Saturday, Nov. 3, is one of the most anticipated days of the entire year. On that morning at first light, Texas deer and waterfowl seasons open. It’s a day when many of the estimated 500,000 deer hunters head out with rifles in hand looking to tag a big buck. It’s also the morning when thousands of waterfowl hunters will lock and load to begin what could be one of the best seasons we’ve had in many years. But the big question is this – just how good will our deer and duck hunts be? Read on and you will get the scoop from some of the best wildlife biologists the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has afield.
How many roam Texas? An estimated 3.3 million.
“The consensus among the state’s biologists points to an overall better deer hunting season, thanks to timely reprieves from the drought,” said TPWD’s Steve Lightfoot. “Spring rains rejuvenated habitat conditions, provided bucks with the nutrition they needed for antler growth and enabled does to produce higher fawn crops.”
Alan Cain is TPWD’s white-tailed deer program leader. When he talks deer, people listen. Here’s what he’s got to say about this season:
“The white-tailed deer herd in Texas is doing well and stable. Despite one of the worst droughts on record last year, the deer population came through with minimal population impacts. Most areas experienced a low fawn crop last year, as to be expected, but we had very few reports of any significant adult mortality related to the drought.
“Winter and spring moisture was much better compared to last year, and most of the state has received much-needed rain this spring to boost forage resources needed for antler development and fawn rearing. South Texas, known for trophy bucks, should be in good shape as we’ve had rain this summer. The Texas Hill Country, known for higher deer populations, has also received good rains this summer, so hunters should expect decent antler quality and good body weights for this region.”
Both deer and squirrel hunts should be good in the Pineywoods. That’s because enough rain has fallen to generate a fair acorn crop. Years with good acorn production are typically followed by years with good squirrel and deer reproduction.
Kevin Kraai is TPWD’s waterfowl program leader. Here’s his season update:
“Assuming you can follow up a drought like last year with rain, an event like that can be very beneficial for wetland conditions the following year. Wetlands need disturbance of one kind or another, and drought can act as one of the best disturbances to stimulate favorable plants for waterfowl. I don’t believe we could have asked for a better scenario for breeding mottled ducks and waterfowl arriving this fall. … We just need lots of rain prior to their departure from the north.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s survey estimates 48.6 million breeding ducks, a 7 percent increase over last year and 43 percent above the 1955–2010 long-term average,” said Lightfoot. “This year’s estimate is a record high and is only the sixth time in the survey’s history that the total duck population has exceeded 40 million. As always, fall weather and habitat conditions along migration routes will have a big impact on migration chronology and local hunting success.”
Turkey and quail
Jason Hardin is TPWD’s turkey program biologist. Here’s his take on the upcoming season:
“Most of the hens in 2011, a lot of which were juveniles following an excellent hatch in 2010, did not attempt to nest. Survival of hens was actually above average due to their lack of nesting activity. With favorable rains and a mild winter this past spring, turkeys got off to an early start. Most hens nested. Predation was on the high end, but not outside of normal nest predation for turkeys. There should be a fair number of jakes seen this fall and next spring. Plus, we had such a great hatch in 2010 that there should also be a ton of mature toms across the landscape as well. There have been few reports of production in East Texas.”
Quail production should have also been good this year, but unfortunately, there are very few areas of the Edwards Plateau that have enough quail to be of significance.
TPWD biologists say that quail have had good reproductive success in many areas, but one good year is not enough to counteract four bad ones. Their assessment is that quail are going to need several good rainfall years to begin growing their populations back in many areas.
Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.