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Lynn Burkhead — A memorable whitetail deer season awaits hunters

Herald Democrat
For upwards of 700,000 deer hunters, the first Saturday in November is a can’t miss Texas outdoors tradition. With an estimated whitetail population of more than 5 million deer and good antler development this year thanks to solid habitat conditions around the state, the forecast for the 2020-21 Texas deer season is a good one according to TPWD.

When it comes to deer hunting, there’s no place like home.

As long as Texas is your home, that is, since the Lone Star State is blessed with what’s arguably the best deer hunting in the nation year in and year out. And according to recent e-mails and news releases from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin, that’s apparently true again this year.

Meaning that finally, in this year of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, there’s at least one thing that 2020 can’t foul up. And that’s Texas deer hunting, a state where there are more whitetails than any other place on the planet.

“Our whitetail population exceeds 5.5 million, making it the largest in the country,” said a recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Department e-mail about the upcoming general season, which kicks off on Saturday, Nov. 7 around the state and runs to Jan. 3 in the state’s North Zone and Jan. 17 in the South Zone.

So good is the Texas deer population this year that TPWD is hoping that the state’s 700,000 or so deer hunters remember that there are several deer tags on a yearly Texas hunting license, and not all of those reserved for antlered bucks.

“In areas with high deer populations, like the Edwards Plateau and Cross Timbers Region, we recommend you use your doe tags,” said the TPWD e-mail.

The sheer number of whitetails roaming the Lone Star State range is only one part of why the 2020 season forecast is a good one in Texas according to TPWD biologists. The other reason is the weather.

While it got a little bit dry locally and elsewhere in October — the Austin College Weather Station website west of Denison and Sherman reported 0.99 inches of rain last month, the bulk of that falling last week — the rest of the year has been fairly good in terms of precipitation.

And good precipitation equals good habitat, something that spurs on good fawn recruitment, ample nutrition availability, and antler development. Put simply, when you need to mow your grass frequently in the summer months, the local deer hunting is liable to be pretty good.

And even the recent stretches of dry weather in early fall could have a silver lining for the state’s deer hunters, many who rely on daily feeder patrol as their primary hunting method.

“Hunters in the Edwards Plateau, Cross Timbers and South Texas eco-regions can expect some of the best conditions,” said Alan Cain, the TPWD white-tailed deer program leader, in a news release. “If dry conditions persist, hunters could expect to see increased deer activity around feeders or other key food sources.”

According to Cain, the Edwards Plateau, or Hill Country region, in central Texas has the highest deer population in the state with an estimated 2.37 million deer.

But an anthrax outbreak in 2019 resulted in some whitetail mortality events among the deer herd in that part of the state. While that caused some consternation among hunters there last fall, TPWD biologists note that such losses actually provided long-term benefits by reducing overcrowding on the region’s habitat. By reducing deer densities there, the result should be a healthier Edwards Plateau deer herd and better nutrition available for does and bucks in the area.

Less mouths to feed and better nutrition should translate into better body weights and antlers for a region more known for numbers of deer than quality of deer. Hopefully, that will mean higher trophy buck potential this fall for hunters climbing into Hill Country box blinds, tower blinds, and tripods.

Closer to home, the Cross Timbers region of north Texas has the second highest deer population in the state. The TPWD news release notes that the Cross Timbers area — which is generally just to the west and southwest of Texomaland —actually encompasses five Deer Management Units (DMU) and has deer densities ranging from 14 to 88 deer per 1,000 acres.

Cain notes that the fawn production in the Cross Timbers has been greater than 50-percent for eight years now and that with great range conditions most of this year, the fawn production should be at least average in 2020.

While the TPWD biologist didn’t preview the deer hunting prospects for the nearby Post Oak Savannah region that encompasses Grayson County the guess here is that similar general season prospects await deer hunters getting ready to hunt the local woods. As a reminder, while the general season deer hunting dates in Grayson County are the same as the rest of the North Zone — Nov. 7 through Jan. 3 — the means and method of take are restricted to lawful archery and crossbow gear only.

How about antler development in the Cross Timbers? Well, that should be good this year as there should be more mature bucks on the range. And that should mean a good antler year since good habitat combined with older age class bucks typically means that local taxidermist shops will be busy.

Add in the exceptional run of wet weather and good habitat in this part of the state since the big flood year of 2015, and the Cross Timber’s big antler news could be really good for deer hunters this year in the right place at the right time.

Why is that? Because this year’s 5 ½ year old bucks hit the ground running in a wet year and have enjoyed nothing but wet years since they were born. And being in the middle of another good habitat year, the 2020 season could be the proverbial perfect storm that combines good nutrition, great precipitation trends, and older age class bucks into a fall hunting season that many hunters will remember for a long time to come.

How about hunting prospects in the Brush Country of South Texas, the fabled hunting grounds south of San Antonio where so many of the state’s best bucks are taken each fall?

According to TPWD, relatively mild temperatures and beneficial rains this spring set the stage for another good season in the Brush Country, particularly in the easternmost counties and south towards the Rio Grande Valley.

With plenty of good habitat, and a stable number of deer in the 438,000 range, there will likely be no shortage of South Texas bucks sporting top end headgear this fall. In fact, TPWD predicts that in the most storied trophy hunting region of the state, even there, antler quality should be better than average this year.

Add it all together, and even in the year that the great COVID-19 pandemic began, and there appears to be little that can sabotage a great fall of deer hunting coming up across most parts of Texas.

And in a year where many Lone Star State residents have worried and suffered through cycles of scary news, climbing infection and fatality numbers, quarantined lockdowns and economic uncertainty, and just simply the fear of the unknown, most Texans are ready for a healthy dose of good news.

Even if that news comes from the Lone Star State’s fabled deer woods, a place where social distancing is at its best as the north wind blows, the sun still rises over the horizon, and life goes on.