TPWD News Release — Jan. 31, 2005
AUSTIN, Texas — Experimental buck deer harvest regulations in six- Post Oak Savannah counties are helping create a healthy deer population, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists and affected landowners and hunters. Harvest pressure of young bucks has decreased significantly during the past 3 years, and the increase in mature bucks available for harvest has pleased many hunters.
With such promising results, hunters and landowners in other areas of the state are showing interest in such an antler-restriction regulation. TPWD Big Game Program director Clayton Wolf said the department isn't ready to make additional commitments without knowledge of public sentiment, but the results of this experiment are encouraging.
"If we assume the antler restrictions are an option on a regulatory basis (at a county or regional level), our next step would be looking at other parts of the state," he noted. "We have data on harvest pressure and there are obviously areas that are getting hit hard, but we'd also like to get a handle on public sentiment."
During February and March, TPWD biologists will be canvassing the public in 34 counties for input about buck antler restrictions.
One area of the state where this type of strategy could be beneficial, Wolf said, is the Pineywoods because of the intense hunting pressure on bucks. Parts of the Hill Country could also be a possibility. At the same time, however, TPWD biologists recognize the uniqueness of land ownership and cooperative management practices that paved the way in the original six counties may not translate elsewhere.
According to antler restrictions, hunters in the affected counties could harvest a buck only if it meets the following criteria:
TPWD is proposing to add a second buck to the bag limit in counties with the special antler restrictions, with one buck tag reserved for harvesting a deer with at least one unbranched antler. This alteration addresses biological concerns about inadvertently protecting spike bucks, according to Mitch Lockwood, TPWD White-tailed Deer program leader.
"The percentage of spike bucks taken during the last three seasons in these (experimental) counties has been dropping and is historically low in all one buck counties," he said. "This is a chance to increase hunter harvest opportunity while minimizing the risk of high-grading."
The regulations are designed to address intense hunting pressure on buck deer, particularly young bucks. The theory, according to Bob Carroll, a TPWD biologist in LaGrange who helped orchestrate the plan, is that by allowing more deer to mature, land managers can create a more balanced herd and higher quality hunting opportunity in future years.
During the 10 years before the experimental regulations, only about 20 percent of the bucks taken by hunters in those six counties were 3.5 years old or older. More than half were taken out of the herd as yearlings, according to TPWD records. During 2004-05, the third year of the experimental antler-restriction regulation, more than 70 percent of the buck harvest consisted of bucks 3.5 years old or older.
Biologists and game wardens have knowledge of just a small percentage of bucks that have been taken illegally in the six counties during the experiment and a majority of those were within an inch of the minimum inside spread.
"From the reports I've seen, hunters like the idea of doing something about the quality of the bucks they have an opportunity to harvest," noted Col. James Stinebaugh, TPWD law enforcement division director. "I would say that the new restrictions have been successful with a minimum of problems in enforcement."
"Most of the comments that we have received from hunters have been positive," said Carroll. "We have a better relationship with the public in these counties than we have had in my 36 years of service with TPWD."
David Zapalac's Fayette County property along the Colorado River has been in his family for more than 100 years. He's seen how land fragmentation has put more hunting pressure on the deer. He's also seen how a cooperative like the Colorado River Wildlife Management Association, with its 125 members covering 8,000-10,000 acres can make a difference.
"Because of the small tracts of land you never saw any deer with any horns of size," says Zapalac. "In our cooperative, we've got a lot of land tracts of 40-60 acres, but the common goal among all of us is to improve the bucks. During the last couple of years, because of these regulations, we see some deer with some age and some size. Nobody wants to shoot the little bucks, peer pressure in the co-ops has helped that."
"Finding that kind of grassroots support may be tough to duplicate," Wolf says.
"Are other hunters willing to deal with that extra level of complexity in the regulations to get the product they're asking for?" he asked. "If they say that's what they want because it will improve their hunting and see it as a price they're willing to pay to get older age structure in the herd, then we'll listen."
The department is looking at the following counties as possible areas where similar restrictions could be beneficial to the health of the deer herd:
The public is encouraged to attend any of the following scoping meetings to learn more about the special buck regulations. All meetings are set for 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Public input can also be made to Mitch Lockwood, TPWD White-tailed Deer Program Leader, 309 Sindney Baker South, Kerrville, TX 78028 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Correction, Feb. 3, 2005: The original version of this news release did not include these four meetings. (Return to corrected item.)