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Texas Sportsman
Texas' 2005 Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas
Great deer hunting potential exists right across the Lone Star State, but some areas rise significantly above the others when it comes to producing venison. We look at the places offering you the best chances for filling those tags this season.

Photo by Charles R. Brower III

Texas deer hunters are used to having it all -- the largest deer harvests in the country and truckloads of record-book bucks every season. And the last two seasons have delivered more than even a Texan could hope for. We've enjoyed super conditions and record kills of huge bucks.

For 2005, we may return to something more "normal."

The Texas deer harvest has been remarkably consistent over the last few years -- just over than 436,000 deer in 2002 and 2003, and slightly in excess of 433,000 in 2004. The antlerless deer harvest continues to increase slowly, at about 40 percent of the total.

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But the number of Texas deer hunters also continues to decline, about 1 percent each year, down to about 559,000 in 2004. Texans hunt deer about 8.5 days per season, with a solid 60 percent hunter success.

In the coming year, new regulations should allow us to kill more bucks. "Hunters are going to see some beneficial changes in statewide regulations, especially if they hunt in one-buck counties," said Clayton Wolf, big-game program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Bag limits will be on a countywide basis, so that hunters can go to three different one-buck counties and hunt and kill bucks as long as they don't exceed the county or total season buck limits.

"That bag-limit deal also applies to two-buck counties," said Wolf, "so a hunter can go to two two-buck counties and can fill up to four buck tags."

In the past, a hunter who took a buck in a one-buck county was done for the year in all one-buck counties. That's because the limit was for all those counties "in the aggregate."

"Now you don't have to worry about the aggregate," Wolf said. "We've also eliminated the east-west zone limits,"

It's not the regulations governing the number of bucks, but those addressing the size of their antlers, that will bring big changes to another 15 Texas counties this year.

For the past three seasons, six counties in the Post Oak Savannah have been under special regulations, limiting buck harvest to bucks with a 13-inch inside spread, at least one single spike antler, or at least 6 points to a single side. These counties had been marked by intense hunting pressure, with more than 90 percent of the harvest made up of yearling bucks. Yet after three years of the trial regulations, a significant portion of the harvest is now of 3-year-old bucks.

Deer management has nowadays progressed beyond enabling a hunter to get some buck -- any buck. There seems to be a desire for a better balanced age-sex structure, which is something more than a buck-only harvest can accomplish.

Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Washington counties remain under antler restrictions, and the proposal would expand their coverage to 15 additional surrounding counties: Bastrop, Brazoria, Caldwell, DeWitt, Fort Bend, Goliad, Gonzalez, Guadalupe, Karnes, Jackson, Wilson, Matagorda, Victoria, Waller and Wharton.

This is another of those initiatives designed more to manage hunter behavior than deer biology, Wolf explained. "We're doing opinion surveys now, to try to blanket those areas (being considered for antler restrictions), to try to see what the popular sentiment is. The biology is simple. You just set the spread limit to pick what you want. What surprises us is the overwhelming support we're seeing."

With widespread commitment from landowners and hunters in these regions, where most blocks of land are less than 100 acres, the regulation makes possible improvements that were less successful under volunteer programs.

"It's not impossible to do with a wildlife co-op, but it's harder, because you'll always have non-participants," Wolf said. "Even in a good co-op structure, many folks realize that there'll be critics who will say they don't want people imposing their opinions on us. But what we've found, with the average movement patterns of average buck deer, is that the minority is making decisions for the majority."

The new limit will be based on protecting all bucks (except spikes) with an inside spread of less than 13 inches, which equates to about 15 inches of outside spread.

"In most of the state, this will protect almost all year-and-a-half old deer, except spikes, and protect most 2-year-olds except the very upper end. And most 3-year-olds are vulnerable. We're trying to get the average deer to be 3 years old."

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