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Texas Sportsman
Texas' Deer Year In Review
So how did Lone Star State deer hunters fare during the 2009-10 hunting season, and how will that impact our hunting this fall? Here are some answers. (July 2010)

It was the worst of deer seasons -- it was the best of deer seasons. Without argument it simply depended on who you are and where you hunted in the vast Lone Star State in 2009-10!

Hunters did surprisingly well in some regions. Travis Ayers killed this 200-inch-plus non-typical on land in Hood County that he had leased primarily for hunting turkeys!
Photo courtesy of Travis Ayers.

For most all of Texas, the rains finally came just as fall rolled in. And they stayed! The moisture was way too late to help antler growth but natural fauna flourished as it received a lavish thirst quencher. Deer that had been dining around feeders were abruptly nowhere to be seen as they stayed in the suddenly dense cover, filling their bellies with fresh green forbs.

A lot of hunters opened deer season with little fanfare. Even after harsh cold weather moved in, many of them still reported low whitetail numbers in comparison with past seasons. I hunt Liveoak County, south of San Antonio, and that was the case on our ranch; it turned out to be our worst season in eight years on the place.

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Inquiries to ranch owners, land managers, wildlife biologists and even game wardens produced varied responses. Many stated the drought conditions of the past two springs and summers along with intense heat in July and August caused a die-off of both young and old deer. There also appears to have been a very low fawn crop in many areas due to poor range and poor body conditions.

One South Texas landowner said less than 25 percent of his fawns survived. Sparse cover enabled predators, especially coyotes, to feast on fawns and other deer in weak condition. This experienced whitetail man noted that does kicked off nursing fawns early, an effect Mother Nature causes due to lack of forage, and to enable the doe to maintain her health.

Ranches overgrazed by livestock produced definite consequence on wildlife populations.

Late rains coupled with early cold temperatures brought out forbs that only surface when such circumstances exist. Deer were observed feeding on who-knows-what in places where no grain was strewn or food plots existed, again failing to come to feeders.

On the other hand, ranches with good management practices, supplemental food sources and adequate water resources, combined with restricted livestock grazing, produced business-as-usual quality whitetails. Those areas of Texas that received rainfall, coupled with the aforementioned positive attributes, noticed no changes. Despite conditions, as always, there were some surprising trophies taken around the state.

That puts you, the reader, back to the opening paragraph: it was a good season for some and terrible for others. Win, lose or draw, in my own opinion, the biggest winners were those new hunters taking their very first whitetails and youngsters continuing to hunt regardless of antler size or lack of headgear at all.

Horace Gore, retired Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist and renowned whitetail expert, reiterated that 2009 was the kind of year hunters don't like to see -- a time of severe drought. "Mourning doves were the only game that didn't suffer," he said. "Whitetails had a poor fawn crop that will show very few mature trophy bucks in 2014."

When questioned about a die-off, here's what Gore said: "I don't think we had any type of unusual die-off, but we probably lost older deer and very young deer to natural attrition. These winter rains of 2009-10 are looking good for shaping up spring, and will set the stage for better antlers this next season on those surviving bucks."

Gore summed up the results of a poor hunting year this way. "The deer harvest across the state was down about 40 percent. Not because hunters didn't see deer but because many bucks were passed up due to poor antler quality. Those deer will be here next year and possibly be better as they'll be a year older."

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