Every Texas deer season has some surprises and disappointments. This was no exception.
A season that started for some in September won't officially close for others until Friday. That is when the last shot under the Managed Lands Deer program can be fired.
Somewhere in that five-month period Texas' 600,000 or so white-tailed deer hunters experienced victory or defeat. The official account of how they did won't be tallied for some months, but anecdotally it looks like once again that between 500,000 and 600,000 deer were taken and that antler quality is going to depend on which side of the fence a hunter was on.
"Statewide it was an average year (quality-wise)," said Alan Cain, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's deer program leader. "In specific regions there were some excellent deer."
And there was none any better than a low-fence 31-point Houston County buck taken in September that has been Boone and Crockett scored at 278 5/8 gross and 268 4/8 net.
At this point there is little none about the hunt for the East Texas buck other than it was killed by Crosby hunter Mark Lee with a rifle in September. What is known is that the buck was a mainframe 10-point and had main beam measurements of 18 7/8 inches and 20 2/8 inches, an inside spread of 20 1/8 inch. It also had 117 7/8 inches of non-typical growth. The deer will be among the top 30 B&C entries from Texas.
Lee's deer is the second big buck to come out of the Pineywoods in back-to-back years. In the 2012-13 AJ Downs of Conroe took a 28-point non-typical in San Jacinto that scored 256 4/8 gross and 253 3/8 net.
"This year was fantastic from an antler development standpoint – we have had several good deer entered into the Big Game Awards," said Gary Calkins, TPWD Wildlife Division district biologist for the Pineywoods region. "It appears that maybe the harvest was up. Body weights were only average over all with some parts of the Pineywoods having a little above average. We do have some really heavy does in the harvest. I think it was a really good season overall for us."
It wasn't just East Texas that produced the big boys. Cain said he scored two bucks scoring 243 and 222 in South Texas that were taken behind high fences, but were native deer.
A low-fence ranch near Cotulla produced a pair of 211-inch deer.
But that quality wasn't universal, not even in South Texas where drought continues to impact the habitat.
"It is definitely dry in South Texas. We got these little rains in the fall, but it was just enough to keep the weeds green and provide some surface moisture. If we don't get some rain I am going to be worried, and it looks like a dry spring. That is not good for bucks, does or fawns," Cain said.
Cain said that with years of below-normal rainfall and the lack of a hurricane moving inland that a good portion of the state ranging from South Texas into the Hill Country and up into North Texas lacks soil moisture to sustain plants that deer need.
The biologist added that long-term drought conditions have not hurt the state's deer population yet, but that could change.
"The fawn crop goes up and down. In 2011 it was down statewide. In 2012 it was up and this year it was reasonable. Statewide it is about 40 percent, and that is not bad for us. If it gets into the teens it starts to be a worry for us," Cain said.
With an estimated population of 3.8 million white-tailed deer before the season, Texas has a little wiggle room statewide in case of a poor fawn crop.
"We have always had high enough recruitment state-wide. Most of our data shows an increase in trends in deer population. I don't know if part of that is some hunters are not harvesting all they could or should, or if they have meat in the freezer and don't want to harvest more," Cain noted.
He added Texas is bucking a trend among southern states that are seeing a decline in deer numbers primarily because of predators such as coyotes.
"If you hunt in Texas you are blessed. You don't know how good you have it," said Cain.
The biologist said much of the credit for big deer and good deer numbers during a difficult time belongs to the hunters who have become more educated about what it takes to produce quality bucks and a healthy herd. That doesn't mean there isn't always room for improvement.
"We want people to keep harvesting deer. There are some areas in the Hill Country where we are showing a deer to seven acres. We would like to see it less," he cited as one example.