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Arkansas and Oklahoma deer hunters achieve record-breaking 2020-2021 harvest

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says COVID-19 may have influenced hunters’ mindsets toward the number of deer they harvested.

ARKANSAS, USA — The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) both reported an increase in license sales and a record-breaking harvest for the 2020-2021 deer hunting season.

In Arkansas, hunters have checked more deer than any season since the AGFC began keeping harvest records in 1938, with a reported 214,022 deer and more than a month remaining in Arkansas’s archery deer season.

The previous record-harvest in Arkansas was set in the 2012-2013 season with 213,487 deer.

In Oklahoma, all-time high license sales led to a new preliminary total harvest record exceeding 120,000 deer.

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Antlerless harvests in Oklahoma accounted for more than 40% of the total harvest, also setting a new record, and the Holiday Antlerless Season harvest nearly doubled since last year, according to ODWC.

Credit: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

For the first time in many years, hunter numbers did not decline in Arkansas, according to license sales numbers from the last five years, and the coronavirus pandemic was a likely contributor to the record deer hunting season as well.

Many were looking for new ways to enjoy the outdoors, and due to economic uncertainty, the incentive for securing meat held more value than in recent years.

AGFC said the pandemic caused meat shortages seen throughout the country last year may have influenced hunters’ mindsets regarding the number of deer they harvest and led more people to consider 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. All of the factors that hindered harvest in 2019 were nearly the exact opposite in 2020.”

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Meeker said the 2019-2020 deer harvest season was the result of a perfect storm.

“Spring and summer flooding in 2018 and 2019 contributed to lower fawn recruitment in certain parts of the state,” said Meeker. “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.”

Credit: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

Hunters checked only 203 deer statewide in Arkansas’ first recorded deer harvest in 1938, and a 100,000-deer season was not seen in Arkansas until 1987. 

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According to Meeker, the current deer harvest and limits fit the factors that influence the state’s deer herd well and are likely where they need to be for a healthy deer population.

“Our current herd matches up well with the available habitat as well as the social carrying capacity of our state,” Meeker said. “The social carrying capacity is how many deer people can stand to live with.  At some point, deer can become a nuisance or safety risk. But when you see environmental stressors such as  flooding or buffalo gnat outbreaks followed by a good harvest, that is a good indication that the deer population is healthy enough to rebound quickly, so I’d say we’re in good shape where we are.”  

Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts interested in learning more about white-tailed deer harvest records and scientific management of the Arkansas species can find historical deer harvest reports and the AGFC’s Strategic Deer Management Plan at agfc.com.

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2021 deer season opening dates:

  • Archery - Sept. 25, 2021
  • Muzzleloader - Oct. 16, 2021
  • Modern Gun - Nov. 13, 2021

Season details for deer zones 1-17 can be found here.

Credit: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission