ATHENS, GA (January 31, 2018) – QDMA would like to congratulate Life Member and Level II QDMA Deer Steward Walt Haskins of Oklahoma, who was recently recognized as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s 2017 Landowner Conservationist of the Year.
Since 2005, Walt and his family and friends have been working to improve the deer population and habitat on 485 acres they call the Mayes County Deer Ranch. Initially Walt purchased 300 acres but has since added to it by purchasing additional bordering tracts.
“When we bought the first 300 acres, it was clearly in need of work,” said Walt. “We were seeing about nine does for every buck, and very few of the bucks were older than yearlings. The pressure on yearling bucks in that area was high. The property had grown up and was all woods with very few openings, and it was choked with eastern red cedars, which is invasive in this area of Oklahoma.”
Walt signed up for the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and began protecting yearling bucks while harvesting 35 to 40 does annually. To help reach those goals, Walt and his family began mentoring members of the local Boy Scout Troop, and over the years many local Boy Scouts have gotten their first deer on the Mayes County Deer Ranch.
“We dozed out about 25 acres in food plots,” said Walt, “and we keep most of those in forage soybeans, and they really do the best for us. We also maintain about 3 acres in perennial clover, and we experiment with other crops too. We also spent two summers chainsawing every red cedar we could, thousands of them. We reintroduced prescribed fire, and we burn about half of the property every year in a rotation. We’ve just about got the habitat back to what it should be and in a state that’s very productive for deer forage and cover.”
Walt joined QDMA as a Life Member the same year he bought the first 300 acres of land, and information from QDMA has been very useful to him throughout the process. QDMA’s educational posters hang at Walt’s skinning shed, and QDMA’s Pocket Buck Aging Cards are found in every stand. Walt became a Level I Deer Steward by completing the online course in 2013, the second year it was available, and he attended a Level II course in Florida in 2015, becoming the first Level II Deer Steward from Oklahoma.
“The Deer Steward courses were invaluable to me in terms of managing our property and understanding the biology involved and where we should go with habitat and herd management,” said Walt.
Walt also gives much credit to Oklahoma DWC for their educational efforts aimed at encouraging Oklahoma deer hunters to protect yearling bucks voluntarily. The state maintains one of the lowest rates of yearling buck harvest in the nation without mandatory antler regulations.
“The Department’s program of trying to educate hunters to let the young bucks grow, that’s what we practice,” said Walt, “and it’s really making a big difference in the state.”
Walt reports that during the 2017-18 season, hunters on his 485 acres took two 10-pointers, a 9-pointer and three 8-pointers, all meeting the property’s minimum age of 3.5 years. Additionally, the doe:buck ratio is now close to balanced, and trail-camera surveys are revealing strong fawn recruitment rates in excess of 1.5 fawns per doe.
Challenges lie ahead in the form of a serious feral hog problem, which Walt and his hunters and ranch manager Chad Hibbs are tackling through sustained trapping efforts. Management of coyotes and other fawn and nest predators is also an ongoing effort. But there’s no doubt about the drastic change Walt has made for wildlife, and it shows in a well-deserved award.
“Walt Haskins is an outstanding representative for QDMA and for all deer hunters in Oklahoma,” said QDMA Director of Communications Lindsay Thomas Jr. “He’s shown a commitment to sound herd and habitat management, he’s engaged the help of and cooperated with his state wildlife agency to reach those goals, but he’s also gone beyond and used his land and its wildlife to mentor young hunters and introduce them to deer hunting and Quality Deer Management. Walt is clearly committed to the future of deer hunting well beyond his own immediate hunting rewards.”