The future has already begun. The 2016 deer season will not open until Oct. 1, but changes made by Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners last week open a path toward more hunting opportunity in portions of East Texas beginning this fall and into the future.
Make that a better chance to bring home some venison thanks to the expansion of the number of days in 13 counties and their creation in 10 others, and an expanded muzzleloader season.
East Texas continues to lag behind the state when it comes to liberalized antlerless harvest regulations. That is in part because of deer numbers in some counties and continued backlash to expansion in others. This should at least help hunters a little.
Approved for four does days for the first time are the Post Oak Prairie region counties of Bell, Burleson, Ellis, Falls, Freestone, Kaufman, Limestone, Milam, Navarro and Williamson. The doe-days season in those counties will run Nov. 24-27.
Moving up from four doe days to 16 will be Anderson, Brazos, Camp, Gregg, Grimes, Henderson, Lamar, Leon, Madison, Morris, Red River, Robertson and Upshur counties. The 16-day season will begin opening day, Nov. 5, and run through Nov. 20.
While not a perfect solution the four days are a start and an improvement over any form of doe permit system option previously available to some hunters based on acreage who can’t qualify for Managed Lands Deer permits.
The 16-day option is better because it gives hunters a longer chance to take a doe if some hunting days are lost to rain or the hunter can’t go Thanksgiving week for some reason. Coming early in the season the dates also put the hunters in the woods when the deer are easier to find.
There is a biological reason for the season. In recent years the deer population has increased more than 20 percent and as is often the case hunters haven’t kept up with the number of doe needed to be harvested.
Antlerless deer made up only 37 percent of the 64,000 deer taken in the region during the 2014-15 season, the most recent figures available from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In comparison, with a similar overall harvest total, 47 percent of the deer taken in the Pineywoods were antlerless deer.
According to TPWD Wildlife biologists the doe-buck ratio throughout the Post Oak region has climbed to an unhealthy 4 to 1. It is hoped that the doe days will start bringing that number down to at least 2 to 1 over time.
There are going to be landowners who will not like the idea of expanding the antlerless harvest no matter what system is used, but they always have the ability to opt out by simply telling their hunters no.
There is hope that this move is just the beginning of a move toward a full-season antlerless harvest, but that is the type of change that will not come quickly. Any additional days in the Post Oak and Pineywoods regions where doe days are most prevalent are at least four years away.
In other hunting regulation changes approved, the department will also expand the January muzzleloader-only open season into 32 additional counties in the Post Oak region. The season opens the day after the regular season and runs for two weeks. It is currently open in 58 counties in the Pineywoods, Oak Prairies and Trans Pecos regions.
Commissioners also approved a deer season in 14 western Panhandle counties: Andrews, Bailey Castro, Cochran, Gaines, Hale, Hockley, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Parmer, Terry, Winkler and Yoakum.
Another change will allow youth hunters on U.S. Forest Service lands to take antlerless deer without an antlerless permit during the youth-only season.
A final change revised the definition of a legal buck to one with at least one unbranched antler instead of the previous definition of a spike.
Also approved at the meeting was a 90-day dove season in the state made possible by changes to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines. The extension from the 70-day season in Texas and other central states came after a previous expansion along the East Coast.
The dove seasons for 2016-17 are: North Zone, Sept. 1-Nov. 13 and Dec. 17-Jan. 1; Central Zone, Sept. 1-Nov. 6 and Dec. 17-Jan. 8; South Zone Sept. 23-Nov. 13 and Dec. 17-Jan. 23; and Special White-winged Dove Area, Sept. 3-4 and 10-11, Sept. 23-Nov. 9 and Dec. 17-Jan. 23. The daily bag limit remains at 15 doves per day.
Another change in the way the USFWS operates also allowed commissioners to approve waterfowl dates now instead of having to wait until August. This year’s season lengths and limits will remain the same as last year.
The statewide teal-only season will be open Sept. 10-25 with a six-bird limit. Concurrent with the teal season will be a Canada goose season in the East Zone. The limit for the geese in those 123 counties is three per day.
The regular duck season will open Nov. 12-27 and Dec. 3-Jan. 29 in the North Zone and Nov. 5-27 and Dec. 10-Jan. 29 in the South Zone. It will run Oct. 29-30 and Nov. 4-Jan. 29 in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. The daily limit will remain at six.
A youth-only season will be open Nov. 5-6 in the North, Oct. 29-30 in the South and Oct. 22-23 in the HPMMU.
Goose season in the East Zone will run Nov. 5-Jan. 29 and in the West Zone from Nov. 5-Feb. 5.
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