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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Several important factors affected precontact hunting patterns. The first and most important was the nature of the prey. Large Pleistocene mammals, primarily mammoth, which had been an important food source, became extinct, and bison took their place during the Holocene period that followed. Patterns of hunting, therefore, were influenced by the smaller size of the animals and the consequent meat yield. In addition, bison numbers fluctuated. Hunting was therefore influenced over time by whether the game herds were large or small, that is, expanding or shrinking.

Between 10000 and 9000 B.C. (the Clovis period) hunters relied on Pleistocene game, primarily mammoth. Human mobility was high, because game was dispersed. Individuals or small groups did the hunting, and men probably did not aggregate in large groups for communal hunts.

The principal game animal during Folsom period (8800–8200 B.C.) was a now-extinct bison species. These herd animals were more numerous in this period than they had been earlier and may have had more well-defined territories; therefore, human mobility may have declined. Hunters often trapped bison in gullies and similar landforms. In this period human social groups were more complexly organized and aggregated seasonally for communal hunts, especially during late fall and early winter. However, individuals and small groups continued to hunt bison. In eastern Oklahoma nut-bearing trees and deer, both dispersed resources, increased as food sources. Cultures such as the Dalton, with more sedentary lifestyle, expanded westward. Individual and small group hunting was likely among them.

Modern bison evolved between 8000 and 5000 B.C. Traps, jumps, and corrals were used to hunt this animal. Bison were under environmental stress. Consequently, their numbers may have declined, and communal hunting may have declined as well. To the east, individuals and small groups continued to hunt deer.

During the Altithermal climatic episode (5000 to 3000 B.C.), a warm, dry period, human population decreased, and mobility increased. Bison declined, and cultures relied more heavily upon smaller animals. Individual and small group hunting dominated. Communal aggregations were perhaps used to hunt rabbits and pronghorn.

As climatic conditions improved after 3000 B.C., bison numbers increased, and after 1500 B.C. people in western Oklahoma became dependent on bison. Campsites and bison kill locations, such as gully traps, were often repeatedly used. Communal organizations possibly conducted bison kills of numerous animals, but small groups likely accomplished other kills. Eastward, people were less mobile, and individuals and small groups hunted primarily deer.

Bison decreased after A.D. 500. Mobility among those living in western Oklahoma decreased as hunting switched to deer and other small game. Individuals and small groups did most of the hunting, even in eastern Oklahoma where very complex societies were beginning to develop.

Bison numbers increased again around A.D. 1200. Over all of Oklahoma, people were living in small villages and depending upon a mix of farming and hunting. In western Oklahoma locally available bison and deer were hunted either by individuals or by small groups. In the west, as the importance of bison increased over time, hunters roamed over wider expanses, and hunting groups grew in size. Social complexity continued to increase in eastern Oklahoma, but deer hunting was still accomplished by individuals or by small groups.

By A.D. 1450 most of Oklahoma's human inhabitants depended heavily on bison. Wheeler Phase people in western Oklahoma occupied sedentary settlements for part of the year, and they possibly did some farming, but bison and long-distance communal hunts were more important. Farther east, a heavy emphasis on farming developed, but hunters and hunting parties still took bison and deer. In addition, special task groups carried out long-distance hunts. There is no evidence that farming villages were abandoned in favor of long-distance communal hunts.

Susan C. Vehik


Richard R. Drass, "The Southern Plains Villagers," in Archaeology on the Great Plains, ed. W. Raymond Wood (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998).

Jack L. Hofman and Russell W. Graham, "The Paleo-Indian Cultures of the Great Plains," in Archaeology on the Great Plains, ed. by W. Raymond Wood (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998).

Susan C. Vehik, "Hunting and Gathering Tradition: Southern Plains," in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 13, Plains, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001).

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Precontact Era


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Susan C. Vehik, “Precontact Hunting Patterns,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=PR006.

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