Oklahoma, including regulations, license descriptions and explanations of certain exemptions.

So Who Can Go Hunting During Youth Deer Gun Season?

The youth deer gun season is for youth hunters under 18 years of age who have an accompanying adult who is 18 years old or older. The adult cannot hunt deer with a gun, but may archery hunt while accompanying the youth hunter. The adult hunter may not possess any firearms except under provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act and Oklahoma Firearms Act.

Okay, We Want to Participate. What Licenses Do We Need?

Hunters must be in possession of all appropriate licenses before harvesting a deer.

Youth Resident
  • Resident youths under 16 years of age must possess a resident youth deer gun license for each deer hunted.
  • Resident youths 16 and 17 years of age must possess a resident youth hunting license (unless exempt) and a resident youth deer gun license for each deer hunted.
Nonresident Youth
  • Nonresident Deer License (exempt from non-resident hunting license) for that particular season or a resident lifetime hunting or combination hunting/fishing license.
What Type of Deer Can We Hunt During the Youth Deer Gun Season?

The harvest limit for the youth deer gun season is two deer, only one of which may be antlered. An “antlered deer” is any deer, regardless of sex, with at least three inches of antler length above the natural hairline on either side. The harvest of antlerless mule deer is prohibited during the youth deer gun season. All deer taken during the youth deer gun season are included in the hunter’s combined season limit of six deer, but are not included as part of the hunter’s regular deer gun season limit of four deer. This means that as long as a youth has not already harvested his or her combined season limit of six deer (of which no more than two may be bucks), then they can participate in both the youth deer gun season as well as the regular gun season a few weeks later.

If a Youth Hunter Harvests a Deer During the Youth Deer Gun Season, Can that Same Youth Still Hunt During the Regular Gun Season?

Yes! Resident youth hunters who harvest a deer during the youth deer gun season may purchase additional youth deer gun licenses and harvest deer during the regular deer gun season.

Great, But What If We Go and Don’t Harvest a Deer?

Good news! Unfilled resident and nonresident youth deer gun licenses are valid for deer gun and holiday antlerless deer gun seasons (antlered youth deer gun licenses are not valid for holiday antlerless deer gun season).

Are there any other species we can hunt?

Yes! The youth deer gun season turkey opportunity is a chance to harvest a fall turkey during the youth gun season. October 15-17, resident youths participating in the youth deer gun season may harvest a turkey (see map on page 64 of the hunting regulations for open counties and legal means of take), provided they have a fall turkey license (unless exempt). Nonresident youths participating in the youth deer gun season may also harvest a turkey (see map on page 64 of the hunting regulations for open counties and legal means of take), but must possess a nonresident hunting license and a fall turkey license (unless exempt).

Apprentice-Designated License

No Hunter Ed? No Problem

Apprentice-designated licenses allow many hunters to hunt without hunter education. The apprentice-designated license is like a learner’s permit. It is a hunting license with some additional requirements. While completing the Wildlife Department's "online" hunter education course is the ideal path to prepare for the youth deer gun season, you may find that season is just around the corner and there is no time to squeeze the course into the schedule. That doesn’t mean that participating in the youth deer gun season is out of the question. You can still go. Read below to learn who can hunt as an apprentice and what you can hunt with this license.

Photo Credit: Darrin Hill

Apprentice-Designated License

Anyone buying a hunting or season specific license who has not completed hunter education certification will have the hunter education number on that particular license designated as "apprentice." An individual who is in possession of an “apprentice-designated” license must abide by accompanying hunter requirements. Here's what that means for youth deer gun season hunters who do not have hunter education certification:

Photo Credit willdlifedepartment.com

  • Hunters 9 and younger: In Oklahoma, persons under ten (10) years of age may take the hunter education course but are not eligible to be tested for and receive hunter education certification. However, they may buy a hunting license that is apprentice-designated. Such hunters must abide by accompanying hunter requirements.
  • Hunters 10-17: Anyone in this age range who is not hunter education-certified may buy a youth hunting license and/or youth deer gun license that is apprentice-designated. Such hunters must abide by accompanying hunter requirements.
  • Accompanying hunter requirements: A person 18 or older who is licensed (unless exempt) and hunter education-certified (unless exempt). For big game hunting, an accompanying hunter must be within arm’s length of the apprentice hunter or close enough to take immediate control of the firearm or bow of the apprentice.

Hunter Education

One thing to consider before going afield for the youth deer gun season is the importance of hunter education, both for gaining full hunting privileges in Oklahoma and for learning to hunt safely.

The Wildlife Department’s hunter education course accomplishes these things. Hunter education certified hunters can buy any hunting license and hunt big game and/or small game alone (except, of course, youth participating in youth deer gun season must adhere to accompaniment requirements).

Who is Exempt from Hunter Education?

  1. Anyone 31 years of age or older.
  2. Anyone honorably discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces.
  3. Anyone currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  4. Anyone who is a member of the National Guard.
Hunter Education Courses

Students age 10 or older needing hunter education are encouraged to take the free course online. Persons under ten (10) years of age may take the hunter education course but are not eligible to be tested for and receive hunter safety certification.

Lost Your Hunter Education Card?

If your hunter education card is lost or destroyed, you may purchase a duplicate card by logging on to gooutdoorsoklahoma.com.

Is my card good in other states?

Certification is recognized and honored in all 50 states and all provinces in Canada.

Getting the Most from Youth Deer Gun Season

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Half the fun of deer season is planning for it. The anticipation of the hunt, gathering gear and scouting are as much a part of the hunting experience as sitting in a blind on opening day.

Careful and detailed planning also will give you an idea of what to expect when your day in the woods arrives. Sure, plans can change, but at least you’ll have a starting point. If you plan your gear and get your scouting done on time, you’ll be prepared when it comes time to hunt and you’ll have a blast along the way.

A successful hunt is not dependent upon achieving your limit or even bagging a trophy animal. A successful hunt is much more than that. It takes preparation; not just physically but mentally as well. Successful hunters prepare in advance.

A few things successful hunters do to plan for a hunt:

  • Plan the hunt in detail.
  • Learn the area of the hunt by scouting in advance.
  • Use wildlife identification guides to learn the habitat, food choices and behavior of the wildlife they are hunting.
  • Practice shooting often; not just the day before the season opens.
  • Maintain firearms and hunting equipment in good condition and use the appropriate ammunition or accessories for the game they are hunting.
  • Get in shape physically before they go hunting.
  • Become familiar with all of the laws that govern the area they will hunt.
  • Acquire the required licenses and tags.

Wise hunters improve public opinion of hunters and protect the future of hunting by being courteous, thoughtful, respectful and responsible.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Scouting

“Scouting” means simply looking for evidence of the animal you intend to hunt. In the case of youth deer gun season, this generally means whitetail deer, although mule deer bucks are legal to harvest during youth deer gun season as well and may be found in certain western and northwest Oklahoma counties and the Panhandle. Things to look for include elements of good habitat and actual signs left by deer.

Elements of Good Habitat

  • Food
  • Water
  • Cover
  • Space
  • Arrangement of food, water, cover and space.

Photo Credit Michael Bergin

Look for food sources such as mast, fruit, other vegetation or agricultural crops such as wheat in close proximity and arrangement with good cover, space and water. Hardwood creek bottoms and stream crossings, fence lines, open and semi-open clearings, low areas, field edges and natural travel funnels and corridors created by timber and landscape are all likely spots to study for signs of deer activity.

When searching for signs left by individual deer, look closely for evidence such as scrapes on the ground and rubs on the bases of trees. Concentrated tracks, droppings and even hair left on barbed-wire fences where deer commonly cross can all help lead you to a likely location to see and harvest a deer. If you have an access road, path or creek flowing through or along your hunting location, look for areas where deer commonly cross from one side to the other. Multiple sets of tracks often will be evident, and a nearby area where a blind or treestand can be used should be identified.

The Quarry

Youth hunters can harvest two deer during the youth deer gun season. However, only one may be antlered, and the harvest of antlerless mule deer is prohibited. This is just one reason to make sure your wildlife identification skills are sharp before you head to the field. Study deer photos and watch them closely in the woods before shooting to make sure you are comfortable with identifying them in the field. Remember that, for legal and hunting purposes in Oklahoma, an antlered deer is any deer, regardless of sex, with at least three inches of antler length above the natural hairline on either side.

White-tailed deer

Oklahoma’s most prevalent deer species, found in good numbers in every county in the state. They’re also found across most of North America, except in northern Canada and the far western United States. They live in forests, valley bottoms and farmland and can often be found along streams and rivers.

Whitetails stand about three feet high at the shoulder and weigh 150 to 225 lbs. They are generally smaller than mule deer.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Mule deer

Harvesting an antlerless mule deer during any firearms season is prohibited, but mule deer bucks can be taken. For the most part, only hunters in the far western and northwest portions of the state are likely to have an opportunity to harvest a mule deer in Oklahoma.

Mule deer can find good habitat in western Oklahoma’s grassland with shrubs, like a whitetail, mule deer stand about three feet high at the shoulder, but they grow much heavier than whitetails. Bucks weigh up to 405 pounds while does may weigh up to 160 lbs.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Safety Tips

• Always determine if a firearm is unloaded before picking up or accepting it from another person.

• When carrying a gun, the most important thing to do is to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Never point a firearm at yourself or others.

• The natural instinct when picking up a firearm is to put your finger in the trigger guard. Don’t! This could cause an accidental discharge if the gun is loaded.

• Never take a shot unless you are aware of your target and what is behind it. Never point your firearm at something you do not intend to shoot.

• Do not use telescopic sights as a substitute for binoculars.

• If a friend refuses to follow safe gun handling rules while hunting with you, immediately tell them your concerns, and don’t continue to hunt with them unless they follow the rules.

• Always unload your firearm and examine the barrel after a fall to be sure there is no snow, mud, or dirt in the barrel. If there is, clean it out before firing.

• Never use drugs or alcohol before or during shooting.

• Make sure you have the correct ammunition for the firearm you are using.

• Don’t shoot at water or hard objects such as rock or metal.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

In the Blind

The hunt is the culmination of all your hard work, planning, hunter education classes, scouting, purchasing licenses and packing and organizing. And it’s these moments in the woods or fields that can make or break your hunt. What you do with your time while hunting not only can make the difference of whether you see and harvest a deer or not, but also whether you enjoy the experience.

You may not see a deer at first light, but the anticipation of those early morning moments is an experience in itself. With the adult and youth hunter quietly situated in the stand, and the daylight only moments away, it’s time to hunt.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Top Tips for the Hunt

• Stay alert to every movement along tree lines, horizons and even the ground right in front of you, as deer and other wildlife can seemingly "appear out of nowhere."

• Remain alert, as you may spot all kinds of wildlife, from deer and turkeys to squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, quail —literally dozens of species that are active during the fall.

• For younger hunters, consider sitting for shorter periods.

• Make safety a priority, and emphasize every opportunity to do something “the right way.” Avoid shortcuts pertaining to safety, so any and all regrets can be avoided. It’s so easy and worthwhile to do things the safe way, whether crossing fences or making sure to keep the barrel of your firearm pointed in a safe direction. Go over the safety sections of your hunter education manual before hunting.

• Leave your hunter orange clothing on while hunting. It is not legal to remove them once you’ve arrived at your hunting spot.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Firearm Safety

The person holding the gun is responsible for the safe handling of the firearm. Remember these four basic rules of firearm safety.

• Assume that every gun is loaded.

• Control the direction of the muzzle – point the gun in a safe direction.

• Trigger Finger – keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.

• Target – be certain of your target and of what’s behind it.

During the youth deer gun season, two people will be sitting together searching for deer, so it's important that your blind or ladder stand be comfortable and accommodating for both individuals. Here are a few tips.

• Oftentimes ladder stands come from the manufacturer with built-in shooting rails. Using these rails — or shooting sticks if hunting from a ground blind — to help deter the shaky effects that can be caused by nerves.

•Oftentimes branches or tall grasses that do not inhibit the vision of an adult may obstruct the vision of a youth hunter who has a different vantage point. Prior to hunting, make sure the shooting lanes for the youth hunter are clear and that their field of view is clear of major obstructions. Though hunting is not just about harvesting an animal, it would still be disappointing for a youth to miss an opportunity to shoot at a deer because accommodations weren't made for the youth before the hunt.

•Looking through a scope to find a target like a deer can be challenging for a youth hunter with limited shooting or hunting experience. If hunting with a scoped rifle, the youth hunter should practice beforehand with a scoped rifle.

•The youth shooter should know his or her limitations and not take shots that make them uncomfortable. Avoid shooting at a deer if it is too far away; another chance will likely come along.

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

Photo Credit wildlifedepartment.com

After the Harvest

One of the most exciting prospects about hunting is the possibility of reliving the hunt at the dinner table over a wild game feast. Deer meat, or venison, is absolutely delicious, and hunters have found a number of preparations that bring out the best flavors of this big game animal. Some recipes are simple and others are more involved, but in either case, it is always better if you take all the necessary steps to care for your animal after the shot.

First and Foremost: One-shot Harvests

Proper care starts with the first shot. Responsible hunters strive for clean, one-shot harvests. While this is not always possible, responsible hunters always follows their game and if needed, dispatch it quickly. How you hunt an animal and how you immediately care for it affects the taste of the meat. An animal that is shot while resting will not have a gamey taste while an animal that is chased for a distance will secrete waste products into the muscles that affect the taste of the meat.

Tagging

Once a deer has been harvested, the hunter must immediately attach a field tag to the carcass, with their name, customer ID number or lifetime license number, and date and time of harvest. A field tag can be any item, so long as it contains the required information, and must remain with the carcass to its final destination or through processing and/or storage at commercial processing or storage facilities.

Checking

The harvest must also be checked in within 24 hours of leaving the hunt area through the online e-Check system at wildlifedepartment.com or the Go Outdoors Oklahoma mobile app. Once checked, the animal will be issued a carcass tag or an online confirmation number. This tag or number must remain with the carcass to its final destination or through processing and/or storage at commercial processing or storage facilities.

Game Meat Care

Game Meat Care

Once you’ve field tagged the animal, you need to do two things quickly to prevent the meat from spoiling – field dress it and cool the meat.

Field dressing is simply removing the entrails. It prevents the meat from absorbing waste products from the body cavity organs. Three environmental factors affect the taste of your meat: temperature, dirt and moisture. Meat that has been kept cool, dry and clean tastes better than meat that has been allowed to get warm, wet and tainted with dirt.

Meat should be kept cool by keeping it in the shade, keeping it in moving air or a breeze and hanging it from a tree or post. Meat should be kept dry by immediately field dressing and wiping off excess blood or fluids. It should also be kept as dry as possible.

This article was originally published in Outdoor Oklahoma Magazine.