AUSTIN –Hunters should expect the 2015-16 Texas white-tailed deer season to be one of the best in years as timely rainfall and mild weather have certainly set the table, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The general season opens Saturday, Nov. 7 and runs through Jan. 3, 2016 in the 209 counties that comprise the North Zone and through Jan. 17, 2016 in the 30 counties of the South Zone. For county specific regulations, check the 2015-16 Outdoor Annual — Texas Hunting and Fishing Regulations available at hunting license sales outlets, online at www.tpwd.state.tx.us and as a free mobile app download on iOS and Android platforms at www.txoutdoorannual.com/app .
“We saw a diverse buffet of deer foods this spring where vegetation growth was measured in feet rather than inches this year,” said Alan Cain, TPWD white-tailed deer program leader. “Meeting nutritional demands of antler growth, rearing fawns and building up body reserves for the rigors of rut as well as the winter should be an easy venture for most big game animals this year.”
Unlike in recent years, deer didn’t have to search far to find a highly nutritious diet of native weeds and browse plants. As a selective forager, deer prefer native forages high in protein and energy that are easily digestible. The forbs, a biologist term for weeds, fit that bill, and there were plenty of them this year.
Although dry conditions returned in July and continued through late October the recent deluge of rain across the state may set the stage for an early winter weed crop and toward the mid to later periods of the hunting season deer may not be attracted to feeders so hunters might have to change up their hunting strategies.
Antler growth should be well above average, predicts Cain. Exceptions to this overall excellent outlook may be in areas of East Texas where unusually wet years can result in lower-than-normal fawn recruitment.
“I have no reservations suggesting antler quality will be above average this year, and with a good number of bucks in the 5-year-old age class I expect a number of hunters to harvest some exceptional bucks this year,” Cain said. “The habitat conditions statewide are much better than we’ve seen in years, and the abundance of native forage will help bucks maximize antler growth this year.”
So what can hunters expect with regards to deer numbers and quality. For starters the 2014 statewide deer population estimate was 3.95 million deer, the highest estimated population since 2005. Statewide population trends indicate a slow but steady growth in the deer population during the last 10 years.
“Although these numbers are from 2014 I would predict the deer population to be about the same if not break the 4 million deer mark for 2015, so hunters should experience a quarry-rich hunting environment this year,” Cain predicted, citing above average fawn production this year.
He also suggests hunters take advantage of opportunities to harvest antlerless deer this season, too, in order to offset high fawn production. “Folks need to keep deer numbers at a level the habitat can sustain during lean years,” said Cain.
Texas deer hunters wishing to assist with the statewide chronic wasting disease (CWD) monitoring effort this fall can do so by voluntarily taking their harvested deer (or the head of the harvested deer) to a location where TPWD wildlife biologists will be collecting tissue samples for testing.
A list of collection sites and times is available online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/cwd . In addition to those established collection locations, biologists will also be conducting localized sampling at various sites throughout the season to meet sampling objectives. For additional information regarding localized CWD sampling efforts during this deer season, please contact your local wildlife biologist (http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/technical_guidance/biologists/) .
Hunters are also urged to check out the “My Texas Hunt Harvest” app that provides a means to voluntarily report and track harvested game from a smartphone or tablet. Hunters can log harvest for all resident game species, including white-tailed deer. The information collected will help TPWD wildlife biologists assess annual harvest and manage healthy game populations across Texas. Hunters should note that electronic reporting using the app does not fulfill tagging requirements for any game required to be tagged, or requirements for the completion of the harvest log on the back of the hunting license as it applies to white-tailed deer. The app is available for FREE download at the App Store for IOS devices and Google Play for Android devices. You can also report your harvest at https://apps.tpwd.state.tx.us/whs/.