Texas makes up for drought with sheer size and scope
The Lone Star State still has the largest population of whitetailed deer in the country and a generous overall season in which to hunt them.
However, severe drought heading into this fall’s frameworks didn’t lay the groundwork for as optimistic an outlook as in past years when opt imum or even average moisture levels set the stage for spectacular predictions from biologists and land managers.
But we’ ve experienced seasons that set up like that before.
What the 2011 Texas Deer Forecast may lack in deer numbers or antler size is more than made up for in the sheer dimensions of our white-tailed deer range, which extends all the way from the Oklahoma border at the northern peak to the Rio Grande in deep South Texas, and from the eastern border with Louisiana all the way into the eastern edge of the Trans-Pecos.
Simply put, we have millions of deer and millions of acres to hunt them on.
The state also allows us liberal limits on our hunting licenses, which means every fall season is a great opportunity to take animals off the range while filling our freezers with some tasty fare.
This season especially is one in which hunters should use as many of the five tags that accompany a hunting license as they can. That advice is according to biologists across the state.
If there’s one place on the map that always seems to produce lots of deer, it’s the Edwards Plateau region that encompasses all of Central Texas and extends into portions of what most hunters consider East and West Texas.
This region has boasted the highest deer densities and hunter numbers for at least the past three decades and this fall should see no deviation from those norms.
There are a variety of habitats included in this general region, but one thing is certain: Without good moisture levels, all of the desired vegetation that deer use for forage and cover likely will have a large impact on things this season.
Alan Cain, the whitetail program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said looking into the crystal ball ahead of a season (as this was written) isn’t easy, but one thing is certain: The old saying about Texas weather and waiting five minutes for it change is right on.
“ We just can’t seem to win (with the Texas weather),” he said. “It goes from one extreme to another with rain and drought. Unfortunately, much of the state has received minimal rainfall since last September and facing tough drought conditions.
“Although we’ve received some decent rain (in late spring) it will not be enough to sustain or improve habitat conditions unless the rain continues.”
Cain said overall production from this past season should bode well, including having a good fawn crop across much of the state and a good carryover of 1 1/2-year-old bucks and does into this fall.
“Harvest appeared to be average last season and possibly slightly below average in a few areas in East Texas and down in the Oak Prairie Region,” he said. “However, much of that was likely due to the great range conditions last fall (lots of acorns and green vegetation). With all that food deer just weren’t showing up to feeders.
“Reports from the Hill Country did indicate an above-average harvest last fall, but that region of Texas is a deer factory and high harvest is good to help keep populations in check with native habitat. With that said, there was probably a decent carryover this past winter and so hunters can expect to have plent y of deer to hunt this fall.”
Cain pegged the overall Texas whitetail figure at between 3.7 million and 4.2 million animals, and said that number is sure to have an impact on the range conditions this fall.
“If the drought continues we will see lower fawn recruitment this fall, deer will probably readily come to feeders as a result of less than desirable range conditions, and hunters should have pretty good success,” he said.
“We always encourage landowners and managers to encourage hunters to meet their harvest goals for the ranch, regardless of drought or wet conditions.
“Native habitats are key to successful deer management programs and keeping deer populations in check so as not to damage those native habitats is critical to success.”
Cain pointed out a key theory to deer management, one that especially will come into focus as a result of the conditions dating all the way back into last fall.
“Biologists often tell folks to manage populations for drought condition, in other words, keep your deer density at a level that you would during tough times (drought) and even during wet years,” he said.
“Therefore, no matter what the conditions are, plenty of native vegetation will remain to support the deer population. Obviously, with too many deer on the range, especially during poor range conditions, animal performance suffers and antler quality decreases as well as reproductive success.”