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Texas' 2005 Deer Outlook Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas
Pineywoods hunters can count on a half-dozen counties for the highest deer populations. That's good for them to know when deciding where the best chances of filling a tag is.
"For sheer deer numbers, Cass, Marion and Harrison counties are tops," said Calkins. "Down on the south end, Tyler, Polk, and Trinity are not far behind. For better-quality deer, I'd start looking in Trinity, Nacogdoches and Polk counties. There's more management, and there are a couple of big river bottoms that are really inaccessible."
"Landowners are focused on managing their operations," he said. "They're letting their better deer get to older age. They're very selective in harvesting the desirable deer, while keeping very reasonable densities, plus using supplemental feeding, so quality deer are the norm."
Noting that landowners run the gamut from expert to neophyte, Rutledge expressed optimism about the 2005 season, because South Texas landowners are making the most of deer management science. With those quality management tactics, deer are not dependent on rainfall. "Management levels out the valleys, so they're not as dependent on rain. Fawn production may not be as good (in a dry spell), but that's not a determining factor."
South Texas deer hunters had one of their best seasons in 2004. "We set a record for Boone and Crockett deer in 2003," said Rutledge, "and I'm confident 2004 was even better."
There's a perception that high fencing has taken over all of South Texas; not so, says Rutledge. "While there's a lot of fenced property, and more every day, there's a lot of land that's still low-fenced, too," he asserted. "And a lot of good deer come from low-fenced property."
"I suspect that will translate into pretty decent antler quality, since that was well under way before (it got dry). As the old antlers drop and the new ones come, that is where you set the base. It varies depending on the condition of the animals, but they tend to hold antlers longer in good condition. Assuming that the animal was in good shape, then you've got a chance, I believe, of having pretty good antler quality in the fall."
Looking back, Traweek rates the 2004 season as a pretty average one. "Numbers-wise, I do not expect it to be anything outstanding or below normal," he said. "I think it was pretty normal, but the condition of the animals was better than average. You have got to keep in mind that we're talking about average Hill Country standards, which is not anywhere near the potential for these animals.
"We didn't have an overall exceptional acorn crop. It was kind of spotty, but the two or three years prior, every fall we had a decent to exceptional crop. If good range conditions continue, I expect fawn survival to improve.
"This is another area where the Hill Country average is well below the potential," he continued. "Generally we see 30 to 50 percent fawn survival in most counties. This year it could or should be 70 percent or so.
"We've got more animals than what the habitat can support in good shape. Survival is not at optimum, and doe harvest has leveled off. We've had an obvious increase over the years. For a while we harvested as many does as bucks, which was unheard of in the '80s. Now most everybody has accepted that doe harvest is acceptable and necessary.
"Llano, Gillespie and Mason counties still have the highest density of deer and hunters.
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