T exas has long had the largest population of white-tailed deer in the country.
However, the only thing that surpasses the quantity in our state is the quality, and it again has shaped up to be a fantastic year for big deer. This is mostly from conserving a variety of vital age classes—which has increased, as population management has become the norm.
Chief among the conservation measures are antler restrictions, which have had a huge impact in producing larger deer for hunters in some of the most heavily frequented areas of the state. The antler frameworks define a legal buck as one with at least one unbranched antler or an inside spread of 13 inches or greater.
It should be noted that the restrictions don’t apply on properties enrolled in the Managed Lands Deer Permit program and for which MLDP buck tags have been issued.
Alan Cain, white-tailed deer program leader with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, said the age structure appears to be improving in recent seasons in those areas that are under antler restrictions. This has shifted the average age of bucks, which exactly is what they were designed to do.
He said that in some regions, including the Post Oak area where the restrictions have been in place the longest, as many as 70 percent or more of the bucks are at least 3½ years old.
The Pineywoods area, where restrictions have been in place not quite as long, has experienced the same general trend in the age structure of bucks. That’s something easy to quantify when you look at the number of monster Big Game Awards entries from that part of the state in recent seasons.
Cain also said that present and future-hunting success rests mostly on fawn production, setting the stage for bigger and better bucks.
“Although most hunters don’t typically harvest fawns, fawn production each fall is extremely important since that translates into adult deer—more specifically adult bucks in future years,” Cain said. “In years with poor fawn production hunters should expect to see fewer bucks in that particular age class in each of the future years as that group matures.
“Looking back into the culmination of deer survey data over the years we see statewide fawn crop estimates were good in 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013. Those good fawn crops, above 45 percent, meant a good number of young bucks in the 1½- and 2½-year-old age classes and a good number of 4½- and 7½-year-old bucks as compared to other age classes.”
Cain also said that it’s easy to predict the size of racks based on using the scientific approaches he and other biologists use regularly.
“For the most part, average B&C scores and overall quality don’t fluctuate too much within an age group or age class. Lack of adequate nutrition often related to drought or too many deer on the range causing competition for forage resources have the greatest impact on antler quality from one year to the next.
“While any area of the state can produce a quality deer, hunters would likely improve their odds of bagging a trophy-quality buck by hunting in South Texas and the Rolling Plains, which on average produce the highest scoring bucks in the state.”
Cain pointed out that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists collect age and antler survey data annually. The figures from the past decade underscore the overall outlook.
Statewide, the gross Boone & Crockett score for 2½- to 3½-year-old bucks is 102 6/8, while it’s 121 3/8 and 127 3/8, respectively, for the 4½- to 5½-year-old and 6½- and older age groups. The Edwards Plateau, the most heavily hunted area of Texas actually has the lowest estimated big buck outlook, with the numbers being 93 3/8, 113 3/8 and 119 4/8 for the corresponding age classes.
The top area of the state, without even having to look at the data, is South Texas, with figures of 104 2/8, 129 4/8 and 136 for the same age groups. One area that certainly can’t be overlooked is the Rolling Plains, with the eastern portion having B&C figures of 108, 125 3/8 and 133 3/8, respectively, and the western portion nearly identical at 107 1/8, 125 2/8 and 133 4/8.
The Pineywoods, which also features high hunter densities, remains another solid big-buck spot, with averages of 104 2/8, 124 3/8 and 123 2/8.
Heavy rainfall and damage associated with Hurricane Harvey is going to have a detrimental impact, though it’s too early to tell, biologists have noted. That includes numerous species native to Texas.
-by Will Leschper
DU Family Helps in Harvey Rescue and Recovery
Hurricane Harvey has far exceeded the U.S. record for rainfall from a single storm. Between midnight, Friday, and 9:20 a.m., Tuesday, 51.88 inches of rain fell in the Lone Star State – a record for continental U.S. from a land-falling tropical cyclone. The incredibly slow-moving system dumped more than 11 trillion gallons of water before August 30 in Texas alone. For comparison, the catastrophic flooding in Louisiana last year was the result of nearly 7 trillion gallons over seven days.
Thirteen million people were put under flood watches or warnings, and 58 Texas counties are under disaster declaration. About one-third of Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, was flooded. In addition, the coastal cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur got pummeled with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours. At least 74 people have died in the Texas flooding, and thousands have lost everything they own. Estimates put eventual total losses at as much as $125 billion.
With many staff members, thousands of volunteers and more than 75,000 members in Texas and Louisiana, Ducks Unlimited’s family in the region quickly fell into two categories: those impacted and those helping others. Many were both.
“Ducks Unlimited sends our thoughts and prayers to all of those impacted, and I hope they know they are not going through this alone,” DU CEO Dale Hall said. “Many of our staff and volunteers are struggling to deal with loss and damage to their homes, but they are also turning out in droves to help others.”
Texas Manager of Conservation Programs Todd Merendino lives in Bay City, which issued a mandatory evacuation order. His parents live in Beaumont, another area impacted by the incredible amount of rainfall.
“The ‘DU Family’ is more than a moniker. Staff, volunteers and members are pulling together to help each other get to safety and salvage what they can,” Merendino said. “In times like this you really grasp just how important faith, family, friends and even strangers can be.”
Despite his family’s situation, Todd’s thoughts were already turned toward what his Richmond-based staff could do for others over the coming weeks. They manned DU boats and helped neighbors and strangers evacuate and salvage what they could. As soon as the water receded, they focused on helping out in their local communities and areas, helping folks get stuff out of their homes, cleaning up, serving food, distributing supplies and anything else that was needed.
“It is our way, as DU staff, to show our community spirit in a part of the state that has greatly supported DU. I’m not really sure what we can do, but we are offering our help in any way it’s needed,” Merendino said.
DU Senior Regional Director Jason McKey had more than a foot of water in his house in Katy, Texas. On Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 29), DU volunteers and staff showed up to help Jason and his neighbors.
“Matt Bunn, Edd Hanson and John Taylor are the epitome of Team DU,” McKey explained. Director of Development Matt Bunn, East Texas District Chairman Edd Hanson and Kilgore DU Committee member John Taylor drove 300 miles to launch Edd’s boat and help flood victims.
“These men are willing to do anything for me and my family during this difficult time. I am truly blessed to call them friends and, better yet, family,” McKey said.
The three used the boat to get McKey’s flooded house packed up, and then they turned their attention to the needs of his neighbors.
“It is absolutely devastating, what is happening here in Southeast Texas,” McKey said. “But we are pulling together and rescuing my neighbors.” When they finished there, they moved to the neighborhood across the street.
Even in the midst of one of the worst disasters to hit Texas in decades, the DU family spirit can be seen firsthand.
“On behalf of all DU volunteers and members, we extend a special Ducks Unlimited thanks to all who have given and will give their time and resources to assist victims of the recent flooding,” Hall said.
Ducks Unlimited remains committed to its mission of restoring wetlands. These critical wetland habitats provide places for ducks and other wildlife, but they also provide community resilience through storm surge abatement, water absorption and flood mitigation. Wetlands are particularly important in coastal areas where communities are vulnerable to hurricanes and other powerful storms, like Harvey. The flat coastal terrain exposes property to the full power of these storms, but wetlands act like sponges, absorbing water and slowing storm surge. Even small wetlands can make a difference in the landscape. A one-acre wetland can typically store about one million gallons. In fact, FEMA encourages the use of wetlands for stormwater retention in lieu of, or in conjunction with, traditional structural flood control measures.
—by Andi Cooper