White-tailed deer season preview: Spring and summer rain over most of the state produced a lush growth of native food

Because of exceptional spring and early summer rain, the odds of a seeing a big buck are higher than usual. Bucks grow their biggest antlers in a good nutrition year. October rains will likely slow daytime deer movement early in the season.

Because of exceptional spring and early summer rain, the odds of a seeing a big buck are higher than usual. Bucks grow their biggest antlers in a good nutrition year. October rains will likely slow daytime deer movement early in the season.

2015-16 seasons

North Texas, Nov. 7-Jan. 3

South Texas, Nov. 7-Jan. 17

White-tailed deer season is setting up as one of those memorable seasons that hunters will speak of in hushed and reverent tones for years to come. Abundant spring and summer rain over most of the state’s whitetail range created a lush growth of native food that left animals fat and healthy entering fall.

Bucks grow the best antlers in years when their nutritional requirements are easily met and extra nutrition is converted to antler mass.

“I’m expecting an exceptional year for antler quality,” said Alan Cain, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) white-tailed deer program leader. “I’ve got numerous trail camera photos from landowners in central and south Texas showing some of the best bucks they’ve seen in a long time, so it should be a great year.”

Cain said hunters in a quality management program should pay special attention to details (body shapes, dominance displays) something other than antler size to avoid harvesting exceptional young bucks that look better than most deer their age.

He predicts more bucks in the 21/2, 31/2, 51/2, and 81/2-year-old age structure. The age gaps represent deer born in a dry year when fawn survival was low. There shouldn’t be any gaps this year.

In the Post Oak Savannah Region just east of Dallas, TPWD biologist John Silovsky said research indicates a slow but steady deer population increase since 2008.

“As the deer population increased, hunter participation and total harvest have also increased,” said Silovsky. “We now have about 110,000 hunters (in the Post Oak Region) with a total harvest of more than 75,000 deer.”

Silovsky said the region’s hunters are becoming more educated and less likely to harvest an immature buck. Nearly half the bucks taken during the past few seasons have been 41/2 or older. He predicted a good fawn survival year in 2015 but suspects that abundant native forage will slow daytime deer movement and decrease the effectiveness of feeders and food plots.

In the Rolling Plains Region north and west of Dallas, biologist Calvin Richardson said deer numbers are recovering after three years of drought. Antlers should be above average, he said, due to abundant rainfall over much of the region this year.

It’s the same story in the Piney Woods Region of east Texas, said biologist Gary Calkins.

“I am really expecting a good year from both the harvest aspect and the antler quality,” he said. “We had good carryover from last season, which means more mature bucks. This year’s weather has been awesome for food production.”

October’s rain has resulted in abundant winter browse in most of Texas and that should result in less November deer movement.

While most big bucks are taken by hunters who’ve spent big bucks managing deer on their personal property, leasing a good hunting ranch or buying a guided hunt, there’s always hope for the average guy.

Last season, David Podany of Cedar Hill was hunting on a 150-acre Mills County lease. The only buck that Podany saw all season showed up late on the afternoon of Nov. 21. The buck jumped a nearby boundary fence and came to a corn feeder. Podany shot the buck, the third highest scoring, free-ranging typical whitetail entered in the Texas Big Game Awards last season.

With a net score of 172 7/8 Boone and Crockett points, it’s also the first Mills County typical whitetail to qualify for the vaunted B&C All-Time Records Book.

Most deer hunters are really buck hunters. They consider doe harvest to be a chore and put it off while they hunt for a big buck. It’s best to fill doe tags early in the season. This leaves available browse for remaining deer. Late winter is the most difficult season for most deer.

Top five violations

No hunter education certificate. Every hunter born on or after Sept. 1, 1971, must pass a state-approved hunter education program. A one-time deferral costing $10 is available for hunters 17 or older who have not passed the course.

Improperly tagged deer. Use a knife or scissors to cut out the date of harvest and an ink pen to write the appropriate information on the tag.

Harvest log violation. Use your ink pen to duplicate the tag information on the hunting license harvest log printed on the back of your license.

Untagged deer. The deer must be tagged with the appropriate hunting license tag as soon as it is recovered. Your hunting gear should include tape, wire or some other means of attaching the tag to the carcass.

Hunting without a license. Every hunter, regardless of age, must have a license.

Hunting tips

TPWD is asking deer hunters to voluntarily submit harvested animals to a county wildlife biologist to be tested for CWD (chronic wasting disease). An unfrozen brain sample is needed for the test, which is done at no cost to the hunter. Details are online at tpwd.texas.gov/cwd. The only free-ranging Texas deer to test positive for CWD were female mule deer near the New Mexico border, but the disease has also been found in captive white-tailed deer herds.

Whitetails prefer the same weather as people — cool and still. They move less when the weather is hot and/or windy or during periods of extreme cold or rain. The internet’s long-range forecasts help you be afield when bad weather breaks — when the rain stops, when hot weather turns cool, when the wind dies down or when the sun warms a bitterly cold stretch. Deer bed during inclement weather and get up to feed as soon as the weather breaks.

Carefully study the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Annual to determine regulations on butchering a deer at camp and transporting a deer taken by another hunter. If in doubt about any rule, call the nearest game warden and ask. Their regional office numbers are listed in the Outdoor Annual. You can also find regulations online at tpwd.texas.gov or download the regulations via a smart phone app. Read general regulations as well as specific regulations for the county where you hunt. Rules differ in some counties.

Bring plenty of ice chests to your deer hunt. Venison is sustainable food, an excellent substitute for beef. The meat is only good if it’s handled properly. If you don’t have a walk-in cooler where you hunt, most towns in good hunting areas have locker plants where you can pay to hang the deer in a cooler. Otherwise, you need to skin and quarter the animal and keep the meat chilled in ice chests. Rather than ice, which dampens the venison and promotes bacterial growth, freeze water in milk jugs or large soda bottles and use it keep the meat cold.

Legal shooting hours for deer hunting are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. You can find precise sunrise and sunset times for wherever you hunt at the website sunrisesunset.com/usa/Texas.asp.

A white-tailed deer’s first line of defense is its sense of smell, which is at least as good as a dog’s olfactory abilities. You can do two things to help defeat a deer’s nose. The most important thing is stay downwind of where you expect to see a deer. That means choosing your deer stand based on wind direction. If that’s not possible, at least spray yourself with one of the scent-killing sprays so popular with archery hunters.

Whitetails are tough animals. It takes a well-placed shot to bring one down in short order. Always follow up on every shot, even if the deer runs away, apparently unhurt. Get a good mark on where the deer was standing when you shot and where it ran, wait 15 minutes (longer if you’re hunting in the morning), then check thoroughly for blood or any sign that the deer was hit. A deer may run more than 100 yards despite a mortal wound. If you know that you’ve made a bad shot, back out and leave the animal alone for as long as possible –overnight if the weather is cold and you’re not hunting in an area with a lot of coyotes. Follow the trail the next morning.

Shot placement is very important. The best shot on a whitetail is a broadside shot that places the bullet in the crease behind the deer’s shoulder, about midway of its body. This shot dispatches the deer quickly and humanely, messes up the least amount of meat and offers the widest margin for error. Since a deer doesn’t always provide a perfect angle, study whitetail anatomy charts to learn where to shoot a deer facing you or quartering toward you or away from you. Don’t shoot at a moving deer, unless the animal is already hit.

Wear latex gloves when you field dress or skin a deer or hog. The odds of contracting any disease from handling a white-tailed deer are extremely small but it’s best to err on the safe side. Wearing gloves makes the cleanup much easier.

Most Texas deer hunters use automatic corn feeders to bait deer near a hunting blind. The feeders scatter a few pounds of corn at prime movement times and are usually set to go off 30 minutes or so after daylight and an hour or so before dark. It doesn’t take long for multiple deer and/or hogs to clean up the corn. You can keep animals near the blind longer by hand feeding or using a tailgate feeder on a vehicle to put out more corn before entering the blind. If a target buck sees other deer around a feeder, he’s more likely to consider it safe.

Use a daypack to organize your hunting gear so you always have a flashlight, spare batteries, sharp knife, extra ammunition, functioning ink pen for filling out your tag and the harvest log on your license (don’t expect the pen left in your pack since last year to work), hearing protection, rain gear, warm gloves, latex gloves, snacks, water, tape or some other means of attaching you deer tag to antler and anything else you consider necessary for a deer hunt.

Bring a good digital camera on every hunting trip. Use it to take photos of the camp and the campfire and of your hunting companions, especially if there are kids in the hunting party. There should be a very good photo of a child’s first deer. It’s a keepsake to be cherished for generations. If a hunter is lucky enough to take an outstanding buck, spend some time setting up the photograph. Don’t rely on your cell phone as a camera. Most people don’t use a cell phone camera well enough to make a great photo of a momentous occasion.

Spend as much time hunting as possible during the rut (deer breeding season). Bucks are more active during the rut and even mature bucks that have survived six or more hunting seasons can act suicidal. TPWD has done studies that pinpoint rut timing in different regions of the state. The timing hardly varies from year to year. Weather is not a factor in rut timing, though hunters in the field will see more daytime rutting activity during favorable weather. Those sightings popularize the theory that cold weather triggers the rut. Deer breed at the same time each year. During warm weather, the breeding activity occurs at night.

If you have a problem sitting still in a deer blind, take along a book to read, an electronic device with ear buds so you can listen to music or a downloaded book, or maybe a small radio with ear buds to catch a weekend football game. Deer hunting success means being in the right place at the right time. The longer you sit still in a good place, the luckier you get.

Carry your cell phone for safety or entertainment purposes but turn the ringer off. Understand that in rural Texas many places still do not have cell service. Let hunting companions know where you intend to hunt so they’ll know where to look if you don’t show up at camp.

Be careful with guns, especially in and around vehicles. In Texas, it’s legal to hunt from a vehicle on private property and this promotes riding around with loaded rifles. Do not ride around with a loaded rifle. Load the magazine and don’t chamber a cartridge until the rifle’s muzzle is pointed in a safe direction, outside the vehicle window. If you must ride with a loaded rifle, at least open the action, which makes the rifle safe. It also allows other hunters to see at a glance that the rifle is safe. It only takes a few seconds to put the muzzle out the vehicle window and close the action to seat the cartridge for a shot. Handling a rifle can be awkward inside the vehicle, which is what makes riding with a loaded rifle so dangerous.

Aside from rifles and driving to the hunting lease (you’re far more likely to be injured by a car wreck than a hunting accident), the most dangerous part of deer hunting is climbing into an elevated blind. It’s very easy to lose your balance and fall, particularly in the dark, encumbered by a rifle over one shoulder and a pack over the other. If your ladder is the least bit difficult to climb, carry your rifle (unloaded) up first and place it safely in the blind. Then climb back down for another load. Don’t forget to load the rifle once you’re situated in the blind and unload it before starting down.

Stock up on ammunition before heading for a rural hunting lease. If you have a rifle problem that requires re-sighting the rifle, it may take numerous shots. You cannot rely on a local hardware store in rural Texas to stock the particular brand of ammunition, bullet design and bullet weight that you prefer.