January 2-15 marks the late muzzleloader season for whitetail deer in 90 counties across the state. It gives hunters an option to score on deer that eluded them during the archery only and general season.
“The last muzzleloader season is a great way for hunters to bag the does they passed up while holding out for that trophy buck or maybe get the one that got away,” said TF&G Hunting Editor Lou Marullo.
“Muzzleloader hunting is a big deal in many northern states because of the restrictive gun seasons but it has never taken off at the level I think it should in Texas,” Marullo said. “I am hearing more hunters talk about it; and with two extra weeks at the end, it is a great incentive to get in the game.
There is also a late youth-only season in 213 counties in the North Zone January 2 to 15 and 30 counties in the south zone during the same time period. All legal hunting means and methods are allowed, except in Collin, Dallas, Grayson and Rockwall counties, where lawful means are restricted to lawful archery equipment and crossbows.
Although the New Year is here is not too late to find bucks in the rut.
According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) South Texas had the latest rut in the state. Breeding dates ranged from November 9 to February 1 during the three years. In the eastern part of the area, the peak breeding date was December 16, while in the west it was December 24.
The pregnancy rate was 95 percent and there were 1.5 fetuses for each sampled doe. The majority (90 percent) of the fawns are born by July 19 in the eastern area and by July 25 in the western area.
Conception dates in the Trans-Pecos ranged from as early as November 4 to as late as January 4 during the same three-year study so if you have a lease out near Crockett County or maybe even farther west there is still hope of finding some rutting action. The peak date of the breeding season was December 8, which is the second latest peak in Texas.
Speaking of the rut, does in estrus could be stirring up bucks right now in virtually any part of the state.
“Within a specific area, habitat conditions not only affect fawn survival, but can affect the timing of breeding,” TPWD reported. “A doe in poor condition or a young doe may not breed until late in the season. A doe may be attractive to bucks for about five days, but may be willing to breed for a period of only 24 hours. If the doe is not bred during her first cycle, she will generally come into heat again about 28 days later.”
“In areas where there are few bucks, a doe may not encounter a buck when she is first receptive and may not be bred until one of her later cycles. A hunter, landowner or biologist who sees the late breeding activity may be convinced that there was a late rut. On the other hand, those who see does attended by bucks in the early part of the season believe there was an early rut. This helps explain the wide variety of opinions on the timing of the rut during a particular year.”They also noted that “hunter chronology” has a lot to do with the perceived timing of the rut.
“Traditionally, hunters are more likely to be afield during cool weather. They will usually be out in force with the onset of the first weekend norther during the deer season. When many observers are spending time in the field it is more likely that breeding activity will be noticed.”
That means there could be some rutting activity on your lease during the first week of January or maybe later in different parts of the state, but most hunters have tagged out or checked out by now.
For those hunting on national forest or large public hunting lands in the eastern third of the state, consider hunting in or as close as you can to the thickest areas during the late season. Deer in this highly pressured part of the state are hunter wary and pine plantations in particular are good areas to find wary deer.
A TPWD survey indicated that 22 percent of all timberland was classified as pine plantation. Most (72 percent) plantation establishment was on forest industry lands. The 1992 survey indicated that approximately 71 percent of the plantations were less than 20 years old.
That is worth explaining because some of the very best areas in the state are around fresh clear cuts (and up to a few years old) that are used to make way for these pine plantations.
The woods in the region are so different from what they were 100 years ago. The reason you see deer feeding alongside the roads so much is because that’s where a lot of the broadleaf forbs they eat can grow. It requires sunlight for them to grow, and in much of the woods, there is not enough light for that to happen.
As aesthetically unpleasing as they are, there is no denying they produce a lot of the woody browse and allow for broadleaf forbs to grow, which is very important to deer.
Broadleaf forbs are essentially weeds that grow in open areas and are what often give farmers and gardeners a big headache. In fact, most of the time deer are seen in fields feeding, they are eating these forbs, not the grasses. Find a weedy pasture along a pine thicket and you’re likely to find lots of deer.
Consider hunting from the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. timeframe when most hunters are out of the woods. The deer take to these areas late in the season for cover. You might just find them slipping out when they assume hunters are nowhere to be found.
—story by TF&G Staff