This is a big year for big deer my friends!
Regardless of whether you’re hunting the Brush Country of South Texas, the oak, cedar and mesquite ridges of the Edwards Plateau or the pine thickets of East Texas, your chances of harvesting the buck of a lifetime are as high this fall as they’ve ever been.
Fantastic range conditions that stretched from last fall into this season have set the stage for great production and antler quality across the Lone Star State. No matter where you’re hunting, the genetic potential of bucks also has improved dramatically from even a decade ago, thanks in large part to antler restrictions in more than 100 counties.
Alan Cain, South Texas District Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, oversees what likely is the best big-buck habitat in the nation. He said this season is one that could shape up certainly as being one of the best in recent memory for large whitetails.
“The habitat’s in great shape, and ultimately, if you can provide good nutrition, you’re going to help them realize their genetic potential so to speak,” Cain said. “Vegetation is great, and thanks to tropical storms and good spring rains, we could have added moisture all the way up to San Antonio, which could have helped finish off antler growth.”
Cain said that it doesn’t take much to figure out why South Texas continues to be such a fantastic area for quality whitetails.
“The age structure is better down here and deer just get older and produce better antlers in general,” Cain said. “As far as trophy quality deer, I’m expecting good things. You just don’t have years like this where you don’t grow big deer — they just show up.”
Cain said this season could be tough simply because there’s so much forage to be had across the state, not just in his portion of Texas.
“I think honestly it’s going to be tough on hunters early on just because it’s so green, but we’re seeing blooms on mesquite beans (in summer) and blooms will have beans potentially heading into August, September and early fall, which will keep deer from coming in to feeders,” Cain said. “There also were little bitty acorns on live oak trees.
“If the deer have all this other forage, it’s going to just be tough to find bucks unless a bowhunter or other hunters early in the season can pattern them before they break off from their summer patterns and the cool weather and rut start to pick up. Basically it’s just going to be tough to find some of those bigger bucks just because the vegetation has been so green unless there was some kind of dropoff heading into the fall.”
Cain said this season definitely has the potential to produce as many or more deer over the 200 Boone and Crockett mark than last season, which shaped up well with lots of carryover.
“I expect a good number of deer over that 200 B&C mark,” Cain said. “You’ll find some behind low fence and some behind high fence — it doesn’t matter. The ‘buck of a lifetime’ is different for each person, but the conditions are set that the average guy could harvest the best deer for them. There’s going to be good quality deer this year. That doesn’t mean there will be 200-class deer behind every bush, but there are going to be a lot of people who kill a 3- or 4-year-old buck that’s got good quality antlers. At some places under management they may consider that a mistake, only because they want the deer to get a little older.”
Cain pointed to one thing when it comes to having a shot at a big buck this fall: hunting pressure. He also noted some of the top counties that again should produce big whitetails this fall.
“A lot of it comes down to management,” Cain said. “When you look at low-fence places and success, you’re just looking at spots that have limited hunting pressure and are buffered by larger properties. As far as counties, you’ve got to believe that the Dimmit, La Salle, Webb County areas are going to produce good deer. Then there’s Atascosa, McMullen, places scattered around Starr County, and Frio. They may not produce as many big bucks as the others but they’re going to have a good number. Even in Karnes and Wilson counties, which have been under antler restrictions for several years, they should expect to see good quality animals because they’ve gotten some age on them and the forage to expect good things.”
One thing Cain noted about South Texas is the fact that there’s more of a big-deer culture in which hunters and landowners buy into the theory of letting deer walk.
“You’ve got to have the deer get older and South Texas probably has more people who are more aware of that and take that into account in their management practices than other areas of Texas,” Cain said. “Also, in general, hunter density is probably a bit lower. You’ve got larger acreages that buffer some of that hunting pressure, and limiting hunter access to some degree will aid the survival rates. In places like the Hill Country and Post Oak Savannah, you’ve got lots of 50-, 100- and 200-acre tracts of land where a whole family is hunting on there and killing four to 10 deer, or whatever the case may be.
“Probably 5,000 acres is the average down here and just the size helps buffer the hunting pressure. And once you take the age factor out of the equation, then you’ve got a little check mark on your side, especially with the vegetation out there. It’s also just up to the deer taking advantage of the forage opportunities.”
David Brimager, vice-president of hunting heritage for the Texas Wildlife Association, and who also oversees the Texas Big Game Awards program, said last season saw an increase in the number of overall entries into the program.
“This past season we had 1,065 scored entries, those that meet the minimum score requirements from the various regions,” he said. That’s up about 100 from the previous year, which had the fifth-lowest entry total in program history.