Citing concerns that it could have adverse impacts on Texas’ quail hunting heritage in the Rolling Plains region, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission nixed a wildlife staff proposal to extend the state’s general deer season by two weeks in the state’s North Zone.
The extended deer season was a hot item on the agenda at the Commission’s late-March regulatory hearing, during which lawmakers adopted several hunting and fishing regulation changes for the upcoming fiscal year, which gets underway Sept. 1.
The decision to deny the extended deer season came despite overwhelming public support in favor of the change and no biological evidence to indicate that it might have a negative impact on white-tailed deer populations in the 226-county North Zone.
A two-week extension would have resulted in a North Zone general deer season running from the first Saturday in November through the third Sunday in January while creating uniformity in season length between the North and South deer hunting zones. South Zone hunters in 30 counties have been enjoying a general deer season lasting two weeks longer than hunters in the remainder of the state since 2001.
An extended North Zone deer season also would have added two more weeks to what many consider to be an already-long overlap with the statewide quail season in the Rolling Plains.
The statewide quail season runs for 17-18 continuous weeks, beginning the last Saturday of October though the last Sunday of February. However, quail hunting is not allowed on many leases until deer season ends, which essentially means some quail hunters are forced to spend roughly two of months their legal season sitting on the sidelines.
The proposal to extend the North Zone deer season came about as the result of a formal petition for rule-making filed last spring by Clint Hughey of Boerne.
Cain told commissioners wildlife staff supported the change because it would not negatively impact the deer herd, but would boost hunter opportunity and simplify statewide hunting regulations.
“The majority of the deer harvest occurs between November and the end December, with peaks around the holidays and opening weekend, even though there are still a considerable number of deer hunting days left after Jan. 1,” Cain said. “Staff also believe that the simplification of the regulation will provide additional hunting opportunities, which falls in line with the nationwide effort to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters.”
Numbering close to 740,000, deer hunters are by far the largest constituent group in TPWD’s hunting community. The majority of them play the game in the North Zone, and they dump mucho bucks into local economies. Deer hunting is a fat cash cow in Texas, generating nearly $1.8 billion annually in economic impact.
By comparison, Cain said TPWD’s 2016-17 Small Game Harvest Survey indicates there are about 91,500 quail hunters statewide. The survey estimates about 33,000 hunted quail in the Rolling Plains; 30,000 in South Texas.
TPWD quail program leader Robert Perez says the amount of money spent annually by Texas quail hunters fluctuates with ebb and flow quail populations. Results from a study presented at the Seventh National Quail Symposium in 2012 suggests that the average Texas quail hunter is pretty well-heeled and spent about $8,600 hunting quail or $254 per bird bagged in 2010-11.
As earlier mentioned, the proposal to extend the North Zone deer season drew a landslide of public support. Cain said the department received at least 2,830 public comments regarding the proposal, of which 2,573 (91 percent) were in favor. State Representative James White of Woodville also wrote a letter in support of the regulation change, Cain told commissioners.
Cain said 257 comments (9 percent) opposed the regulation change for various reasons. Some felt the deer season length is too long while others were concerned an extended season may result in an over harvest of deer or that it may result in the accidental harvest of shed antlered bucks. There also were concerns it could reduce incentives to participate in the Managed Lands Deer Program, or that it may interfere with quail, duck, squirrel and varmint hunting, Cain said.
Cain told commissioners the proposal was opposed by the Upland Game Bird Advisory Board, a group of citizens appointed to advise TPWD on matters related to upland game birds. He said the board members did not support the season extension because of concerns that it might adversely impact quail hunting opportunities and potentially reduce the recruitment of newcomers to the sport. The biologist added that the Quail Coalition organization did not support the change for similar reasons.
Cain pointed out that 48 of the 257 public comments not in favor of the extended deer season were specifically related to perceived impacts to quail season in the Rolling Plains region, where deer and quail hunters share plenty of private hunting land.
As earlier mentioned, quail hunting on some leases is not allowed until the close of the deer season. Some opponents said adding two weeks to the deer season could potentially cost some quail hunters two more weeks of prime hunting time.
“Those quail hunters who share a lease with deer hunters usually have already had their season cut by more than half,” says Rick Snipes, an avid quail hunter, habitat advocate and ranch owner from Aspermont in Stonewall County. “It just seemed a bit greedy on the part of deer hunters to want another two weeks that would cost these quail hunters so much.”
Cain added that quail season and deer season have overlapped in the South Zone for years with no apparent issues.
Two citizens spoke in regards to the proposal during the meeting’s public comment session, including David Yeates with the Texas Wildlife Association and Joe Hosmer representing Quail Forever and the Texas Quail Coalition.
“On the face it seems like a good idea to expand hunting opportunity and provide additional options for landowners, but it certainly wasn’t something that we have advocated for and I would describe our position as ambivalent on that issue,” Yeates said. “We don’t want to inadvertently crowd out other users like bobwhite quail hunters in the Rolling Plains.”
Hosmer said he is concerned that an extension of the North Zone deer season would “encroach upon our hunting and our opportunities to take and hunt quail in the north areas.”
TPW Commission Chairman Ralph Duggins of Ft. Worth and Commission Vice-Chairman S. Reed Morian of Houston took similar stances on the sociological issue leading up to a unanimous vote to shoot down a proposal that was widely supported by the state’s largest hunting community.
Duggins said any landowner who wants to participate in a longer white-tailed deer season has the opportunity to do so through the Managed Lands Deer Permit program. Also, “the heritage of quail hunting is terribly significant to this organization and this state, and we don’t want to do anything to adversely impact that heritage,” he said.
You can listen to the archived audio of the TPW Commission hearing at tpwd.texas.gov/business/feedback/meetings/2018/0322/agenda/.