There is some very good news coming from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and it centers on the fact that white-tailed deer are in good condition, with above-average numbers of mature bucks in the herd. That translates into better trophy potential than last season, and more venison for the freezer.
The opener is Nov. 3, and with our cold weather over the past several days, bucks in the Piney Woods will be in the rut and running does. Here’s the bottom line – if you’ve got vacation time stashed, use all you can get away with for the next two to three weeks. That’s when you’re chances of taking a trophy class buck in East Texas will be at their very best.
“The TPWD Big Game Harvest survey results confirmed what biologists and hunters already knew – the deer harvest was down in 2011,” said Steve Lightfoot with TPWD. “Last year’s estimated harvest was 574,808 white-tailed deer, 309,207 being bucks and 265,601 antlerless deer. Compare those statistics to the 2010 season, one of our better seasons, when total deer harvest was estimated at 647,975 deer, 336,550 being bucks and 311,425 antlerless deer. However, a little perspective is in order here. Keep in mind the 11-year average for annual total harvest is 574,423 deer, and the lowest estimated harvest occurring during the 2007-08 was an estimated 512,852 deer.”
Hunters can expect to see fewer bucks in the 1 1/2 year old age class as fawn production was very low across many regions of the state in 2011. However, good fawns crops in 2005, 2007, and 2010 should translate into more bucks in the 7 1/2, 5 1/2, and 2 1/2 year old age classes as compared to other age classes. With the exception of the 1 1/2 year old age class, there might have been a reasonable carryover of bucks in all other age classes simply because many hunters passed on bucks with average antler quality last year, just hoping for an extra year of age and more importantly some rainfall to provide the necessary nutrition to help those buck reach their potential.
“Despite the drought of 2011, deer appeared to come through the season in fair shape, which I think in part is a tribute to hunters and landowners doing a better job of managing deer populations and the native habitat across the state,” said Alan Cain, TPWD white-tailed deer program leader. “Couple the results of good management, lower harvest in 2011 and some late winter and spring precipitation, and the stage is set for a good deer season in 2012.
Cain says that he’s seeing and hearing reports of deer appearing in good body condition. You can couple that with range conditions that look good across most of the state.
Cain is predicting slightly above average antler quality for most regions of the state this season.
“Late summer rains should help bucks bulk up and ensure good fat reserves to make it through the rigors of rut and improve overall survival this winter,” said Cain. “The only downside to the late summer rains is deer may not readily come to feeders or food plots early this fall, so hunters may have to change up their strategies to bag a deer during the first weekend or two of general season.
Based on 30-plus years of TPWD’s age and antler data, the average estimated B&C score for 6 1/2 year old or older bucks is 125.34. The South Texas and Eastern Rolling Plains regions have the highest estimated average B&C scores for bucks 6 1/2 or older at 134.59 and 129.82, respectively. The remaining regions produce great quality mature bucks, with estimated average B&C scores in the low to mid 120s.
“As always we encourage hunters to harvest antlerless deer to help with overall population management, which is an important component to maintain quality native habitats for all wildlife,” said Cain. “One thing is for sure we are blessed with the largest white-tailed deer herd in the nation, approximately 3.3 million deer, and opportunity can be found in nearly every region of the state. So don’t sit on the couch this fall watching the hunting shows, get outdoors and be a part of what will hopefully prove to be a great deer season.”
If you’re a duck hunter, don’t forget that the waterfowl season also opens Nov. 3. Lots of ducks and fair numbers of geese migrated down the Central Flyway with our most recent cold front and full moon. Many of those ducks have settled into flooded rice and plowed fields west of Beaumont and on over to Winnie. For public duck hunting, check out the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Port Arthur, along with the McFaddin and Anahuac National Wildlife Management Areas.