Hunting Big Oklahoma Deer and Being a Part of the Mossy Oak Family
with Justin Eakins
Editor’s Note: Justin Eakins owns Canadian River Hilton Hunting Lodge in Crawford, Oklahoma, on the Canadian River. Justin hunts on 25,000 to 30,000 acres of land and has been one of the co-hosts on Mossy Oak’s “Deer T.H.U.G.S.” TV show for 6 years.
Mossy Oak: Justin, why has Oklahoma in the last few years become one of the “must hunt” big buck areas?
Eakins: Most of the land in Oklahoma is privately owned. Most of the landowners have realized that if they control their properties and manage them for deer, turkeys and other wildlife, they can create another revenue stream besides raising cattle and crops. Landowners also realize that the hunters who come to Oklahoma want to hunt for mature deer. So, we’re beginning to see a trend in deer management in Oklahoma to plant more crops for deer as landowners realize that mature bucks are more valuable than 1-1/2-year-old bucks. We’ve also realized the importance of culling bucks (bucks 2- to 3-years-old with 8-point racks) that demonstrate inferior genetics in the sizes of the racks they produce. Because so much of the land in Oklahoma is privately owned, these private landowners can do a better job of managing their lands, the deer and the hunters to produce older-age-class bucks. Also the vast amount of agriculture on Oklahoma’s rich soils aids in a deer’s antler development and body growth.
Another thing we’ve learned is that by controlling the amount of hunting pressure on each piece of property you own or manage, you don’t over-hunt your deer herd. For instance, on this 25,000 acres, I’ll only hunt about 20 to 25 hunters per year. We have about a 95- to a 100-percent success ratio every year and a 100-percent opportunity to take a deer. If I believe we can harvest 25 nice bucks off the property, I’ll only book 25 hunters. I don’t book 100 hunters, hoping to take 25 bucks. I believe that as an outfitter and as a guide, that when a hunter hunts with us, our job is to try and find a buck the hunter wants to take and put that hunter in the best location to see and harvest that buck.
The 2014 deer season will be my 28th year of guiding and outfitting here at Canadian River Hilton Hunting Lodge. I grew up on this property, and I have a thorough knowledge of the land, and where the deer like to feed and bed. Also, I know the land really-well on the property that I lease, and understand where the deer move on that land. Deer travel routes here in Oklahoma don’t change very much from year to year. Once you’ve learned where and how they move on the land, finding bucks is much easier. We also run about 20 trail cameras that give us a lot of information.
Mossy Oak: How long have you been a Mossy Oak Pro?
Eakins: I’ve been filming for Mossy Oak for the last 10 or 12 years, and I’ve been one of the co-hosts on Mossy Oak’s “Deer T.H.U.G.S.” TV show for 6 years.
Question: How did you become a part of the Mossy Oak family?
Eakins: Before I met the folks from Mossy Oak, I had had several video-production companies come to our ranch and want to film hunts. We’d agree on what I’d provide for them as far as lodging, food and the opportunities for them to take big bucks. They would agree to do something for me in exchange. I always felt like I did what I promised, but the videographers and TV hosts didn’t always carry through with what they said they’d do for me. So, I decided not to host videographers and TV show hosts at our lodge any more. When Mossy Oak contacted me and said they’d like to hunt with me, I told them about the bad experiences I’d had hosting outdoor TV Shows. They totally understood my situation. They told me what they wanted to do, and I told the producers what I wanted to happen. We decided we’d try to tiptoe into working with Mossy Oak and the company’s video productions.
The first time Mossy Oak came out, I got to know some of the TV hosts and producers and learned they were real, hard-working country folks like I was. They also did exactly what they said they would do. I got what I wanted as an outdoor fitter and host, and they got what they wanted, which was to produce a good TV show. I really liked the people at Mossy Oak. They were very appreciative, they had a good time with me and my other guides, and we had a good time with them. So, our relationship really took-off and began to get stronger and stronger each year. What I really appreciated about the people from Mossy Oak was that they were regular folks just like me. When they told me they’d do something, they’d do what they said. For me, they were a breath of fresh air in my relationship with dealing with outdoor TV hosts and producers.
When Mossy Oak first started talking about the “Deer T.H.U.G.S.” TV show, they asked me to consider the possibility of being one of their co-hosts. So, I became a co-host on the show from the first year the show was aired. All of the Deer T.H.U.G.S. felt like we not only were a part of the Mossy Oak video team but also a part of the Mossy Oak family. We had the responsibility of sharing what we had learned about deer hunting from the many years we all had been involved in the hunting sports. Anything I’ve learned about hunting, I always want to share it with anyone who wants to learn more about how to hunt. Teaching is a two-way street. I’m anxious to learn all I can, from all the people with whom I hunt. As outfitters, we spend many hours a year, not only hunting for ourselves, but guiding and helping other hunters take deer and other game.
Mossy Oak: Justin, why have you become a part of the Mossy Oak family and continued to co-host Mossy Oak’s “Deer T.H.U.G.S.” TV show?
Eakins: We produce several episodes of the Mossy Oak “Deer T.H.U.G.S.” here at Canadian River Hilton Hunting Lodge, not only with me as the host, but also with other Mossy Oak Deer T.H.U.G.S. Before I started hunting with the Mossy Oak Deer T.H.U.G.S. Team, I never had hunted whitetails outside of Oklahoma. I had hunted other species in other states, but when I became a Deer T.H.U.G.S., I had opportunities to hunt whitetails in many other states as well as Canada. I learned how to hunt under different terrain and weather conditions and how other hunters in other states find and take bucks.
For instance, this hunting season I’ll be hunting in Oklahoma, Kansas and Montana. Each are already booked for whitetail hunts, and I still don’t know where I’ll be hunting after deer season. I’m looking forward to going to these other states and hunting whitetails in places I’ve never been before. Out first deer season here in Oklahoma, opens October 1st for archery season, and we can archery hunt until January 13th. We have a 9-day muzzleloader season at the end of October and the end of November and a 16-day rifle season.
To contact Justin Eakins, call him at 580-497-7500 or email him at email@example.com.
Tomorrow: Justin Eakins on How to Manage Deer to Take Older Age Class Bucks