Rain could mean good news for deer hunters

AUSTIN, TX (press release) - An early and abundant acorn crop, combined with new growth of native vegetation may force Texas deer hunters to stray from supplemental food sources during the 2009-2010 general deer season, which opens Nov. 7.

Reports from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department field biologists indicate above average mast crop production and an early acorn drop. Recent rains across much of the state have also helped generate forb production, adding to the availability of native food sources for deer.

"It's been at least three years since ground moisture has been this good at this time of year," said Mike Krueger, TPWD district wildlife biologist in Kerrville. "It looks like springtime in the Edwards Plateau at this time.

Krueger noted the warm-season plants have put on a final burst of growth and flowers and there is a flush of early growth of cool-season grasses and forbs. That will probably contribute to a slow deer season for hunters, especially early in the season and especially for those hunters that are dependent on hunting over feeders.

"There is an abundance of food sources for deer right now, and deer movements are reduced because they don't have to move as far or as often to keep their bellies full," Krueger added. "Deer don't appear to be coming to feeders as often or as regularly as they would if it were still dry."

The only consolation is that bucks are becoming more active due to the onset of the rut in the Hill Country, so they'll be moving around as they typically do during the rut, regardless of the condition of the range.

Although the range conditions are good to excellent right now, the rains came too late to help with this year's buck antler growth which is probably no better than average throughout the Edwards Plateau region, or with the fawn production that is also no better than average. But if it continues to rain throughout the fall and winter, the stage is being set for better antler growth and fawn production next year.

While recent rains have improved range conditions across much of the state, whitetails in South Texas are battling through an extended stress period that started with last year's rut, according to biologists.

"Last season the rut was later and more spread out than normal and this did not fare well for mature deer," said Daniel Kunz, TPWD biologist in Alice. "By the first of February bucks were extremely drawn down and numerous reports of early antler shedding were occurring; an indication that bucks could be in poor shape. This will likely affect antler quality."

Hunters should expect a reasonable number of 2½ year old bucks and 5 ½ to 7 ½ year old bucks as 2002-2004 and 2007 were good fawn production years resulting in good carry over, added TPWD biologist Dustin Windsor in Cotulla.

"Everything's greened up and deer aren't coming to feeders as readily because there's so much forage out there," said Alan Cain, TPWD district wildlife biologist for South Texas. "That might affect hunting success early in the fall but deer will still be there."

Surprisingly, according to Cain, some of the helicopter surveys in the brush country are showing some decent body conditions on bucks and does. Some places have some pretty good deer despite drought conditions. Fawn crops are looking pretty pitiful this year.

One region of the state that is entering the fall hunting season in prime condition is the Panhandle, according to Calvin Richardson, TPWD district biologist in Amarillo.

"The Panhandle deer herds---both mule and whitetail---are in great condition and should go into the fall in great shape," said Richardson. "With harvest being down last year, we should have some older aged bucks carry over into this year's season. My guess is that both mule deer and white-tails are not going to have to move around much to find quality forage, so hunting feeders might not be as productive as in years that we have been dry.

Deer hunters in 52 counties this season will be joining those in 61 existing counties having buck antler restrictions. Legal bucks in those counties are those with at least 1 unbranched antler (e.g., spikes and 3-pointers) or having an inside spread of at least 13 inches.

Newly affected counties include: Anderson, Angelina, Archer, Atascosa, Brazos, Brown, Chambers, Clay, Cooke, Denton, Ellis, Falls, Freestone, Grayson, Grimes, Hardin, Harris, Henderson, Hill, Hood, Hunt, Jack, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Kaufman, Liberty, Limestone, Madison, McLennan, Milam, Mills, Montague, Montgomery, Navarro, Newton, Orange, Palo Pinto, Parker, Polk, Robertson, San Jacinto, Smith, Stephens, Tarrant, Trinity, Tyler, Van Zandt, Walker, Wichita, Wise, and Young.

According to Clayton Wolf, TPWD big game program director, the antler restrictions have significantly improved age structure while maintaining ample hunting opportunity, based on data to date in the 61 counties where the rule is currently in effect.

Hunters should also note whitetail bag limits have changed in several counties across the state. Be sure to check the county listings in the 2009-2010 Outdoor Annual of hunting and fishing regulations for the county hunted.

The department got overwhelming support to increase whitetail bag limits in several areas of the state with growing deer numbers or populations sufficient to support additional hunting opportunity.

The department is increasing the bag limit in most Cross Timbers and Prairies and eastern Rolling Plains counties from three deer (no more than one buck, no more than two antlerless) or four deer (no more than two bucks and no more than two antlerless) to five deer (no more than 2 bucks). Counties affected include: Archer, Baylor, Bell (West of IH35), Bosque, Callahan, Clay, Coryell, Hamilton, Haskell, Hill, Jack, Jones, Knox, Lampasas, McLennan, Palo Pinto, Shackelford, Somervell, Stephens, Taylor, Throckmorton, Wichita, Wilbarger, Williamson (west of IH35), and Young.

In addition, the department is increasing the bag limit from four deer to five deer in Pecos, Terrell, and Upton counties. White-tailed deer densities throughout the eastern Trans-Pecos are very similar to densities on the Edwards Plateau, where current rules allow the harvest of up to five antlerless deer.

Another change increases the bag limit from three deer to five deer (no more than one buck) in selected counties in the western Rolling Plains. Counties affected include: Armstrong, Borden, Briscoe, Carson, Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Donley, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hardeman, Hemphill, Hutchinson, Kent, King, Lipscomb, Motley, Ochiltree, Roberts, Scurry, Stonewall, and Wheeler.

The department also opened whitetail hunting in Dawson, Deaf Smith, and Martin counties (three deer, no more than one buck, no more than two antlerless).

Areas of the state having sufficient antlerless deer populations to warrant additional hunting opportunity are getting more doe days this fall. The department is increasing antlerless deer hunting in the following areas:

  • from 16 days to full-season either-sex in Dallam, Denton, Hartley, Moore, Oldham, Potter, Sherman and Tarrant counties;
  • from 30 days to full-season either-sex in Cooke, Hardeman, Hill, Johnson, Wichita, and Wilbarger counties;
  • from four days to16 days in Bowie and Rusk counties;
  • from four days to 30 days in Cherokee and Houston counties;
  • from no doe days to four doe days in Anderson, Henderson, Hunt, Leon, Rains, Smith, and Van Zandt counties.

The department is also expanding the late antlerless and spike season into additional counties. Counties affected include: Archer, Armstrong, Baylor, Bell (West of IH35), Borden, Bosque, Briscoe, Callahan, Carson, Childress, Clay, Collingsworth, Comanche, Cooke, Coryell, Cottle, Crosby, Denton, Dickens, Donley, Eastland, Erath, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hamilton, Hardeman, Haskell, Hemphill, Hill, Hood, Hutchinson, Jack, Johnson, Jones, Kent, King, Knox, Lampasas, Lipscomb, McLennan, Montague, Motley, Ochiltree, Palo Pinto, Parker, Pecos, Roberts, Scurry, Shackelford, Somervell, Stephens, Stonewall, Tarrant, Taylor, Terrell, Throckmorton, Upton, Wheeler, Wichita, Wilbarger, Williamson (West of IH35), Wise, and Young. In Pecos, Terrell, and Upton counties, the season would replace the current muzzleloader-only open season.

In East Texas, the department is establishing a special muzzleloader season in additional counties, lengthening the existing muzzleloader season by five days to be equivalent in length with the special antlerless and spike buck seasons in other counties, and altering the current muzzleloader bag composition to allow the harvest of any buck (not just spike bucks) and antlerless deer without permits if the county has "doe days" during the general season.

New counties affected include: Austin, Bastrop, Bowie, Brazoria, Caldwell, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Colorado, De Witt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Goliad (North of HWY 59), Goliad (South of HWY 59), Gonzales, Gregg, Guadalupe, Harrison, Houston, Jackson (North of HWY 59), Jackson (South of HWY 59), Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Marion, Matagorda, Morris, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Upshur, Victoria (North of HWY 59), Victoria (South of HWY 59), Waller, Washington, Wharton (North of HWY 59), Wharton (South of HWY 59), and Wilson.

The department is also adding one additional weekend and 10 additional weekdays in January to the current youth-only season.

The department also established a one buck only, antlerless by permit, nine-day mule deer season for Parmer County, the first ever deer season for that county.

The season concludes in the North Zone on Jan. 3 and the South Zone season ends Jan. 17.