Venison time: It's deer season! It's buck season!'

Deer season opened over the weekend, and with it came a new set of rules. More on one of those rules later.

In the late 19th century the white-tailed deer almost became extinct in Texas. Implementation of a deer season, harvest limits, and other measures has allowed the white tailed deer to bounce back to a population of over four million. They not only occupy their previous habitats, but have adapted to others.

Obvious to anyone living near a wooded residential area, deer have no problem living with humans, or eating our plants. Deer stay within a mile and half to three miles of where they were born. Their preferred food is forbs (weeds and broadleaf plants). They also eat woody plants (browse) and mast (acorns, nuts, fruits). They will eat grass, but can't live solely on it. In fact, they will die if that is all they have to eat.

This can make it difficult for white-tailed deer to live with imported exotics. Exotics eat what deer eat, plus grass, which they eat when everything else is gone. Meanwhile, the whitetailed deer die from malnutrition. It's a challenge to manage for deer, exotics and livestock.

Breeding season is from September to January. It is known as the "rut." This is when bucks throw caution to the wind and chase after females, which is why hunting occurs at this time. Breeding success is high because unbred does are ready to breed again in 28 days. Older does have multiple births, making herds with mostly older does more productive. Does usually have twins, and if food is plentiful, may have triplets. Fawns are born seven months later. They have practically no scent, and combined with a spotted coat, easily blend into their surroundings. They lose their spots in three or four months and stay with their mother for a year. Males live on average six years, females eight.

Bucks have antlers. Antlers are grown only by the deer family, which includes deer, elk, moose, and caribou. Unlike horns, which are never shed and continue to grow, antlers are shed every year after breeding season, to be regrown for the next breeding season.

Males grow their first set of antlers as yearlings. Their antlers get larger each year until they reach six. Young bucks have smaller antlers because their energy is spent on growing their bodies. A buck can produce a full set of antlers in three months.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has expanded their antler restriction regulations from the current 61 counties to 52 additional counties, including Milam.

This rule defines a legal buck as having antlers with at least one unbranched antler, or antlers with an inside spread of 13 inches or greater. Implemented in the 1990s, this strategy lets more branched antlered yearlings mature.

Previously, these yearlings could be taken, which meant more spikes (deer with nonpointed antlers) made it to maturity to breed, and those genetically inclined towards producing multi-point antlers did not.

Antler growth is genetically based, with half the genes coming from each parent. The size of the antlers is nutritionally based. To grow deer with the potential for multi-branched antlers, you need a buck with multi-pointed antlers, and does that had daddies with multipointed antlers. To grow large antlers, you need a habitat with high protein forbs. If using supplemental feed, make sure it is for white-tailed deer, with at least 16-percent protein.

Spike deer are not inferior animals, per se. They are undesirable as breeders because you are breeding for a certain trait (multi-pointed antlers). Otherwise, spike deer will not endanger the overall health of a herd.

For more information: http://

Gause-area resident Shawn Walton is a Texas Master Naturalist with the El Camino Real Chapter. Read more at

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2009-11-12 digital edition

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