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Texas Sportsman
Texas' 2005 Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

While nimrods who wanted to remove a spike buck were concerned about using their only buck tag to do so, the new regulations don't penalize them. "The new regs are giving them a second buck tag, a two-buck bag limit, with no more than one buck with multiple points," noted Wolf. "It's a slot limit with two bucks, basically.

"We've looked at a lot of opinion survey info, and basically the hunters tell us that they agree with the philosophy that forked antler yearling should be protected, but when you ask them to have just one buck tag, they will typically opt for (a buck) with multiple points. With adding the spike tag, we have criteria that are easy to select from, and that offsets that tendency to high-grade."

Heavy acorn crops made it easy for whitetails to get a meal during the 2004 season without exposing themselves.

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Year in and year out, what makes the most difference on hunter success here in Texas is hunting time, and Texans like to hunt when the hunting is most likely to pay dividends.

"Typically, if hunting is good, more people stay in the woods longer," said Wolf. "When hunting gets tough, people don't go as often, and so they don't kill as many bucks or does."

While East Texas had a rash of huge bucks in the 1980s, and still produces great deer each season, it's important to remember that, frankly, East Texas is different.

"The thing about East Texas versus the rest of the state is that the rainfall patterns are more consistent," said Wolf, who worked many years with the East Texas deer herd. "So East Texas doesn't capitalize on a wet year like the rest of the state. Most years are not wet in West and South Texas, so the forbs respond so phenomenally to rainfall. A wet year is not much different from an average year in East Texas."

That's why South and West Texas deer were in such great shape the last two seasons: abnormally abundant rainfall.

In 2005, East Texas got off to a troubled start, thanks to a dry April. Early fawns need ground cover fostered by rainfall for survival shelter. And without decent summer rains, the bucks will not attain their best antler development.

That said, Pineywoods biologist Gary Calkins is optimistic for 2005. "I think, all things considered, we're set for a pretty good 2005 hunting season," he said. "Right now the big thing is that we hit a dry spell this spring. We had a pretty good carryover of deer from the '04 hunting season. We've had two or three years of good to above-average fawn crops across the Pineywoods.

"The dry spell has had a little bit of impact, but the last couple years this time of year have been exceptionally wet years."

The interesting anomaly about the Pineywoods is that the better the range conditions, the tougher the hunting. "I think the most notable thing is that deer hunting out here is getting harder," Calkins observed. "I don't know why, but it's just been tough. I thought last year there were going to be a lot of deer harvested, but it didn't work out that way.

"The last two seasons have been tough. For hunting, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong as far as deer. Deer survival has been fantastic it's just been a tough hunt! Last year, the temperature, the moon and we had a phenomenal acorn crop. And instead of the acorns falling all at the same time, they matured really slowly and hung on the trees, and fell for a couple of months. That's an unusual phenomenon -- of acorns falling for an extended period of time, and it put the deer in excellent body condition."

That tough hunting will ultimately drive down hunter numbers, Calkins observed. Tough hunting conditions make it easier to hang up the gun and do something else.

Maybe it's because of the tough hunting conditions the past two years that more landowners are banding together in wildlife cooperatives in East Texas, Calkins suggested. "We're starting to see more traditional co-ops now," he said. "It's really a promising trend, and it's happening in places where I'd have bet you would never see a co-op."

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