South Texas Leads Way for Banner Hunting Season

Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701,

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AUSTIN, Texas — When the hunting is good in South Texas, few places in the nation can compare and hunting has been excellent this season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.

As the 2003-04 seasons wind down, state officials are already making comparisons to the 1997-98 banner season. Ideal weather conditions throughout the past year set the stage for a boom year for white-tailed deer and quail and hunters were not disappointed.

TPWD quail program leader Robert Perez had noted going into the hunting season textbook-perfect conditions for quail reproduction throughout South Texas and above-average conditions across the Rolling Plains. "These kinds of conditions and alignments don’t happen often, maybe once every 5-7 years in South Texas, but it happened this year," he said.

The results of those favorable range conditions? "Incredible would be a fair assessment," beamed TPWD biologist Macy Ledbetter at the James Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area. "Quail hunters are still encountering up to 42 coveys of bobwhites per day of hunting, although the averages are more like 10-12 coveys per hunt with as many as a dozen birds per covey not uncommon."

TPWD Biologist Alan Cain added that the quail hunting in Karnes County "is probably one of the best this area has seen in 20 years. Several ranches are busting 15-25 coveys a day."

The same ideal habitat conditions benefited deer as well, according to TPWD Big Game Program Director Clayton Wolf, who noted that timely spring 2003 rains resulted in range conditions that helped jump-start antler development in most areas of the state.

Just how good has the deer season been? In South Texas and much of the Edwards Plateau, awesome might be an understatement. "Body weights began the season off the charts," said Ledbetter. "We had mature bucks dressing out at 200-225 pounds and 170-class (Boone and Crockett score) deer are fairly common. Many mature bucks were carried over from last year and this year’s harvest has many ultra-old bucks present."

Wolf said that while veteran South Texas hunters are already drawing comparisons to the ’97 boom season and other regions saw some quality deer harvested, the overall statewide harvest may be off some. "We got off to a slow start and a good portion of the harvest usually occurs during those first two weeks of the season," he said. "It’s tough to make up what you missed on opening weekend, but I think hunters did alright. But, it did turn out to be near perfect for South Texas."

The brush country may be getting all the attention for producing so many quality whitetails this season, but the biggest buck in Texas happened to be the state record non-typical mule deer taken in Reeves County. The huge mule deer boasted 29 measurable points and a gross Boone and Crockett score of 288 6/8 points. The new state record could rank among the world’s top 40 all-time.

Although deer hunting in East Texas got off to a relatively slow start due to moderate temperatures, TPWD’s Northeast Texas Project Leader Kevin Herriman gives the overall season a thumbs up. "No really nice antlered deer have been harvested, but hunters did report observing some nice bucks during our later hunts on several of our wildlife management areas."

Post Oak Savannah District Leader David Sierra would agree, but added that harvest increased as the season progressed, with some mature bucks showing up later in the year.

While deer and quail made the biggest splash of the 2003-04 hunting season, waterfowl barely made a ripple in some areas of the state, according to TPWD Waterfowl Program Leader Dave Morrison.

Panhandle duck hunters did not get a repeat performance of last year’s outstanding season, since less than 10 percent of the playas had water compared to more than 30 percent last year. "Hunters that found water had a fairly good season," said Morrison.

In East Texas, few areas received enough fall rains to even hold ducks, although the region saw a typical November migration of birds that provided some hunting opportunity during the first split of the season.

"We had a fairly normal migration through Thanksgiving and temperatures remained normal, but then it started becoming more moderate and we didn’t get a push of reinforcements," said Morrison. "The greenwings didn’t start showing up until Christmas, so we were behind on migration."

Morrison noted that birds along the coast appear to be dispersed throughout the marshes and have become pretty wary of hunting pressure, making conditions tough for hunters toward the end of the season.

But as any hunter will tell you, there’s always next year.