Proposed deer season changes

After years of allowing hunters in South Texas a longer season, TPWD is proposing a change that would standardize the dates statewide. The change would add two weeks to the North Zone season. The department is also proposing to allow the use of air guns and air bows for hunting. (Steve Knight, Staff)

If the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department goes through with its deer season dates proposal -- and there is no reason to think it won’t -- it will be righting a wrong created years ago.

It will also be to the benefit of North Zone hunters, something that is as rare as a free-ranging record book buck.

The department is seeking public comment on a wide range of hunting regulation changes. The biggest will be a deer season proposal that would open the regular season statewide on the first Saturday in November, with it running through the third Sunday in January.

The change would mark the first time since 2001 that hunters in the North Zone would have the same number of hunting days as those in the South. Prior to that time the seasons were staggered, but the same length with the South Zone opening two weeks later and then closing two weeks later. In 2001, TPWD commissioners voted to start both seasons the same day, but continued to allow South Texas to run two weeks longer.

Finally, however, a hunter in the North Zone caught on.

“Last year I received a petition for rule-making where the petitioner was requesting that the North Zone counties be allowed the same general deer season length as the South Zone counties. After reviewing the request, staff determined there was no biological reason not to standardize deer season dates statewide. As a result, I’ve got a proposal to standardize the deer seasons statewide. If adopted by the Commission, the change would simplify regulations and provide additional hunting opportunity as you have pointed out,” explained Alan Cain, TPWD’s white-tailed deer program leader.

The season change does not come without questions, the most notably about hunting in areas where bucks might drop antlers before the season closes. Cain does not think it will be a factor with the new extended dates in the North Zone.

“I’m not concerned about antler drop in North Zone counties. If this were an issue, we’d see it in our Age and Antler surveys conducted by our staff and additionally we’d see this on the 13,000-plus MLDP (Managed Lands Deer Permit) properties we work with,” Cain said.

He added that generally bucks throughout Texas don’t start shedding antlers until late February with the majority dropping them in March.

“You may see some bucks drop antlers in January, but those are not common occurrences and are generally related to poor health/stress issues that may cause early antler drop, but again this is uncommon that early in the year,” Cain said.

The addition of two weeks to the season in the North Zone is not expected to add to the harvest. Cain said 87 percent of the total statewide harvest occurs before Dec. 31 with the bulk coming around opening weekend of the general season, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“Those peak harvest times are not unexpected with kids and families being off work and out of school. Even though we still have South Texas general season, MLDP season, muzzleloader season, special late season, and a few days of North zone general season still open after Jan. 1, only 13 percent of the statewide harvest occurs during this time. An additional two weeks for North Zone counties is not expected to have any impact on the deer population. I suspect many folks have enough deer in their freezers and those with families/kids have probably shifted focus on to things such as stock shows, high school sports, etc.,” Cain said.

Opposition to the change could come from landowners who do not want hunters through January, but they always have the option of retaining the old closing date for their property.

In other proposed changes, the department seeks to allow hunters to use air guns and air bows to take alligators, game animals, non-migratory game birds and furbearers.

Costing about what a traditional rifle would cost, air rifles for hunting are relatively new. They currently come in a number of larger calibers, ranging from .30 to .50. Although they do not have the knockdown power of a regular rifle at distance, the air guns are said to be efficient at short range similar to a compound bow.

Among the other changes, the department is proposing to remove the minimum requirements points on an archery broadhead, and the 125-pound pull, 25-inch stock length and mechanical safety for crossbows.

Also shortening the eastern spring turkey season by a week in Bowie, Cass, Fannin, Grayson, Jasper, Lamar, Marion, Nacogdoches, Newton, Panola, Polk, Red River and Sabine while still closing the season May 14, and closing the spring season in Upshur and San Augustine counties.

In cleaning up wording, the department also proposes to clarify that anyone deer hunting in a county with antler restrictions that takes a buck in violation of the restriction may not take another deer with branched antlers on both beams in that county during that current season.

The department also proposes to increase the daily bag limit on pintails to two for 2018-19, and to add a week to the late season dove season in the North and Central zones and a week to the early split in the South Zone.

A complete list of all proposed hunting and fishing regulation changes are available online at tpwd.texas.gov/business/feedback/public_comment. The public may comment online or by sending comments to TPWD, attn. Hunting Regulations Public Comment, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744. All comments must be received by March 22.

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