Lynn Burkhead — Grayson County bowhunters ready for deer season

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
With good genetics, solid habitat conditions, and plenty of older age class bucks roaming the deer woods close to Denison and Sherman, don't be surprised to see several really good whitetails fall during the 2020 archery season that begins Saturday morning. Big O's Archery Shop owner Orvie Cantrell, Jr. of Sherman admires a good buck he took here in Grayson County several years ago.

You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but 2020 has been a difficult year for many with a deadly pandemic, plenty of nationwide unrest, and an American economy that has slumped greatly with the coronavirus lockdowns.

What does any of that have to do with the Texomaland outdoors world? This year, plenty. Because for thousands of archers across Texas, the current days on the Lone Star State calendar bring a welcome respite from weeks of fear, anxiety and stress.

For those Texas outdoors enthusiasts who like to camo up, climb high up into a treestand, and clutch a familiar compound bow a little bit tighter, this year’s Oct. 3-Nov. 6 archery deer campaign is just what the doctor ordered. And without a doubt, it’s one of the best ways to wear a mask and practice social distancing anywhere in the state.

Until a big whitetail gets too close, that is. Then it’s time to get up close and personal as a big buck closes the ranks. With any luck, a well-placed arrow arrives in the buck’s boiler room, a hunter has to notch a tag, and then it’s time to get the hands dirty as the work begins to turn wild meat into the best and healthiest meal this side of the world’s best butcher shop.

What kind of prospects will hunters find in the Lone Star State this autumn? While there are few truly bad seasons in the Texas deer woods, this year’s archery season forecast seems pretty good thanks to timely weather conditions across most of the state.

“Recent precipitation throughout Texas has resulted in a flush of new growth on preferred native deer forages and should set the stage for good winter weed production, critical for deer late in the season,” said Alan Cain, the white-tailed deer program leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “This is quite a change from the brown and brittle range conditions experienced in July and August.”

Thanks to several good years of precipitation trends, a relatively mild 2019-20 winter, and bouts of timely moisture throughout 2020, Cain notes that he keeps hearing about exceptional antler quality from hunters and land managers observing bucks in the field and on game cameras.

That’s even true out west in the Panhandle, likely the driest part of the state in 2020. Even so, the TPWD biologist anticipates few significant negative impacts on whitetails in that region.

In the rest of the vast Lone Star State, the forecast is two thumbs up with a white-tailed deer population that TPWD biologists estimate in the 5.5 million range. While deer densities can vary greatly from ecological region to region, the overall density of whitetails in Texas is 49.25 deer per 1,000-acres.

Put simply, if you hunt in areas with prime whitetail habitat, that means that you should see good numbers of deer. And because of genetics and the state’s current range conditions, plenty of quality headbones too.

As has been pointed out here many times in the past, Grayson County doesn’t have the best whitetail habitat in the Lone Star State, as sparse deer numbers limited to certain pockets of good habitat have steadily shown.

But thanks to good genetics and the tendency for bucks to reach older age classes due to the archery only hunting mandate in the local woods, every year, there are some great bucks that fall to hunters not far from the city limits of Denison and Sherman.

Some years, as readers of this space likely know, there have even been several “Stop the Presses!” kind of giant bucks, whitetails that catch the attention of local hunters along with the rest of the state too.

The late Forrest “Junior” Robertson of Sherman tagged one of those bucks at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge at the end of October 1995. Junior’s buck, a 19-point non-typical that would score 200 5/8-inches in the Pope and Young Club’s archery record book, was the first truly big buck I wrote about in this space.

But it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Because only a few weeks later, Dodd City’s Donnie Brewer put a tag on another non-typical giant, a 26-point bruiser that would score 201 3/8-inches. Those two bucks, a pair of non-typical twins I called the “Hagerman Hatracks,” gave me my first national magazine work and in some ways, may have helped pave the way towards a career with, Grand View Media, and now Outdoor Sportsman Group.

But there have also been plenty of other huge Grayson County bucks to write about down through the years, including a one-time Texas P&Y state record, Jeff Duncan’s Hagerman non-typical “Big Boy” that scored 225 7/8-inches. Mr. Duck, Sherman’s Jim Lillis, had his own brush with a P&Y state record, tagging a 175 2/8-inch Hagerman typical in 2007 that still ranks in the state’s “Top 10” archery bucks.

After TPWD opened up the archery-only general season in 1999, there have been plenty of other big Grayson County bucks too, many of them on private land in areas of prime habitat. With so much emphasis on intensive game management practices, food plots and supplemental feeding, and the proliferation of game cameras, that trend has become more pronounced each year.

In fact, just like the 191 1/8-inch non-typical taken by Tanner Legg last fall or the 225 1/8-inch non-typical taken by Mark Svane in 2017, the bulk of the 100+ deer that now make up the Grayson County Whitetail Record Book I endeavor to keep every year have been taken behind private lock and key.

With a number of quality deer on both private and public land this year, don’t be surprised to see even more big buck news here in Grayson County as October gives way to November and the annual whitetail rut.

With any luck, the great local genetics, the solid habitat, and some wise old blunt-nosed bucks will all combine to give the local deer woods a reason to stop the presses once again.

For reasons far different than we’ve seen so far in a year that most of us would just as soon forget.

Until deer season rolls around, that is. Because here in Grayson County, you just never know, do you?