Deer season off to strong start in Texas

Posted Saturday, Nov. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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If this weekend’s opener of the white-tailed deer hunting season is any indication of what’s ahead for the remainder of the year, hunters may be on their way to enjoying a much better season than wildlife officials predicted a few months ago, when much of the state lay parched under severe drought conditions.

The general season opened statewide Saturday and runs through Jan. 5 in North Texas and through Jan. 19 in South Texas. Those seasons followed a statewide Sept. 28-Nov. 1 archery-only season.

Additional seasons include a Jan. 6-9 youth-only season and late antlerless and spike deer seasons Jan. 6-19 in North Texas and Jan. 20-Feb. 2 in South Texas.

Texas has more white-tailed deer than any other state, with the overall population estimated to be around 3.3 million animals, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists. Although fawn production in 2011 and 2012 was low overall, this year’s fawn production was estimated to be 40 percent, which is average.

With rains over the past two months providing an abundance of young, green browse plus a high production of acorns, fawn survival should be excellent, something that should be a plus for hunters in the next few years as the fawns grow into adults.

Recent heavy rains, including some that reached flood levels, plus an abundance of acorns all the way from the Hill Country to deep into the Pineywoods of East Texas have provided white-tailed deer with an abundance of natural forage.

Although an abundance of natural food sources often limit deer activity around wildlife feeders, which is where a lot of hunters spend a majority of their time hunting, reports from archers in recent weeks indicate deer are beginning to return to their feeders.

Deer processors also report taking in more deer during the archery-only season.

“We took in more than 100 deer this archery season and that’s a lot more than what we took in last season,” said Stephen Meyer of M&M Deer Processing in Lampasas, “and we had taken in 41 deer by 11 a.m. [Saturday], which was opening day of the general season.

“The deer we saw also were in excellent body condition and their antlers were average if not above average. The largest buck we had on opening morning was a 12-pointer that field-dressed about 125 pounds. I expect us to see a lot more deer with bigger antlers now that the general gun season has opened.”

The rutting, or mating season, is perhaps the most welcomed change in deer behavior among hunters. It is a time when the older, larger bucks move the most in search of receptive does, and the urge to mate reduces their normal survival instincts to stay hidden and move less.

Overall, most hunters agree that the bucks are just beginning to rut in the Hill Country, Cross Timber region and the Pineywoods.

Briley Hicks of Abilene said he saw only one buck chasing a doe during the last days of the archery-only season in Coleman County, and he and his hunting buddies who were hunting west of Copperas Cove this weekend saw only slight indications that the rut was under way.

“I have seen lots of rubs but no scrapes yet,” John Penniger, who hunts in Throckmorton County, said. “But I don’t think the rut is far away, and that’s when you are going to see a lot more big bucks taken.”

The rut always is spread out, not only from region to region but also from areas of one region to other areas of the same region. John Gill of Dallas and Mike Cox of Austin said they can’t remember when they have seen heavier rutting activity than they did on opening morning this season at their hunting lease near Nix.

“I rattled up two small bucks and they didn’t want to leave,” Gill said. “They came right in about five minutes after I began rattling, and each time they started to leave I would hit my antlers together and they would come right back in.”

Cox said he saw three bucks with does from his stand, plus several bucks around his feeder that showed interest in the does that were there. Another hunter on the same lease said he saw a large eight-pointer chasing does near his feeder, plus several other smaller bucks and four spikes chasing does.

A few other hunters reported seeing some rutting activity on opening day in and around San Saba and Mills counties, as well as in scattered portions of the Cross Timbers region north and west of Fort Worth.

This isn’t surprising, because the rutting activity doesn’t always start or end at the same time, even in individual regions. The reason probably has a lot to do with deer density and varying age classes within a population of deer.

The peak of the rutting season in the above areas usually occurs around the first to third weeks in November, but often occurs a month or more later in South Texas.

“I haven’t seen any rutting activity where I guide near Hondo or in other areas of South Texas, but that isn’t unusual for this time of the year,” Steve Nixon of San Antonio said. “They probably won’t be doing it until about mid-December.”

South Texas hunters may have to wait another month and a half for the rutting season to start, but those who hunt in Central and North Texas had best take to the woods.

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