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December Deer Are Different
Wise to the fact that they're being hunted, East Texas whitetails aren't likely to slip up once December rolls around. here are some time-tested tips to help you score now. (December 2007) ... [+] Full Article
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>> Texas' 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks
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Texas Sportsman
Texas' 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

While the hunter success rate has been one of the constants in recent seasons, two other seemingly predictable pieces of data have been the high and low harvest areas in the state. Again last season, the Edwards Plateau had the highest marks in total harvest (185,929), total hunters (172,184), and success rate (76 percent) of any region in the state. Also last season, the High Plains region had the lowest total harvest (612) and total hunters (1,506).

Here's a closer look at how the coming season's shaping up in the state's major deer-producing regions.

Mike Krueger, a TPWD district leader in the Edwards Plateau regulatory district, noted that hunting in the region was a little slower last season than it had been in previous years. "What we saw in the field was a relatively slow hunting season," he said. "There were low observed deer numbers, maybe due to an acorn crop at the wrong time. There was a low number of deer seen coming to feeders. Antler size was also diminished."

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Krueger added that rainfall in the spring should be a blessing for this season. "The rainfall has been outstanding, and couldn't have come at a more opportune time for antler production and fawn survival," he said. "There had been some concern about a decreased fawn crop the last couple of years. There may be some gaps in age-classes due to a lack of fawns. But if the deer kill was reduced, there likely was a carryover of older bucks. That will definitely be an asset."

Krueger also said last season was the first in which antler restrictions were in force for counties in the Edwards Plateau. "They look like they met the intended purpose in most places in this area," he said. "They let some of the better-quality young deer move up another age-class."

Unlike the other regions in the state, the Pineywoods constantly receives steady moisture. Even in dry years, the eastern portion of the state remains the wettest region in Texas.

Gary Calkins, the TPWD district leader for the Pineywoods region, reported that his part of the state remained on par with previous seasons, though the success rate remained just below 50 percent. "The Pineywoods was kind of split because of antler restrictions," he reported. "We still had a pretty good season last year. The body weights of the deer were good, but not great. We really didn't have a steady rain over the winter, but we got enough that it wasn't bad in the southern Pineywoods."

Calkins also echoed the importance of spring and summer food and cover sources that could translate into better deer production heading into the fall. "Things went into the summer in good condition," he said. "We have had a pretty good fawn crop, so we're set up for a good year. In the northern Pineywoods, the antlers have the chance to be better than average. The hunting season is going to improve from an age standpoint. Harvests have been good in the southern Pineywoods, though. We're not looking for a banner year, but it should be good."

As range conditions have improved in the Pineywoods in recent seasons, Calkins noted, the hunting's gotten tougher. He added that, for a variety of reasons (including acorn crops that fell consistently), the deer have been in better shape, but have been tough to locate.

Tougher hunting conditions in some parts of the state, including East Texas, have driven some landowners and hunters to form wildlife cooperatives -- a novel organizational model that has proved its utility by helping hunters in some places bag deer that they might not have been able to take in other seasons.

Technical guidance biologist Jimmy Rutledge has worked with South Texas landowners for years, helping them manage their land better for all types of wildlife, including deer. "Many landowners are letting most of their deer get some age to them," he stated, "and they aren't as dependent on rainfall as in other parts of the state. Management levels things out so that the animals don't need as much rainfall to be as healthy."

Rutledge noted that good amounts of rainfall certainly don't hurt. "Obviously, in wetter years the deer are going to be more slick and healthy," he said. "But that's not to say they wouldn't have done well even if we hadn't received good rains in the spring and summer."

Despite opinion to the contrary, Rutledge added, it's simply untrue that high-fence operations have crowded low-fence opportunities out of South Texas. "While there are a bunch of high-fenced places, there also are a lot of low-fenced ones, too," he said, "and plenty of good, healthy deer come off those low-fenced places on a regular basis."

While total harvest isn't as large in the High Plains and Rolling Plains regions as in other areas of the state, district leader Danny Swepston asserted that the country in his part of the state is shaping up to provide hunters with better opportunities this fall than in hunting seasons past.

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