2018 Texas Deer Forecast

2018 Texas Deer Forecast

This detailed analysis of the Texas deer picture will give you a realistic view of your 2018 hunting prospects.

The Texas deer hunting outlook is always good. Even in what could be generally considered “average” or “down” years, Lone Star State hunters have plenty of opportunities to bring home multiple whitetails — and some good ones, too.

Alan Cain, the whitetail program leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, again said that this fall and winter will be on par with previous seasons in most whitetail hotbeds across the state.

“The statewide deer population is going to be right around that 4.3 million to 4.6 million range. If you look at statewide trends, it’s slowly creeping up each year,” he said. “The Hill Country still has the highest estimate at about 2.6 million. There’s one particular management unit in the Llano-Mason area that has the highest deer density in the state, roughly 285 per 1,000 acres. We always recommend hunters to use their tags, especially doe tags, in those areas with higher numbers. This should be another good year for hunters in terms of how much venison they can put in the freezer.”

Cain noted that weather patterns from the summer of 2017 through the summer of 2018 were inconsistent, with the obvious landfall of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 having an impact on some portions of the state deer herd.

 
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“We didn’t have any significant reports of adult mortality or fawn mortality (as a result of Harvey). That doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but the Deer Management Unit in the Houston area that runs east toward the Louisiana border and up into the Pineywoods did receive significant flooding as a result of the hurricane,” Cain said. “I think what that ultimately did is displace a lot of deer in that area, and a lot of them were able to get out and get to higher ground. We did see a reduction in deer densities in that area, but that’s due to not being able to run all of our surveys in that area.”

Other areas of the state that also were inundated with moisture as a result of the hurricane saw differing effects from the storm.

“There also was lots of rain around Victoria and back toward other parts of the Post Oak Savannah, and even with all that moisture, we still had decent deer numbers in that region,” Cain said. “You’re looking at still being above 60 deer per 1,000 acres in those areas, which is still high density for that country. I talked to a colleague in the Weimar area, and they had about 20 inches of rain during the hurricane and shortly thereafter. He said that within a week or two after the storm passed the ground was dry again, and they were even seeing cracks in the soil. That’s how dry it had been prior. Basically, the deer moved out of the bottoms and low-lying areas during the flooding event and recovered. Fawn crops were still comparable to what they were in the past in those areas, which means there should be no long-term issues moving forward.”

While the general deer hunting outlook typically rests mainly on range conditions in the winter, spring and summer before the fall season, it has been an odd year as a whole, Cain noted.

“It really has just been an inconsistent year for rainfall statewide. There was a patchwork of dry and green, dry and green, and then it would change,” he said. “Some areas had decent winter conditions — deer were coming off the rut in good shape — and then other areas were dry. Then, you had it flipped going into the summer when it started getting really hot, so it’s just been an unusual situation.

“I think what that means is we’ll have a good year, not exceptional necessarily, but deer got off to a decent start, and most places had decent range conditions this spring. There was good browse and forbs available even though it went dormant as it got hot. In South Texas (during the summer), I’m seeing mesquites with blooms on them, which leads me to believe we’ll have a good mesquite bean crop, which is always good, especially if it stays hot.”

While hunters in places like the Hill Country and South Texas can always expect to count on plenty of numbers, it should be another good year for antler quality, Cain noted. That’s due in large part to the animals available that have gotten some age on them, he said.

“In general, across the state, we had good fawn crops in 2010 and 2013, so that would translate into more 5 1/2-year-old and 8 1/2-year-old bucks, relative to other age classes out there,” Cain said. “I think most people would be happy with a 5 1/2-year-old deer in most places, regardless if that’s the Pineywoods or South Texas.”

While quantity typically has been the name of the game in Texas deer hunting — and it will surely continue to top the list of many hunters — more folks are getting into quality management, Cain said. That’s a positive aspect for the pursuit as a whole.

“Over the past five years, roughly 14 percent to 17 percent of the buck harvest has been composed of bucks that are at least 5 1/2 years old,” Cain said. “The majority of the harvest, 43 percent to 44 percent, is composed of bucks that are 3 1/2 or 4 1/2 years, based on survey and antler data we collect. That’s good for hunters, and that means they’re not killing a bunch of young bucks. They’re letting them walk, and it’s also in part to the antler restrictions we have in 117 counties. I also think a large part is most hunters and landowners taking an interest in deer management, which is a good thing.”

 
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Cain noted that while other areas of the country have seen some declines in hunter participation, Texas has remained strong in terms of the number of folks who head afield each fall and winter in pursuit of backstraps and bone.

“Texas has been pretty stable in terms of hunter participation when it comes to deer. We haven’t seen impacts in other places like the Northeast and Southeast, where hunter numbers are declining,” Cain said. “The hunter figure has been right around 690,000 to 700,000+ most years, so there’s still a lot of hunters and a lot of opportunity. We’re always looking at ways to expand hunting opportunities as well as make sure the regulations aren’t too restrictive. I think we still offer a pretty flexible bag limit across the state, depending on what county you’re hunting.”

Cain also pointed out that state biologists are always available to help hunters and landowners with their harvest initiatives and future plans.

“If hunters and landowners are unsure about how many deer they should harvest on their lease or ranch, consider contacting the local TPWD wildlife biologist (visit tpwd.texas.gov, and in the search bar on the right, type in “wildlife biologist”) to discuss possible deer survey options and deer harvest recommendations,” he said. “Establishing a population estimate on the hunting property can help hunters better manage the deer herd in their localized area and meet deer or hunting management goals.”

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