Crossroads hunters ready for opening of deer season
Oct. 22, 2011 at 5:22 a.m.
Updated Oct. 23, 2011 at 5:23 a.m.
Ranchers and wildlife biologists expect this to be a strong hunting season because of the dry conditions and deer population is up.
TEXAS HUNTING BY THE NUMBERS
1,101,000: Total number of hunters
890,000: Number of total big game hunters
814,000: Number of deer hunters
14,050,000:Total days spent hunting
10,650,000: Total days spent hunting big game
8,219,000: Total days people spent hunting deer
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
A cool breeze and a bustle of activity swept through the Victoria Shooting Sports Club recently.
One man made adjustments to a brand-new rifle while another took aim at a target yards away. Nearby, two children with hearing protection watched as Dad practiced his shot.
The Crossroads' white-tailed deer hunting season kicks off Nov. 5 and hunters, retailers and wildlife personnel alike are all gearing up for the hunt.
For Joe Turner, a retired Victoria plant worker, hunting is a way of life.
He shot his first deer at age 8, became a life member of the National Rifle Association in 1966 and even taught 4-H rifle courses.
"I enjoy being out in God's creation, where it's quiet," he said of his pastime. "I enjoy watching the animals and I enjoy eating them, but I'm not mad at them. It's just something I love doing."
Hunting is a multi-billion dollar industry throughout the Lonestar State, according to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Recreation, the most recent data released by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
2006 brought $2.2 billion in hunting expenditures statewide, according to the survey, averaging $1,984 per sportsman.
In deer hunting alone, 814,000 hunters spent 10.650 million days hunting that year.
Victoria Farm Equipment offers gun safes year-round, but new shipments arrive around deer season to make sure the store can meet demand, said Loretta Stockbauer, with the store. Already, she said, the store has sold a number of safes to protect hunters' guns.
Charles "Pop" Lassmann operates the Double L Ranch just outside Mission Valley and said he expects 2011 to be better season than originally expected.
Things might start out slow, since recent rains will offer extra food sources, Lassmann said. Afterward, however, deer will likely return to feeders.
Other parts of Texas, such as the Hill Country, probably will not fare as well, he said.
Lassmann does not offer rifle hunts on his ranch, but has seen a few white-tailed deer killed on-site already during bow season.
He said he expects bucks to be in good shape, noting that one killed during bow season had a decent amount of body fat, an unusual trait for the animal.
Trent Teinert, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, agreed that populations seem strong.
White-tailed deer numbers are up in most parts of Victoria County, he said, and fawn survival rates are higher than many people expected although he couldn't explain why.
He said he believes herds benefit from county restrictions enacted several years ago that limit kills to deer with a minimum 13-inch antler width. Such deer are typically 3 ½ years old or older, Teinert said, and restrictions promote healthier herds and improved age structures.
Parks and Wildlife personnel encourage hunting with the region's current dry conditions, he said, explaining they would rather see deer harvested by hunters than to see them die of starvation in coming months.
Ongoing oil-and-gas activity, however, makes it more difficult to find available hunting spaces, said Gary McCrary, who manages the Victoria Shooting Sports Club.
Many landowners are ranchers who lived off the land for years, he said. Now that they're making millions, many no longer feel the need to lease out.
"I've had people tell me they don't know what to do with the money they have now," he said. "A lot of people are hunting out of state."
The sports club has kept busy with training and issuing permits, although it has seen an about-face in terms of its biggest customers.
When the club opened more than 19 years ago, 75 to 80 percent of business came from hunters, he said. Now, most comes from people concerned with home security or youth taking safety courses.
Larry Kramer visits the sports club a couple times a month and, on Oct. 14, busied himself breaking in a new .284 caliber deer rifle.
"Each barrel has its own likes and dislikes," he said, noting it takes time to get it just right. "It's like a car. You kind of have to tune it."
Kramer hunts, but doesn't make it out every year. Much of what he focuses on is target practice.
As for Turner, he might plan on taking a few hunting excursions this season, but that doesn't mean he plans on shooting deer. In fact, he hasn't since 2008.
Instead, that honor goes to the grandkids.
"I mostly try to give my grandsons the shot," he said with a smile. "They enjoy it, and I do, too."