Oklahoma: Why You Should Take Another Look at The Sooner State

May 28, 2018 – IssueMike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large

Hunting in Oklahoma has been something of an enigma to nonresidents of that state. Located between Kansas and Texas to the north and south, and between Arkansas and Colorado, it would seem that Oklahoma has plenty of opportunity to produce big whitetails, plains mule deer and plenty of turkeys, but an apparent lack of hunting guides in the state makes locating a hunt difficult.

Some of this appears to be a function of the state’s history. Known as “The Sooner State,” much of the former Indian Territory was settled in the late 19th century by homesteaders who claimed smaller tracks of land. Oklahoma, the 46th state, was granted statehood in 1907, and the Oklahoma Territory was merged with the Indian Territory at that time. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the “Dust Bowl” further broke up land holdings, and people abandoned certain tracts of unproductive land. Today, there are over 85,000 farms in Oklahoma, meaning that smaller tracts are common and larger landholdings, necessary for combined wildlife management, may not be the rule, but rather the exception.

Oklahoma offers some excellent whitetail deer hunting. (Courtesy Rio Rojo Outfitters.)

That is not to say that modern day Oklahoma lacks anything in wildlife management. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (wildlifedepartment.com) does an exceptional job helping landowners manage the wildlife and they promote hunting and public access in an exemplary manner. More on that in a bit.

On a recent trip to Oklahoma, with an eye to cracking the code for outfitted hunting, I was surprised to find hunting and outfitting guides listed in a 17-page brochure published by Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation. While Oklahoma fishing guides need to be licensed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, hunting guides appear to be unlicensed and relatively unorganized. However, the tourism bureau has gathered over 50 operations under the banner of agritourism and published the brochure. The brochure can be obtained through a request from the Travel Oklahoma website (travelok.com/brochures) but an online listing is available from the agritourism website (Oklahomaagritourism.com). At the latter, 35 operations are listed, reflecting the marketing of hunting and tourism on private ranches. The brochure and the website offer directions to the operations, GPS coordinates (in case you want to look them up on Google Earth), a description of the services offered and the website or Facebook pages for the operators. Obviously, whether or not to book with the operators will be your choice after doing a lot of researching.

Keep in mind that these operations are generally farm based, family-run operations that offer whitetail deer, turkey, waterfowl and even upland hunting opportunities at relatively reasonable rates. There are even some hog-specific hunting operators listed (and Oklahoma has plenty of feral hogs). Accommodations won’t necessarily be 5-star lodges, but rather farm-based B&Bs, renovated farm houses and cottages. Most of the operators offer additional recreation for the non-hunter and some offer self-catering lodging.

As for hunting opportunities, Oklahoma offers a lot of options, depending on where in the state you hunt. To my eye, the presence of black bears (and a black bear hunting season) in the southeast part of the state seems out-of-place, but there are plenty of bears and an opportunity for nonresident hunting there. Oklahoma has elk in the Wichita Mountains in the southcentral part of the state, and pronghorn and mule deer in the panhandle. While controlled hunt opportunities exist for all of these species, getting a decent hunt largely depends on landowner contact in the right area.

The obvious hunting opportunities are for whitetail deer and turkey- largely Rio Grande turkey, although the eastern subspecies is available in the southeast. Big bucks require careful management, and the Oklahoma Wildlife Management Association (OK-wildlife.com) helps landowners get access to quality management assistance and represent the wildlife community politically. As good as turkey hunting can be in Texas, Oklahoma seems to be less prone to drought and offers more consistent spring gobbler hunts. Oklahoma deer hunting also appears to be less prone to EHD die-offs than neighboring Kansas, so consistent deer quality is available.

Spring gobbler hunting is more consistent in Oklahoma than some neighboring states. (Courtesy Windmill Outfitters.)

For the do-it-yourself hunter, there are some 600,000 acres of public land in Oklahoma, including national forests and grasslands (hint- look for public prairie dog shooting on the grasslands), national wildlife refuges, national forests and state-owned wildlife management areas (WMAs). The WMAs each have specific public access regulations and some hunts are offered only through the controlled hunt process (by application and drawing only). But in addition to these areas, the State maintains an extensive walk-in program with private landowners dubbed the Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP, www.wildlifedepartment.com/olap). The OLAP lands are opened for specific purposes and specific seasons (i.e. spring turkey only, fishing only, etc.) and maps are available in advance to help you plan your hunt. I would suggest that the OLAP lands may be best for upland and spring turkey hunting but for trophy quality deer you should look to private land managed specifically for an older age class.

The evolution of big game hunting in Oklahoma is far from over. While the listings discussed above are a starting point for hunters looking to the Sooner State for a unique experience, they are far from complete. The Agritourism listings favor the farm-based outfitters. Yet there are undoubtedly other outfitters who do not own the farms they hunt, but manage multiple properties for trophy deer. Add to this the hidden lodges offering quality waterfowl, spring turkey or upland hunts and there are plenty of opportunities. If you have hunted in Oklahoma, please file a hunt report and help other subscribers untangle the enigma of OK hunting.

To get you started on researching hunts in Oklahoma, here are a few operations featured on the Oklahoma Agritourism Association website:

  • Addison Ranch (580-276-2439; www.addisonranch.com) located in south central Oklahoma, offers hunts for trophy and management whitetails, wild boar, turkeys and ducks. Lodge accommodations. See their YouTube channel for video of some of the quality bucks available on this ranch.
  • All About U Ranch & Outfitters (405-268-2684; http://allabouturanch.com) offer hunts for whitetail deer, preserve hogs and some exotics in south central Oklahoma. Private cabin accommodations.
  • Buffalo Waller Hunting Preserve (580-761-1382) on the Oklahoma Cherokee Strip in the northwest. Specializes in upland hunts for quail, pheasant and chukar, but also offers whitetail deer, turkey and ducks.
  • Gloss Mountain Outfitters (580-884-1305; glossmountainoutfitters.com) in the northwest. Offer guided and unguided hunts for whitetails, turkey, quail, pheasant and chukar. Lodge accommodations.
  • Hamm’s Sportsman Oasis (580-335-1892; hammsoasis.com) hunts 12,000-plus acres in southwest Oklahoma for bobcat and coyote, elk, wild hog, whitetails and turkey. Also, waterfowl and upland bird hunts. Motel-style lodge and diner on the property.
  • Island Ranch Outfitters (580-548-4712; http://iroutfitters.wixsite.com/rylanwhiteoutfitters) hunt a 5,000-acre cattle ranch in northwest Oklahoma on the Cimarron River. This is a wintering area for waterfowl. Offer duck, whitetail and turkey hunts.
  • Lazy S Ranch (580-305-7301; huntlazys.com) offers whitetail deer, turkey, waterfowl, upland birds, wild boar and predator hunts on 5,000 acres in southwest Oklahoma. Lodge accommodations.
  • Mudcreek Outfitters (580-465-7558; http://mudcreekoutfitters.homestead.com) hunts wild hog, turkey and whitetails on 1,200 acres of woods and prairies in south central Oklahoma.
  • Rio Rojo Outfitters (940-585-1094; riorojooutfitters.com) has exclusive hunting rights to 12,000 acres along the Red River. Hunt whitetail deer, turkey, quail and dove. Lodge accommodations.
  • Rockytop Ranch (918-656-3564; https://huntrockytop.com) focuses on wild boar but also offers whitetail deer, turkey and predators in central Oklahoma. Cabin accommodations.
  • Stuart Ranch Outfitters (580-512-7004; stuartranchoutfitters.com) offer whitetail deer, turkey, wild boar and waterfowl hunts on 46,000-acre historic ranch in southern Oklahoma.
  • Wild Horse Creek Hunting (580-369-3344; www.pecanvalleyinn.com/New_Folder/) boasts 10 years of deer management on 2,500 acres of private ranchland in the Arbuckle Mountains of southern Oklahoma. Semi-guided deer and wild boar hunting.
  • Windmill Outfitters (580-938-1001; http://windmilloutfitters.com) hunt in northwest Oklahoma, on 40,000 acres managed for quail, ducks, turkey and whitetails.