I had the opportunity to talk with Darrin Hill from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation about camping on department lands. Darrin is a specialist in the education division of the department and is involved with the production of the Outdoor Oklahoma television show.
Darrin explained that the primary department lands are Wildlife Management Areas or WMAs, Public Fishing Areas, and Department Owned Lakes. The funding for the purchase of these lands comes from hunting and fishing license purchases and hunting and fishing are the designated primary uses.
I have loved Wildlife Department lands for several years. My first experiences with them involved bird watching at Red Slough and Hackberry Flats WMAs. More information about department lands can be found at WildlifeDepartment.com (WMAs, Department Lakes). Darrin explained that access to most of these lands is restricted to people who possess a hunting license, fishing license, or in some cases a conservation passport.
Many of these areas have designated camping for hunters and fishermen. Untangling the rules for each area has been a challenge for me. So, I asked Darren what makes someone eligible to use these camping areas. First of all, possessing a hunting or fishing license will help. But if you only have a fishing license and there are no fishing opportunities on the property that probably won’t cut it. Of course, fishing and small game hunting in season go great with camping, and if you don’t hunt or fish you may consider opening up your horizons to some new activities. So, what about out of state Overlanders? The same rules apply. Many of these areas are open on a limited limited basis for non-hunting and non-fishing use. I asked how to find out if it is okay to camp. Darrin said the absolute best way is a call to the area manager for the property. The phone numbers for area managers can be found in the published hunting and fishing regulation books.
According to the regulations, each WMA or department owned lake may have a different limit on camping. Some limit it to 14 days and others the amount varies according to hunting season. Once again it’s best just to make the phone call. Darrin pointed out that there are many other reasons to call before going out to any department land. One really good one is the controlled burn process that happens annually at many WMAs. He stated that there have been instances where campers have been trapped by the fires.
I also asked how one would know if a road on a WMA is a legal road. Darrin said that roads that are not gated and not marked as official use only are open. Fires should only be made in existing fire rings and one should check for local burn bans before building a fire.
So what does all this mean? It means that if you are open to expanding your outdoor experience to hunting and fishing, there are many opportunities for primitive camping throughout the state! Get out there and explore, fishing pole in one hand!