Deer hunting leads to classroom breaks at some schools

Saturday, November 18th 2006, 5:44 pm
By: News On 6

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) At least a dozen southeastern Oklahoma school districts will close for the week of Thanksgiving, the first week of Oklahoma's deer gun season.

``It's a real big deal; it's one of the major annual highlights of the year,'' said Jack Waymire, senior biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

``We have whole families that come in, and they spend the whole week at deer camp. They'll have Thanksgiving dinner in deer camp,'' he said.

McAlester is one of the larger school districts in southeastern Oklahoma with nearly 2,800 students. About four years ago, the district adopted a calendar that gave students a few extra days off at Thanksgiving.

``We're not quite as rural as some of the other districts,'' Superintendent Jim Northcutt said. ``But we have quite a few absences at that time.

``We also had a lot of people taking vacation time during that week. We have a lot of staff that like to deer hunt. Everyone enjoys having this week off. It works well for us, and we'll probably continue to do it,'' Northcutt said.

About 160,000 people will be hunting during the state's 16-day deer gun season, by far the most popular hunting season in the state.

More than $1 million in deer licenses are sold to hunters each year by the wildlife agency. Last year, 158,219 hunters participated in the deer gun season and 39 percent of them were successful, harvesting a total of 61,740 deer.

Including the archery, black powder and special seasons, Oklahoma hunters annually kill a record 105,000 deer in the state.

Hunting is the most important tool the state has to keep the growing deer population in check, said Micah Holmes, spokesman for the wildlife agency.

In many school districts, faculty, administrators and members of the school board have input on the calendar. In most districts, schools have been giving students extra time at Thanksgiving since before most administrators started.

``I just know since I've been here we've done that,'' said Clayton Edwards, assistant superintendent in Stigler. Schools have wised up and learned that families who hunt together, stay together _ in the deer camp that is.

When Waymire, 55, was in school, districts only let students out on Thanksgiving Day and the next day.

``A lot of kids skipped school,'' he said. ``I always went, but it was hard.''

Schools started to adopt the policy in the 1970s after the deer population in Oklahoma grew large enough to hand out permits for deer without antlers, such as does or young bucks, Waymire said.

Today, it's unheard of in far southeastern Oklahoma to expect children to make it to school during the week of Thanksgiving.

``Hunting is such a major part of the economy here,'' said Mark Virden, superintendent at Antlers schools. ``It's a fairly plain fact that there would be a high absentee rate. So why fight it? It's definitely a family affair when they go hunting.''