Oklahoma Stories

Keeping it Wild

By Susan Dragoo March 2021

Oklahoma’s Wildlife Management Areas offer nature enthusiasts opportunities for exploration.

WMAs offer an abundance of opportunities for hunting and fishing. | Photo courtesy of Smokey Solis

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) oversees an extensive network of natural resources in every corner of the state for use by sportsmen, wildlife observers and nature lovers. The department’s 70 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) showcase Oklahoma’s rich biodiversity, comprising a dozen ecoregions where ODWC manages and protects fish and wildlife and their habitats.

“Organic meat, fresh fish and time away from electronics,” are among the benefits, according to Micah Holmes, assistant chief, ODWC Information and Education Division. “Strengthening relationships with family and friends, challenging yourself on new adventures and learning new skills are also among the reasons people say they love to hunt and fish.”

The state also boasts abundant opportunities for Oklahoma hunters including white-tailed deer, waterfowl, turkey, elk, bear, pronghorn, quail, pheasant, and migratory game birds such as doves and sandhill cranes.

Southeast Oklahoma is home to numerous WMAs, many situated in the Ouachita Mountains region served by Choctaw Electric Cooperative. With about 300,000 acres between them, the state’s largest WMAs are the Honobia Creek and Three Rivers Wildlife Management Areas, near Broken Bow. The Glover River, one of the state’s last free-flowing streams, bisects Three Rivers. Nearby, McCurtain County Wilderness Area, Oklahoma’s oldest WMA, protects the last remaining population of the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

A bit farther southeast where the mountains give way to cypress swamps near the Red River, Red Slough WMA offers frequent sightings of bald eagles and the occasional appearance by an American alligator. Viewing platforms in strategic locations help facilitate wildlife observation.

Traveling up the Red River toward the Central Great Plains, there’s another haven for bird watching, Hackberry Flat WMA. Also a hot spot for duck hunting, Hackberry Flat is a restored wetland in Tillman County, within the service area of Southwest Rural Electric Association.

Oklahoma’s newest WMA, Sand Hills, is located in Woods County, Oklahoma | Photo courtesy of Darrin Hill

Farther north is Oklahoma’s newest WMA, Sand Hills. The 5,212-acre tract in Woods County lies on the north side of the Cimarron River in Alfalfa Electric Cooperative’s service area.

In the CrossTimbers region, running north to south through the state, dense forests of post oak and blackjack oak once formed a barrier to travel for early explorers. Most of these woodlands have been lost to cultivation and other post-settlement uses, but some large tracts remain. The Okmulgee WMA preserves the largest contiguous tract of ancient Cross Timbers still remaining, with as much as 6,000 acres of relatively undisturbed old-growth woodlands in the 10,900-acre area located west of Okmulgee, within the service area of East Central Electric Cooperative.

The Ozark Forest of eastern Oklahoma features heavily forested terrain of oak and hickory. Near Gore, the Lower Illinois River WMA, located in the Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative service area, is one of only two streams in the state with a year-round trout fishery, and it is stocked weekly with trout. There, the focus of fishing is a stretch of river below the Tenkiller Ferry Dam. The Wildlife Department also maintains several lakes for public fishing, ranging in size from 30 to 263 acres.

Visitors to ODWC-owned areas must have a current hunting or fishing license or a Conservation Passport, a license that doesn’t convey fishing or hunting privileges. A Land Access Permit is also required on Honobia and Three Rivers WMAs.

“We want as many people as possible using our areas, keeping in mind that their primary purpose is hunting and fishing,” Holmes says.

Primitive camping is available at many WMAs, but before heading out, check area-specific regulations, accessible via the website or the Go Outdoors Oklahoma app.

Each Wildlife Management Area offers unique benefits and reasons to explore. Learn more at www.wildlifedepartment.com and get out soon to fish, hunt, or simply enjoy nature in Oklahoma’s diverse outdoors.

Category: Oklahoma Stories
WMAs offer an abundance of opportunities for hunting and fishing. | Photo courtesy of Smokey Solis

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