There are deer seasons you remember because they were good. There are seasons you remember because they were bad. When this one opens Saturday it will be good, bank on it.
While the pain of drought was felt statewide again this summer, even three months without moisture can't damper the effect springtime rains had on antler development.
"By the time it stopped raining in July they were not through with antler development, but by the time it stopped raining we had good groceries everywhere before it started looking pitiful in August," said Alan Cain, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's white-tailed deer program leader.
This isn't to say every buck in the state is going to be a wall-hanger, but the odds are this season will produce as many as Texas hunters have seen in years with any luck at all. Cain said 2010 was the last time prospects were this good, and there is a chance this year could be even better.
"There were some big deer killed all over in 2010. That year we saw big deer all over the state. We didn't have much in the way of spring rains that year, but we had summer rains and we had decent moisture coming out of winter," the biologist recalled.
However, he said that might be an unfair comparison.
"It is sort of comparable, but I think this year will blow it out of the water. Overall the quality is as good this year, probably better."
Because of good years offset by drought years, there are going to be holes in the herd age structures around the state. Cain said there should be good numbers of 2ﾽ, 3ﾽ, 5ﾽ and 8ﾽ year olds in the herd, and not as many of the others.
While hunters will have the best chance of taking a good buck on managed properties, this year the odds could be just as good on a 20-acre wood plot.
"Every year folks ask where they need to hunt to kill a big deer. Texas is moving forward in our progression of deer management," Cain said.
He added that non-traditional areas, like the Post Oak region of East Texas, have come a long way in deer management in part because of the antler restriction regulation and changes in hunter attitude about taking the first buck that walks out. Cain said throughout the state the age and nutrition to produce quality deer is there this year.
To keep this trend going, however, hunters are going to have to maintain herd density numbers. The harvest of antlerless deer this year is going to be especially critical because the same good range conditions that produced antlers also resulted in high fawn survival numbers.
"We are going to have a big fawn crop. I have heard of places in South Texas with 85 to 90 percent fawn crops. That is unheard of down there. It is the same in the rest of the state," Cain said.
In the past TPWD has recommended hunters remove excess does and management bucks as early as possible in the season. The intent is to get those deer off the range before the rut and winter stress period. Cain explained that in some cases there may be reason to wait until later in the season.
"For management purposes you want to start killing them opening weekend and get the does out. There are others where buck fawns are important to them. To increase survivability they will wait until January or February to give them another month with mom learning what to eat," Cain explained.
Of course East Texas hunters who wait run the risk of not seeing deer late in the year and ultimately missing their harvest quotas.
Either way they are taken, removing excess deer this year will typically result in better fawn crops next year.
"Every year is a year to kill does. Most underharvest what we recommend. They are scared they are going to decimate their deer density, but the opposite happens. By knocking down the breeding population you are going to have more groceries available, and are going to have a better fawn crop," Cain said.
This year while hunters are looking for big antlers, TPWD biologists are looking for deer heads of any kind as part of its follow up on the discovery of four cases of Chronic Wasting Disease. Although the deer have come from different locations, they can be traced back to a single breeder pen in Medina County.
This season the department hopes to collect as many as 8,500 samples statewide, up from its normal collection of about 3,500.
"It is important for everyone. We need the hunters help since this is voluntary. We are asking them to bring heads or deer to check station and we will sample them to make sure (CWD) is not in wild population. We hope it is not everywhere," Cain said.
The department has set up collection sites statewide (http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/diseases/cwd/), including one in Tyler at The Nature Center, 11942 FM 848. (Hunters may call 903-566-1626, extension 220 to make sure a biologist is available).
For sampling, the head from a fresh-killed deer is required. Cain said hunters returning from their lease can put the head on ice for up to 48 hours before turning it in.
The department can also use fresh-killed deer hit by a vehicle on a roadway. Since it is illegal for the public to pick up those deer, locally they are being asked to call biologists or a local game warden.
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