The old sign read: Leon County, The Deerest County in Texas.
Llano County has claimed the title as well. So have a number of other Texas towns.
In this case it isn’t even a debate. The Hill Country, and probably Llano County, is rightfully the deer hunting hotbed of Texas. The region’s claim to the title is solid as it accounts for almost 50 percent of the state’s 500,000-plus white-tailed deer harvest.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department doesn’t keep county-by-county harvest records of the 242 counties with some type of white-tailed deer season, but it does keep them by region. As it has for year the Edwards Plateau, the official name for what Texans know as the Hill Country, leads the state in the overall number of deer hunters, hunter days in the field, buck harvest, doe harvest and total harvest.
In fact, Hill Country hunters kill as many bucks each fall as the next closest region, South Texas, kills deer overall.
Last year the Hill Country’s 177,000 hunters accounted for an estimated total harvest of 208,800 deer, 112,000 of which were bucks. And that was considered a down year for the region, and the third slow harvest in the last four years. The previous year’s kill bottomed at 197,000, the lowest point through this century.
Since 2000 the Hill Country harvest peaked at an estimated 263,000 during the 2005-06 season. With the exception of the last four years it has held steady between 225,000 and 250,000 each year.
Although trailing in hunter numbers annually by 80,000 to 90,000, South Texas is a strong second in overall harvest. Last season’s estimated 103,000 hunters took 107,000 deer. Not surprisingly in an area where big bucks are expected, hunters in the region killed 59 percent bucks, the worst buck-to-doe harvest ratio of all the major deer hunting regions.
Like in the Edwards Plateau, the harvest was down some in South Texas last year, but not far from normal. Only once since 2000 has the harvest been above 120,000, and that was in 2008-09 when hunters took 132,000. It has been below 100,000 three times in that same period.
The Pineywoods and Post Oak regions of East Texas traditionally run No. 3 and 3a in number of hunters, but until the last two seasons the Pineywoods has always led in harvest, sometimes by an almost two to one margin.
In recent years the two regions have had an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 hunters each, but the Pineywoods has often had as many as 300,000 more hunter days per season than its neighbor. That in part could explain the harvest difference prior to 2011-12.
Harvest totals starting narrowing in 2008-09, but even then there was still a 15,000 total gap between the two regions. Two years ago the Post Oak region broke into the lead, but just barely. Hunters in the Post Oak took 64,000 deer compared to 63,000 despite 8,000 more hunters and 134,000 more hunter days in the Pineywoods.
Last season the Post Oak Region had 5,000 more hunters than the Pineywoods, but trailed in the number of hunter days by 70,000. Still Post Oak hunters did considerably better taking 62,000 deer compared to 55,000.
“As far as what may be happening with harvest numbers and hunter numbers, I am at a little bit of a loss,” said Gary Calkins, TPWD regional wildlife biologist for the Pineywoods. “We have noticed over the past several years that our numbers at our Age/Weight/Antler collection locations has been going down. I really can’t put my finger on any specific reason why.”
The biologist said hunting conditions in the southern Pineywoods changed following Hurricane Rita in 2005.
“There have been some odd hunting conditions particularly since Hurricane Rita with some off years, large mast crops, and other anomalies, but I can’t say anything specific is the cause or an effect. The deer population still seems to be very healthy based on the AWA data, and population trends show a stable deer herd across the District,” Calkins said.
He added that since the beginning of antler restrictions that the age structure on bucks has increased and all other herd indicators are either stable or getting slightly better.
Outside of these regions, the state’s two other major white-tailed deer hunting regions include the Cross Timbers and Prairies, north of the Edwards Plateau to the Red River, and the Rolling Plains. The Cross Timbers region saw hunters take 61,000 deer last season. The number was about 38,000 in the Rolling Plains. The number of deer taken in the Rolling Plains dipped from the 47,000-54,000 taken in recent years, but has been climbing steady since 2000 when hunters took 25,000.
Deer hunters are already starting to crisscross the state, some bow hunting or hunting under Manage Lands Deer permits. Others are just getting ready for Nov. 2 when the general season opens.
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