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Texas Sportsman
Great Year For Deer!
Texas’ last deer season turned out far better than biologists had predicted it would. Will the pattern hold for 2007-08? (July 2007)

Alan Bihm bagged this fine buck on opening morning last year. He was hunting Burnet County in the Hill Country, a geographic region not widely known for producing bucks of this caliber.
Photo courtesy of Alan Bihm.

This time last year, the forecast for the 2006-07 whitetail season was dismal. In fact, for hunters in some areas it was downright depressing. Much of the state was in the grips of a drought that had some landowners concerned about die-offs, and officials with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department predicted poor antler growth in most regions.

Just before the opening of the archery season, the state got some much-needed rainfall, which caused TPWD officials to change their tune.

“We were expecting high harvest success early in the season with less than average range conditions this year,” Mitch Lockwood, TPWD white-tailed deer program leader said at the time. “Now, with the recent rain, forbs are responding and deer activity around corn feeders has started to decline.

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“I’m not so sure that hunting over feeders during this greenup is the best idea,” he added.

He was dead on. Well -- at least in part: While the thing most commented on by hunters in the state was the lack of action at corn feeders early in the season, those same hunters noted that the bucks that were seen were quite impressive. It seems that everyone from state biologists to leaseholders missed the boat on the quality of deer antlers that Texas would produce last year. It seemed an easy bet to write off the year as lost to the drought, but as the Lone Star State frequently shows us, anything can happen.

And in this case, it did! Here’s a review of our not-so-long-ago 2006 deer season.

Hunting in the Pineywoods was some of the best in recent memory according to many hunters in the region. Keith McDaniel, a lease warden in Newton County, said there was a lot of deer movement early on.

“Sort of the gauge we use in East Texas for the success of the rest of the season is the youth-only season, which falls right between the end of bow season and the opening of gun season,” he said. “That’s when our rut gets hot and heavy, so we see a lot of bucks and the young hunters usually shoot some of the best of the season. When I saw the big bucks that young hunters were getting last year, I knew we were in for a good season.”

Hunters reported seeing lots of movement during the rut period as well as a secondary rush of deer movement after a couple of strong cold fronts had blown through during early December. That seems to be about the time the food supply ran out and hunters started seeing a lot of deer at feeders.

“There was a lot of deer movement around the feeders late. Early on, feeders were hit-and-miss. Hunters were seeing a lot more deer hunting trails and out along highline rights of way, but once the frosts knocked back the vegetation, the deer started hitting corn,” McDaniel said.

Last year probably was one of the finest examples of the type of season in which hunters needed to stick it out to be successful. “I hunt the national forest,” said Clint Starling of Pasadena, and there was a lot of deer movement early, “which is pretty much the usual thing with all of the pressure on public land. But after a lot of the hunters started leaving the woods, the deer started moving again.”

Starling said recent changes in regulations that now force hunters to shoot only bucks with inside spreads of 13 inches or greater have already made a difference.

“People are seeing more bucks out there,” he said. “In East Texas, hunters usually shoot the first thing they see, but with the new rules in place they have to be careful and pass on a lot of young bucks. I think this year is going to be awesome for seeing older deer. There should be a lot of them in the counties that have had these rules for a few years.”

Some hunters believe there is a dark side to these rules. The new counties that took up the spread rules could see a negative effect for the first couple of years.

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