Last year’s Texas deer hunting season was considered text book by state wildlife biologists. This season, hunters may have to throw out the book.
Indicators leading into the Nov. 3 season opener point to potentially great hunting across much of the state, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists. But, as they say in advertising disclaimers, Individual results may vary.
“Generally speaking, it’s a banner year for (fawn) production,” said Mitch Lockwood, TPWD deer program leader. “As far as the quality of the animals, the deer we’re seeing are in pretty good condition and I expect antler quality and body weights to be above average. Not only do we expect this year’s crop to be better, but there are more mature bucks out there simply because harvest was down in 2006.”
Whitetails have responded well from last year’s extended dry spell, thanks to an unseasonably wet spring and summer, and have taken advantage of resurgent plant growth, Lockwood noted. That bodes well for the deer, but could pose a challenge for hunters hoping to find success from a blind over supplemental feed.
Biologists point to 2004, when timely spring rains created ideal range conditions, healthy deer and high expectations from hunters. Due to the abundance of vegetation available to deer that year, hunters observed fewer animals during the season and overall harvest numbers were down.
When conditions became relatively dry in 2005, deer harvest jumped considerably and, in particular, more mature bucks were killed that season.
“That’s what makes this year tough to predict,” Lockwood noted. “There will be more deer on the ground this fall, but hunting could be tough early in the season.”
Because some parts of the state are drying up as rainfall slacked off in September and October, deer movements and hunting conditions could change. “Deer were seeing so much good native groceries all year, corn was something new to them,” he said. “In the Edwards Plateau, we’re loaded with acorns. Once those food sources run out, deer should return to feeders.”
With the expected high percentage of recruitment into the deer population this year, biologists are urging hunters and landowners to actively manage whitetail numbers.
“It’s important for hunters to use those antlerless tags this season and get those excess animals off the range before winter sets in to ensure there’s enough food to go around,” Lockwood said. “If folks want help determining how many deer to remove from their property they are welcome to contact their local TPWD biologist for assistance.”
TPWD provides wildlife management consultation at no cost to landowners. The agency offers a variety of conservation planning assistance, from habitat enhancement incentives to wildlife resource management. Details about these programs are available on the TPWD Web site or from your local wildlife biologist.
While there are no major changes to deer regulations this year, hunters in eastern and central Texas are reminded that special buck antler restrictions are in effect in 61 counties. Under the regulation, a lawful buck in the designated counties is defined as any buck having at least one unbranched antler OR an inside antler spread of at least 13 inches. The bag limit in the affected counties is two lawful bucks, no more than one of which may have an inside spread of greater than 13 inches.
For additional deer hunting regulations refer to the 2007-08 Outdoor Annual available wherever licenses are sold and on the TPWD Web site.
In the Hill Country, the potential for some quality bucks is out there, but predicting where they will be is the catch this season, according to TPWD biologist Mike Krueger in Kerrville. “It’s extremely hit or miss as far as feeders,” he explained. “We’ve got a tremendous acorn crop and they’re not going to be cleaned up before the season. Maybe by the rut deer will start coming to feeders, but I expect it will be very shaky.”
Krueger said back-to-back years of low fawn production has had an impact and although the deer are making up ground this year, hunters in some areas still may see fewer deer. That doesn’t mean the deer have vanished, just tough to spot. “We did a spotlight survey on Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and didn’t see much of anything because the vegetation was so tall,” he reported. “The abundance of acorns is affecting deer movement. Things are pretty good for them right now.”
He said he’s received scattered reports of deer not in good condition. “But, overall the quality should be good,” he noted. “When bucks initiated antler growth, rains already started and the deer were able to maintain that through the growing season. Generally speaking throughout the Edwards Plateau, unless you have evidence to back off, hunters need to continue to control deer numbers.”