Season is at hand for archers, whose ranks appear to be growing

The Dallas Morning News

Larry Putnam of Dallas ┬ásays he’s been hunting with a bow since 1960 when his father got him started at a young age.(Mona Reeder/The Dallas Morning News)

By RAY SASSER / The Dallas Morning News

Archery season for white-tailed deer, mule deer and Rio Grande turkeys begins Saturday and continues through Nov. 6. It’s hard to know how many archery hunters are out there, in spite of the fact that they must pay a $7 stamp endorsement to take advantage of the early season.

I don’t hunt with a bow, but I’ve bought a super combo hunting and fishing license since they were introduced in 1996, as have hundreds of thousands of other sportsmen.

The super combo includes every stamp endorsement that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department requires. It was created as a discounted offering for those who pursue a variety of game, fish or both.

An unintended consequence is that the super combo license blurs the lines between who does what. According to TPWD surveys, about 13 percent of Texas deer hunters hunt with archery equipment. That’s about 80,000 archery hunters, but it feels like the sport is growing.

That’s particularly the feel since the department included crossbows in its list of legal archery equipment for most counties. There are some exceptions, including counties near Dallas, so check the regulations before hunting.

The reason archery hunting is not growing as fast in Texas as in other states is our lengthy firearms deer season. Many states have a short firearms season and a long archery season.

Neighboring Oklahoma, for instance, has a firearms deer season this year from Nov. 21 through Dec. 6, a muzzleloader season Oct. 21-Nov. 1 and an archery season Oct. 1-Jan. 15.

Texas has more deer than any other state, and hunters don’t take enough, even with a long firearms season.

Hunting with longbows, recurve bows or compound bows requires regular practice to be accurate enough for hunting. A crossbow is easier. It’s more like a very short-range rifle. Just be careful. It’s possible to grip the forearm of some crossbows in such a way that the string can strike your thumb or a finger upon release, and that never turns out well.

Archery big-game hunting has multiple appeals. In Texas, where it’s legal to bait deer, bringing home the venison is not that difficult in counties where the animals are abundant.

Getting within archery range makes deer hunting much more challenging. Archery range means 40 yards or closer, ideally much closer. At that range, a deer will be spooked by the slightest careless movement or sound, never mind the hunter’s scent.

In the TPWD surveys, about 9.7 percent of archery respondents were successful at taking a deer.

Most archery hunters put stands in trees to keep their scent above the game or hunt from portable ground blinds that can be moved to stay downwind of where game is expected.

If you hunt from an elevated stand, use a safety harness. The most common form of injury to archery hunters is falling from a stand.

Aside from the challenge of close-range deer hunting, part of the appeal is the early archery season. Game is less prone to being spooked in October, when there are fewer hunters afield. Also, October is pre-rut in most of the state, meaning the bucks haven’t been fighting and breaking their antlers.

Thanks to spring and summer rainfall, the 2015-16 hunting season will be one to remember, whether you hunt with a bow in October or a rifle beginning Nov. 7.