Texas hunters should see deer in good condition and above average numbers of mature bucks when the general season kicks off Nov. 3 statewide.
“Despite the drought of 2011 deer appeared to come through the season in fair shape, which I think in part is a tribute to hunters and landowners doing a better job of managing deer populations and the native habitat across the state,” said Alan Cain, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department white-tailed deer program leader. “Couple the results of good management, lower harvest in 2011 and some late winter and spring precipitation and the stage is set for a good deer season in 2012.”
TPWD Big Game Harvest survey results confirmed what biologist and hunters already knew, the deer harvest was down in 2011. Last year’s estimated harvest was 574,808 white-tailed deer; 309,207 being bucks and 265,601 antlerless deer. Compare those statistics to the 2010 season, one of our better seasons, when total deer harvest was estimated at 647,975 deer; 336,550 being bucks and 311,425 antlerless deer. However, a little perspective is in order here. Keep in mind the 11-year average for annual total harvest is 574,423 deer and the lowest estimated harvest occurring during the 2007-08 was an estimated 512,852 deer.
“Although we had a few dry spells during mid-summer, I’m seeing and hearing reports of deer appearing in good body condition,” Cain said. “In fact, range conditions look good across most of the state. As my Dad and I recently returned from a mule deer hunt in Wyoming I had a chance to drive from almost one end of Texas to the other, Texline to Pleasanton, and can say that the landscape was a brilliant green from just east of Amarillo to south of San Antonio.”
The abundant forage, critical to help deer need nutritional demands, will help to bolster fawn production as well as antler quality. Cain is predicting slightly above average antler quality for most regions of the state this season. Late summer rains should help bucks bulk up and insure good fat reserves to make it through the rigors of rut and improve overall survival this winter. The only downside to the late summer rains is deer may not readily come to feeders or food plots early this fall so hunters may have to change up their strategies to bag a deer during the first weekend or two of general season.
Hunters can expect to see fewer bucks in the 1 ½ year old age class as fawn production was very low across many regions of the state in 2011. However, good fawns crops in 2005, 2007, and 2010 should translate into more bucks in the 7 ½, 5 ½, and 2 ½ year old age classes as compared to other age classes. With the exception of the 1 ½ year old age class there may have been a reasonable carryover of bucks in all other age class simply because many hunters passed on bucks with average antler quality last year, just hoping for an extra year of age and more importantly some rainfall to provide the necessary nutrition to help those buck reach their potential.
“Hopefully, hunters will find what they’re looking for this fall,” Cain said. “I’ve already seen pictures of an 8-point harvested in Bandera County this year that scored on the 159 Boone & Crockett scoring system, maybe sign of good things to come this season. Keep in mind this is well above the average antler quality for bucks 6 ½ years of age or older.
In fact, based on 30+ years of TPWD’s age and antler data the average estimated B&C score for 6 ½ year old or older bucks is 125.34. The South Texas and Eastern Rolling Plains regions have the highest estimated average B&C scores for bucks 6 ½ or older at 134.59 and 129.82, respectively. The remaining regions produce great quality mature bucks with estimated average B&C scores in the low to mid 120s.
“As always we encourage hunters to harvest antlerless deer to help with overall population management, which is an important component to maintain quality native habitats for all wildlife,” said Cain. “One thing is for sure we are blessed with the largest white-tailed deer herd in the nation, approximately 3.3 million deer, and opportunity can be found in nearly every region of the state. So don’t sit on the couch this fall watching the hunting shows, get outdoors and be a part of what will hopefully prove to be a great deer season.”
The general season runs Nov. 3 through Jan. 6, 2013 in the 209 counties that comprise the North Zone and through Jan. 20, 2013 in the 30 counties of the South Zone. For county specific regulations, check the 2012-13 Outdoor Annual of Hunting and Fishing Regulations.
Logo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife