Texas Deer Population Forecasted to Rebound from Drought Conditions
Oct. 27, 2023
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AUSTIN —Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists expect deer hunters statewide to have plenty of opportunities to fill freezers this season thanks to widespread, improved habitat conditions.
“Overall, the 2023-24 deer hunting season is expected to be good in terms of harvest numbers and opportunities, so don’t let the chance to spend time afield with family, friends and fellow hunters pass you by,” said TPWD White-tailed Deer Program Leader Blaise Korzekwa. “Texas has one of the longest deer seasons in the nation, so take some time this fall and winter and enjoy one of the best deer herds in the country, right here in your home state.”
Much of the state received drought-quenching rain in the spring, which allowed for excellent habitat growth during the initial part of the growing season. Spring forb (weeds and flowering plants) production, which is a critical component of a deer’s diet coming out of winter, was abundant and offered essential nutrients to growing bucks, lactating does and new fawns. Additionally, the improved habitat conditions earlier this year helped keep fawns healthy enough to survive their first six months (also known as fawn recruitment).
The few areas of the state that missed the spring rainfall should expect average antler quality, which is still expected to exceed expectations from the 2022 season.
Additionally, reduced harvest numbers last season should payoff this year, those bucks had a chance to reach older age classes and benefit from the spring bounty.
Landowners and hunters play a critical role in managing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Before heading to the field, hunters are reminded that several new CWD zones are in place for the 2023-24 season. New carcass movement restrictions are also in place this license year, so Texas hunters harvesting deer, elk, moose and other susceptible species in CWD-positive states must comply with carcass movement restrictions when bringing harvested animals back home.
The most effective way to help slow the spread of CWD is by reporting sick deer, properly disposing of inedible carcass parts and voluntarily testing harvests. More information about zone boundaries and requirements, and check station dates and hours of operations can be found on TPWD’s website.
Hunters taking advantage of Texas Public Hunting Lands must have an Annual Public Hunting Permit. It’s also important for public land hunters to consult the Public Hunting Lands Map Booklet to review regulations that may apply to specific areas. The My Texas Hunt Harvest app can be used to complete on-site registration electronically at a public hunting area.
Below is the white-tailed deer season forecast by ecological region:
The Cross Timbers ecoregion in north Texas has the second highest deer population in Texas, with more than 820,000 animals, just behind the Edwards Plateau region. Higher densities of deer are generally found in the central part of the region. Because of the relatively consistent fawn production, buck age structure is generally well distributed across all age classes. Hunters focusing on mature bucks should not be disappointed with the upcoming season.
Edwards Plateau/Hill Country
Surveys show the Edwards Plateau has the highest deer population in the state, with an estimated 1.6 million animals. Hunters looking for opportunities to see lots of deer when afield should put this area on the priority list to hunt this fall.
Harvesting does around Llano and Mason counties will be especially important to relieve browsing pressure on habitats by lowering deer densities and bringing the doe to buck ratio more in balance.
Western Edwards Plateau-area landowners and hunters are encouraged to limit the number of does harvested this year in the hopes of increasing the population in the area. This part of the Hill Country saw a population decline from an expansive anthrax outbreak in 2019 and has yet to fully recover.
Hunters should expect an increase in the number of two-and-a-half-year-old to four-and-a-half-year-old bucks due to past fawn recruitment years. Hunters looking for older age-class bucks should focus on the area between Hondo to Del Rio and north of Highway 90.
Pineywoods population surveys estimate more than 330,000 deer throughout the region this season, which is higher than the previous three years. Habitat management is critical to sustaining deer populations in the Pineywoods. Properties that manage for quality habitat year-round often see more deer taking advantage of the environment during hunting season.
Initial estimates show a lower density of deer between Houston and Beaumont, with improved population numbers near Tyler.
Hunters should expect a few more bucks in the five-and-a-half-year-old range compared to the younger age bucks.
Post Oak Savannah
The Post Oak Savannah ecoregion enjoyed a good spring which should contribute to average fawn production this year. Higher deer populations could be found along the Interstate 10 corridor between San Antonio to Houston.
Population densities will be lower east of Dallas due to habitat fragmentation. Relative to other age classes, there should be more bucks in the four-and-a-half-year-old class.
The Eastern and Western Rolling Plains generally have a lower deer population than other regions. Severe drought conditions and low fawn recruitment in 2022 has led to a slight decline in the estimated population in this portion of the state.
Sporadic fawn production over the last several years may create age gaps in some of the middle-age groups, but mature buck numbers remain steady. These regions should expect a great season for mature buck harvest and antler quality.
Antler production is expected to be above average, especially on properties that have limited competition for resources during previous hunting seasons.
South Texas Plains
The South Texas Plains are known for mature bucks and above average antler quality relative to most other areas in the state. Harvest is expected to be up for 2023 with average to above average antler quality.
Despite drought conditions in 2022 impacting the number of fawns surviving their first six months, the deer population has remained steady in South Texas. Many hunters passed on harvesting trophy bucks last season in hopes for improved habitat conditions in 2023. Biologists expect the two-and-a-half-year-old to five-and-a- half-year-old age classes to be abundant and offer plenty of opportunities to see mature bucks.