Woods, Wings & Water: Deer forecast looks promising throughout state
Last week, while scouting a pond for the next day's teal hunt, I drove up on a 31/2-year-old deer standing in the middle of the dirt road. Fifty weeks out of the year, the buck would have bolted for the cover of the woods - but not today. He glanced at my truck, took a step, then dropped his nose to the road like I wasn't even there.
Coastal counties like Matagorda see their best rutting activity the last weekend of September through early October, and on this day, it was obvious this symmetrical eight-pointer had a willing doe on his mind.
While the rut will be over on the coast by the time deer season opens Nov. 2, the rest of the state can look forward to better hunting conditions and a bright forecast for this year's white-tails.
Factors like rainfall, availability of native foods like acorns or mesquite bean crops, habitat conditions and hunting pressure play a role in shaping success.
Besides rainfall and general habitat conditions, biologists consider the previous year's deer population characteristics to make predictions for the upcoming season. Though most of the state continues to suffer from drought, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists say the deer count for this year is somewhere around 3.6 million white-tails.
Dry conditions in 2011 resulted in a significant decline in fawn production, down to 29 percent for the statewide estimate, a 24 percent drop from the long-term average, according to TPWD news release. Fawn crops bounced back in 2012 at 47 percent and even higher this year, with some reports from the Hill Country estimating 60-80 percent.
Though fawns are not the targeted age-class, remember: A solid fawn crop transcends to a better adult deer population for future falls.
Rainfall is the key to big antlers. Without water, native plants and forage do not prosper, thereby stunting antler growth.
"As far as antler quality goes, rainfall plays a key role by influencing the native habitat and forage, ultimately affecting the quality of nutrition a buck receives in order to grow antlers," said Alan Cain, TPWD deer program leader, in the news release. "In dry years, we typically see a decline in overall antler quality and increases in wet years much related to nutrition."
Cain said many landowners around the state have indicated deer are in good body condition, and antler production looks to be much better than the past two years.
Research in South Texas has shown that native habitat is crucial to deer nutrition even when supplemental feeds like protein and corn are provided.
Texas has always been known for its propensity to produce big bucks. According to an article published by Boone and Crockett, Texas ranks fifth all time for entries into B&C record books. Based on 40-plus years of data collected by TPWD biologists, the average B&C score for a 5-year-old buck is 124, with 9.1 points and a 15.8-inch inside spread. Younger bucks at 3 years of age average a 13.5-inch inside spread and 8 points.
According to TPWD, recent laws restricting harvest of bucks fewer than 13 inches wide is working. Cain said 59 percent of bucks checked during TPWD surveys were 3 or older, a dramatic improvement in age structure when those older age class bucks represented only 30-35 percent of the harvest before antler restrictions were implemented.
That means conservation has produced a bigger deer in the woods.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (firstname.lastname@example.org).