Bow season open for deer

The archery season on deer is open for the entire month of October, and once again bowhunters will be allowed to use both crossbows and compound bows in most Texas counties. The only county not allowing crossbows is Grayson.

The big question is what can hunters expect to see, now that we’re in the middle of the worst drought in Texas history? Without a doubt, white-tailed deer in Texas are facing tough conditions heading into the fall hunting season.

“It doesn’t take a biologist to understand that drought has serious impacts on the state’s nearly 4 million white-tailed deer,” said Alan Cain, deer program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Everything from antler quality to fawn production and overall survival will be affected by the tough range conditions this year.

“Food and water sources for wildlife continue to shrink on a landscape-wide level, and to help ensure enough resources are available through the winter months, biologists are encouraging hunters to increase deer harvest early in the hunting season.

“By reducing deer numbers early on, hunters can help ensure enough groceries will be available through the winter months,” Cain said. “As with many wildlife species, the very young and the very old often have much more difficult times dealing with extreme weather events. These stress periods are a way for nature to ‘thin the herd,’ especially in areas where deer populations are already exceeding the carrying capacity of the native range. As deer become stressed, they are more susceptible to infections or other disease. Drought like this can be a contributing factor towards stress.”

Cain said that isolated incidents of deer die-offs as a result of the drought are possible, but anything on a large scale isn’t likely even if dry conditions continue.“Keep in mind deer have survived through some pretty tough times, including the drought of the 1950s,” he said.

The one positive aspect to the drought, Cain noted, is that deer may be more visible to hunters as they seek out water sources and feeders. Last year, Texas hunters harvested a record 688,000 deer, and Cain predicted that record could be topped this year if conditions stay the same.The one surefire way to tag a deer is having the right gear and being in the right place at the right time.

There is nothing quite like getting the upper hand on a mature buck. Over the past several years, one of the very best tactics for finding and tagging a quality buck has been to set up a few game cameras. Based on what I’ve seen on ranches and leases all over Texas, about 99.9 percent of the time there is a game camera set up near a feeder. Seeing is believing. When you can download photos and/or video of what’s eating your high dollar corn and it happens to be a good looking buck, you know what to expect next time you’re in a stand. The really cool thing about having a game camera is that you are likely to see all sorts of critters eating corn, black-eyed peas or whatever your feeder is spreading out. Here in Texas you’re apt to see anything from a mountain lion to a black bear under a feeder.

But when the rut is on, like it will be in many East Texas counties during October, there is no telling where a buck is going to be on any given day. He might be on one side of your lease today and spotted in another county the next. One of the absolute best tactics when hunting deer during the rut is to have multiple stands or brush blinds to hunt from. While hunting from brush blinds, I’ve had mature bucks walk within a few feet of me and never know I was there. One of the best tools you can have when hunting from brush blinds is a good pair of clippers. You can cut enough limbs and brush within a few minutes to make a first-class one-man blind.

What a lot of Pineywoods bow hunters do is set up multiple ladder stands in areas that are holding deer. That’s how some of the most successful bow hunters in Texas have been operating for many seasons. And it’s a great way for gun hunters to take wary bucks by surprise. Ladder stands are not only convenient, but they are also cheap. I’ve seen them priced as low as $50. They are lightweight, portable, easy to set up and will last forever.

Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com