Sometime during the next four months more than 170,000 hunters will pick up some type of bow to hunt deer with.
The really serious ones will start Saturday with the opening of the statewide archery deer season and hunting with Managed Lands Deer permits.
It wasn’t that many years ago that archery hunting in Texas was something of an oddity practiced by just a handful of hunters in East Texas using self-climbing deer stands and ladder stands. In 2009 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimated there were 80,000 archery hunters in the state. That, by the way, was the year crossbows were permitted during the early season for the first time despite the opposition from some hunters who hunt with so-called vertical bows.
An early archery season has been around in some form in Texas since the 1950s. In the 1970s bow hunters began paying for a conservation stamp to hunt in October. Coming before the creation of the Managed Lands Deer Permit Program, the stamp was to guarantee bow hunters had the month to themselves.
With the popularity of portable ground blinds and ladder stands, along with improved archery equipment and the liberalization of regulations to include crossbows, archery hunting is now a statewide activity with hunters bow hunting from opening day until the season closes.
The popularity and extension of archery hunting has never been more evident than last season when Conroe hunter A.J. Downs took a 28-point non-typical buck on the first day of the archery season that netted 253 3/8 and on Dec. 29 — just four days before the season closed — Robert Taylor took a Grayson County with 44 points scoring 254 4/8 with his bow. The two deer, both taken on low fence properties, were the best scoring whitetail bucks reported taken in Texas.
This archery season may not produce any 200-inch deer because statewide expectations are for an average season. However, that was also the prospects last year.
In a state as big as Texas there are always going to be some ranches and leases that fare better than others because of natural conditions like timely rain, better habitat or management work.
Good rains in July helped antler development in portions of the Hill Country and Cross Timbers regions, while a lack of summer moisture may hurt quality in the Pineywoods and South Texas. Hunters in East Texas could, however, benefit from a sparse acorn crop that should have deer moving for food early in the season.
Hunters statewide may also see the benefit of strong fawn crops in 2005, 2007 and 2010. Couple with average or reduced harvests in recent years, this should mean an increased number of 3½-, 6½- and 8½-year-old bucks.
Hunters in 117 counties scattered from Northeast Texas west into the Cross Timbers and eastern Edwards Plateau will also reap the results of TPWD’s antler restriction regulation.
This rule, which requires hunters to take bucks with at least a 13-inch inside spread, has had a positive effect in the counties it has been instituted. Almost immediately since being implemented the average age of bucks being taken has swung from 1½ and 2½ to 3½ and older.
According to the TPWD, archery hunters kill about 5 percent of the deer taken in Texas yearly. Last year that would be about 27,000 of the 546,000 estimated killed. However, only about 4 percent of the total harvest comes in October, but that number includes deer taken by hunters hunting under the MLD program.
In 2012 there was over 18 million acres enrolled in the MLD program for white-tailed deer and another 5 million for mule deer.
“The number of acres continues to grow but at a slower rate than what it was 10 years ago,” said Alan Cain, TPWD’s white-tailed deer program leader. “As landowners take a greater interest in deer and habitat management we see folks ask about the program and probably why we still continue to see growth. That’s a good thing if folks are interested in managing habitat and deer populations.”
Through the MLD program the department issued about 300,000 permits. Cain suspects about half of those were used, indicating about 27 percent of the deer harvest was through the program.
While the archery early season will come to a close Nov. 1, the day before the regular season begins, some hunters with MLD permits will be able to continue to harvest deer through February.
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