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Conditions Bode Well for Deer Hunting Success
AUSTIN, Texas — Dry range conditions across much of Texas heading into the general deer season should bode well for hunters looking to fill their tags, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
The general deer season opens Nov. 5 statewide, except for a few counties in the Panhandle. The North Zone closes Jan. 1, while the South Zone continues for two additional weeks, ending Jan. 15. Special Youth-Only seasons are set for Oct. 29-30 and Jan. 21-22 statewide.
For the last couple of years, many of Texas’ 500,000 or so deer hunters had a tough time observing deer, which kept a low profile because lush range conditions provided ample cover and abundant browse. Hunters likely won’t face that problem this fall, according to TPWD white-tailed deer program leader Mitch Lockwood. “We’re dried up real bad. This will be the first year in the last four that I’m not telling hunters to get away from the corn feeders to find deer. I think people will have some success hunting over feeders.”
TPWD is encouraging hunters to take more does this fall in areas with deer overpopulation issues. “Take an extra doe - where regulations allow for such,” Lockwood stressed. “It’s true every year but especially this year that deer will have a harder time making it through the winter. It used to just be in the Hill Country, but now we’re dealing with population issues across much of the state. When a hunter only takes one deer, you’re probably not going to meet management goals.”
Hunters also need to be aware of several key changes to deer hunting regulations this year as state wildlife biologists work to simplify and restructure regulations. In particular, a number of counties saw changes in harvest restrictions and season dates this fall. Following is an overview of those changes. For additional information, hunters are urged to review regulations in TPWD’s Outdoor Annual available wherever licenses are sold.
Elimination of Aggregate Bag Limits — The department in 1989 implemented what is popularly referred to as the ‘aggregate bag limit’ rule, which designated a number of one-buck counties, primarily in the eastern third of the state, from which, in the aggregate a hunter could take no more than one buck. For example, if a hunter took a buck in Nacogdoches County (one-buck bag limit), that hunter could not take another buck in any other county affected by the aggregate bag limit rule.
The department has eliminated the aggregate bag limit, meaning that a hunter could take the statewide personal bag limit of three bucks by taking one buck in each of three one-buck counties. A similar provision applies to counties with a two-buck bag limit. In other words, a hunter can now take two bucks in a two-buck county, and a third buck in a different two-buck county.
Alteration of Doe Days — Biologists are encouraging hunters to take does this fall due to population concerns in some areas and poor habitat conditions in others. Numerous counties saw shifts in the numbers of doe days offered this year and hunters are urged to check the Outdoor Annual.
Buck Harvest Restrictions — The new regulations create special buck deer harvest guidelines in Austin, Bastrop, Brazoria, Caldwell, Colorado, De Witt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Goliad, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Jackson, Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Matagorda, Victoria, Waller, Washington, Wilson, and Wharton counties. The new regulation implements a two-buck bag limit, one of which must have at least one unbranched antler, and redefines a legal buck as a buck having an inside spread of 13 inches or greater or at least one unbranched antler. The six-points-or-better criterion in effect prior to this rulemaking is eliminated, as department data clearly indicate that the 13-inch-or-better standard is sufficient by itself to protect younger bucks.
While hunting prospects can vary from property to property, here’s a brief overview of what to expect this season across the state:
Panhandle: “I think Panhandle hunters can anticipate a good to excellent season for both whitetails and mule deer,” according to TPWD biologist Danny Swepston. “Even though we had some dry months during the middle of the summer the early spring rains got the animals off to a good start. Antler quality should be good and the majority of deer we have seen during surveys are in excellent body shape.”
North Texas: “Overall range conditions are good but an unusually hot and dry September may help bring deer to feeders more consistently this fall,” said Kevin Mote, TPWD biologist for the Possum Kingdom district. He went on to report that while most areas of the district are reporting average to above average body weights and antler development, below average summer rain should be a signal for managers to take a few more mouths (deer and/or livestock) off early. Expectations remain high for a banner year due to good carry-over of older age class bucks from the last two seasons. Much of the district observed a light to moderate acorn crop, most of which has already hit the ground.
East Texas: In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, several counties in the Pineywoods saw extensive tree damage, particularly mast-producing hardwoods. Although deer have been enjoying easy and early access to acorns, the impacts to available food sources in the future could be costly, according to reports from TPWD field biologist Bobby Eichler. “The range is in moderate condition after a drought for much of the year,” he noted. “The southern end of the Pineywoods was hit hard and we lost a lot of oaks, which could pose a problem next year. It should be a pretty good hunting season because deer will come to feeders; antler quality should be good because prior to the drought deer had good food early on in the year.”
Landowners with LAMPS antlerless deer permits are asked to be patient as the office that coordinates this program was shut down due to the storm and relocated to the Old Sabine Bottom WMA near Tyler. They are currently working about two weeks behind schedule in preparing permits and cannot guarantee permits in time for hunting season for new applicants.
South Texas: Much of the southern portion of the state has suffered through an extended dry period, although recent rainfall may provide some relief going into the season. Jimmy Rutledge, TPWD biologist out of Carrizo Springs states South Texas has been blessed for the last 3 years of having abundant, timely rains and abnormally mild temperatures during this period; however South Texas was due for some below average rainfall and hot temperatures that characterize the region.
TPWD biologist Ty Bartoskewitz of Jim Hogg County states most deer hunters this fall should find average numbers of mature deer, although overall production this year was down. Antler development has been average with some exceptional animals being seen on most managed ranches, but biologists are not anticipating the numbers of Boone & Crockett record book qualifying deer they’ve seen in recent years. Body condition on most deer looks to be good to excellent.
Hill Country: The central and eastern areas of the Hill Country saw extremely hot and dry conditions interspersed with short periods of good rainfall this past summer. Except for the western edge of the Hill Country, where rainfall has been more consistent and range conditions are noticeably better than average going into the fall, deer should be readily available during the upcoming hunting season, according to Max Traweek, TPWD biologist in Kerrville. “The very spotty, below average acorn crop that most areas are experiencing should also translate to good deer movement and availability this year,” he notes. “Body condition will most likely be no better than average, again except for the far western sections that have remained green most of the summer. Since most of the Hill Country had good range conditions this past late winter and early spring, I would anticipate that antler quality will be at least average and maybe better than average on those ranges not obviously overpopulated with deer and other browsers. As is the case every year, we highly recommend that landowners and hunters harvest an adequate number of both bucks and does and not wait too late in the season to work seriously on population control.”
Coastal Prairies: Hunters may be somewhat disappointed with this year’s hunting season due to the poor range conditions necessary for good antler production, according to TPWD biologist David Forrester. “Hunters should take this opportunity to improve the genetics of the herd through selective harvest,” he urged. “Antlerless harvest will be very important this year for several reasons including improving the buck per doe ratio and keeping the deer population within the carrying capacity of the habitat. Because there were fewer bucks harvested last year, that should bode well for increased opportunity this year, as well as increased quality.”
Trans Pecos: TPWD biologist Tim Bone reports Far West Texas is in good shape. “We've had above average rains over most of the district this year,” he stated. “I am expecting an above average antler development year for both white-tailed deer and mule deer. Deer numbers should be up from last year in most areas. We had a good fawn crop last year, and I expect another good one this year.
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