Typically the old saying that the more things change the more they stay the same is an accurate assessment.
The exception is when talking deer hunting.
It wasn’t that many years ago that deer hunting meant killing a buck. With landowners guarding doe permits like they were the family jewels, deer populations in the Hill Country were out of control. Ranchers were managing deer like they did their cattle, and to them you didn’t remove cows and heifers from the herd.
Then again, cows generally don’t have twins and triplets.
It really didn’t matter because hunters were just as reluctant to use the tags. It just wasn’t manly, even though no one has ever offered up a recipe for cooking antlers.
It was a completely different scenario in East Texas. Deer were still an oddity in some counties until recent years. Getting permission to shoot a doe wasn’t just hard from the landowner, but from Texas Parks and Wildlife as well.
Then the gospel of deer management was spread to the masses, and hunters began to shoot does. The old doe permits have become a thing of the past, being replaced by an open season, LAMPS permits, Managed Lands Deer permits or doe days.
The result has not been a collapse of the Texas white-tailed deer population. Quite the contrary. TPWD estimates the statewide herd at about 3.6 million deer, and whitetails continue to expand into areas with previously low populations or with marginal deer habitat such as the Panhandle Plains.
Last year’s total harvest dipped from the 2011-12 season, but hunters still took an estimated 546,000 white-tailed deer, which factors to about 60 percent hunter success. That total included 304,000 bucks and 242,000 does. Pretty close to even for something that in the past had been so lopsided.
Through the years hunters and most landowners have learned that an antlerless deer harvest is an important component to deer management. Herd and buck quality are both impacted positively if hunters take does in an effort to manage deer numbers. That has been especially important in recent years with drought having had such an impact on range conditions. Ranches that have maintained or reduced their deer numbers have seen quality rebound quicker than on those that haven’t.
Still biologists say there is always room for more antlerless deer to be taken in most parts of the state.
The antlerless harvest has come a long way in East Texas. Today there are 48 counties with doe days ranging from four to 30 days in which hunters can take antlerless deer without a permit. For now that may be about as liberal as the regulation gets.
“Staff does not have plans to liberalize doe days in East Texas at this time,” said Alan Cain, TPWD’s deer program leader. “From a biological perspective there is concern that doing away with doe days and opening the season or liberalizing doe days would have a noticeable impact on the deer populations in the Pineywoods and Post Oak regions.”
Cain said there are a couple of things working against liberal doe hunting in East Texas including higher hunter densities compared to other portions of the state and a decline in habitat quality.
He said it is much more likely for a group of hunters to hunt smaller acreage in East Texas with the potential to kill every deer that lives on that property plus more that are pulled in from adjoining properties.
“Doe days and bag limits help to moderate against overharvest of the deer population in these regions,” Cain said.
The second issue is the growing human population in the Dallas-Houston corridor along with major land use practice changes in both the Post Oak and Pineywoods regions that are resulting in less deer habitat.
“Available quality, native habitat is shrinking in the Post Oak region as human population growth occurs, and agricultural practices continue to expand in the form of coastal Bermuda and bahia grass hay pastures,” Cain said.
In the Pineywoods region timber companies that made long-term investments in the land have been replaced by timber investment management organizations with a primary interest of recouping financial investments over land stewardship.
“In the Pineywoods poor timber management practices by some of the TIMOs do not create habitats that could support more deer or help the deer population grow. If hunters and Texas residents want to see deer populations grow in these area then we need to be focusing on doing quality habitat management improvements,” the biologist said.
Of course doe are fair game during the archery-only season Sept. 28-Nov. 1 in 241 counties. Bow hunters are not required to have special permits unless the land is under the Manage Lands Deer Permit program.
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