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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 Sportsman
Texas' 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Finding Trophy Bucks
More and more wallhanger-grade animals show up in the Lone Star State each season -- so could this be the year that you score on that trophy of a lifetime? This info could lead you to it! (November 2007)

Photo by Mike Lambeth.

Texas deer hunters might think about throwing another item in their packs before heading to the field for the fall whitetail season: a pair of sunglasses. That's because the future is bright -- at least for the coming months.

When it comes to white-tailed deer hunting in Texas, change has been good. Gone are the days when big whitetails were harvested only below Interstate 10 in the South Texas Brush Country. Nowadays, big bucks are taken regularly in every corner of the state, and Boone and Crockett animals are showing up in places they have never been seen before.

The Lone Star State has long had the country's largest deer population, but previous eras saw less emphasis placed on improving wildlife habitat and allowing deer to get enough age on them. In decades past, a hunter might have shot the first buck seen and called it a season; now, most seek rather to down a "trophy" than simply to fill a tag, and are far pickier about pulling the trigger.

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While change has been good, it also has been consistent. Increased wildlife management is not centered in any particular region as hunters and landowners across the state have taken to heart the idea of providing ample opportunity for whitetails to reach their potential. And this management isn't just occurring on big high-fenced hunting operations. Landowners, whether they have 100 acres or 100,000, are realizing more than ever the value and importance of improving deer habitat.

The Hill Country has seen as big a philosophy change as any region in the state when it comes to letting deer get older and overall habitat improvement. In the past, it was common to see a small 8-point buck in the bed of a pickup being driven by a happy hunter on almost any given day of the fall season. Now, that same size 8-pointer won't satisfy many hunters in the region.

Mike Krueger, a former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department technical guidance biologist in the region and now the Edwards Plateau district leader, said deer hunting ideologies have changed in recent decades.

"In the past, many hunters, even ones looking for big bucks, might not have waited to pull the trigger on the first or second buck they saw," he said. "Now, hunters and landowners are big on managing for bigger, better deer. As a result, hunters are seeing bigger bucks and taking bigger bucks. Last season was tough on a lot of hunters, but many still held out for a bigger buck, despite the range conditions being as bad as they were."

Even in what could be termed a bad season, Texas deer hunting was still pretty good. Unlike their experience in previous seasons that saw solid amounts of rainfall during the spring, summer and early fall, deer hunters last season were faced with chasing after whitetails living in habitats that hadn't received crucial moisture. As a result, some hunters didn't see deer that lived up to their antler and body weight standards

According to TPWD whitetail program leader Mitch Lockwood, the drought affecting most of the state last year was unprecedented. "We had a horrible year for range conditions last season, as bad as the seasoned ranchers have seen," he said. "We were really surprised, though. Hunters in most of the state saw good antler quality. When it comes down to it, droughts like the one last season didn't affect the population as badly as in past years.

"That's all due to how well people manage their land. There's just a lot of good habitat management out there. Fawn production and antler and body quality don't take as hard a hit during dry years when the land is well taken care of."

Lockwood said that despite the dry year last season, a lot of deer fared well, as enough feed sources remained to get them by, and noted that with good moisture levels in the spring and summer and heading into the fall, those sources will only multiply exponentially for this season. Proper habitat management also has changed the overall view of where hunters can go to harvest a big buck, he added.

"Genetic potential in deer in the central part of the state is as good as in those in South Texas or anywhere else nowadays," he said. "If they're not reaching their potential, it usually has to do with hunting pressure or poor wildlife habitat management."

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