White tailed deer hunting prospects are expected to be excellent across Texas this season fueled by outstanding habitat conditions, slowly growing deer populations and a weaker deer harvest last year, which should allow for more deer in the fields this season, the state’s white tailed deer leader says in his annual hunting forecast.
“These conditions should translate into above average antler quality, reproduction and recruitment for white tailed deer,” said Alan Cain, the head of the white tailed deer program for the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. “Hunters should expect an excellent deer season in 2019.”
He told the Texas Outdoor Digest that the state had “great rainfall from last winter all the way up through early summer across the state, so the habitat conditions have been really good.”
“There were a lot of good forbs still around and deep soil moisture, so that will help keep brush green and help finish off antler development. So I’m expecting good antlers as a whole at the statewide level,” Cain told the publication that celebrates the sporting life and wildlife conservation in Texas.
Cain’s white tailed deer hunting forecast said annual deer surveys show Texas is home to about 5.4 million white tailed deer, or about 48.3 deer per 1,000 acres – one deer for every 20.7 acres – of monitored deer range in the state.
The state’s deer population has been increasing at an average rate of about 3.8 percent a year from 2005 to 2018, longterm trends indicate, though those increases are not uniform across all 44 of Texas’ Deer Management Units, which are the areas parks and wildlife have divided the state into to monitor deer populations.
Fawn production has remained relatively consistent at around 40 percent across the state since 2014, the forecast said, but with improved conditions this year, fawn recruitment is expected to exceed 50 percent.
Cain’s report said above average fawn crops in 2012-2014 should mean more bucks in the 5.5-to-7.5-year-old classes this year.
“Those are deer in the prime of their life, and so we should see more of those bucks relative to the other classes out there,” Cain told the digest. “I would expect some pretty amazing bucks to come out of the woods this year. I think anyone would be happy to see that kind of buck anywhere in the state.”
The Edwards Plateau region in the central part of Texas has the highest deer population in the state with an about 2.4 million deer, the hunting forecast said. The area around Llano and Mason counties has the highest deer density in the region, which reaches about 293 deer per 1,000 acres.
The forecast said hunter success in that region runs about 78 percent, with an estimated 14.3 deer per 1,000 acres harvested in 2018.
Hunters looking for older-age-class bucks were encouraged to focus on Deer Management Unit 4, from Del Rio to Junction and Ozona, and DMU 7 south from Hondo to Del Rio and north of Highway 90.
“Overall, the Hill Country is a great deer hunting region and expectations are above average for the 2019 season,” the forecast said.
It said the South Texas Plains region also is known for producing quality bucks and is a destination location for hunters looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Antler quality in the region is expected to be above average this year thanks to “the amazing habitat conditions going into the early summer,” Cain’s forecast said. Hunter success in the region was predicted to be 74 percent with an estimated harvest of 7.7 deer per 1,000 acres.
Antler quality was expected to be above average across most of Texas this season, with some the best prospects in the Eastern and Western Rolling Plains region and the South Texas Plains, where the 14-year-average Boone & Crockett scores are 132.3 and 134.1 respectively.
The state’s annual big game harvest survey estimated that 883,564 deer were downed in the 2018 season, which was down about 3.8 percent from the 2017 season.
That was attributed to improved range conditions at the opening of the hunting season last year thanks to abundant rains in September and October. With fields greener last year, deer were probably less likely to visit feeders during the season.
But Cain said that just means more deer should be available for hunters this year.
The department has opened a four-day, antlerless season during the general hunting season in portions of 21 South Central Texas counties to address growing deer populations in that region and to give hunters more opportunities for success this year.
The season will run from Nov. 28 through Dec. 1 in Austin, Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Waller, Washington and Wilson counties, and also in Goliad, Jackson, Victoria and Wharton counties north of Highway 59 and in Comal, Hays and Travis counties east of Highway 35.
Mandatory harvest reporting requirements for antlerless deer will apply during that special, four-day season and during the archery, youth-only and muzzle-loader seasons.