For at least this one weekend there is something bigger than football in Texas.
It is big enough even NASCAR won’t happen in front of full house.
Businesses take a hit and appointments are put on hold.
It is the opening weekend of the Texas’ white-tailed deer season.
More than 600,000 Texans are deer hunters. Between now and the end of January they will become a mobile army moving across the state to hunt. Some will hunt the family farm or ranch. Others will be invited to hunt with a friend. There are those who pay for a three-day hunt, but most have a lease. Some have two.
By the end of the season the hunters will average about a deer apiece, but since the state has a deer herd estimated at 3.6 million it doesn’t come close to overharvest.
With the season approaching the main question on hunters’ minds is how good is antler quality this fall? That is a hard question to answer because range conditions varied so much during the antler growing season.
East Texas started off wet in the spring, but dried out as the summer progressed. The Hill Country and Cross Timbers started dry, but some areas got heavy rains in July. South Texas has been dry for a while.
Offsetting poor range conditions will be an increased number of 3 ½, 6 ½ and 8 ½ year old deer because of strong fawn crops in 2005, 2007 and 2010. There should also be a good number of 1 ½-year-olds because of good conditions last year. Missing will be 2 ½-year-old deer after a near-statewide fawn crop failure in 2011.
While last year’s harvest was down because of a strong acorn crop, hunters in East Texas may fair well this year because the mast crop is considered light. This should have deer moving more in search of food.
There are a number of things hunters need to do before climbing in the stand Saturday morning.
nCheck your rifle. If you haven’t used the gun since last year make sure there aren’t any obstructions in the barrel. If you get to the lease with enough time Friday fire a round through it to make sure it is on.
nCheck flashlights. Whether it is going to the blind in the morning or tracking a deer after dark a bright light always comes in handy. There are several pocket-sized LED lights that are ideal for hunting. Having a spare can be better than having spare batteries or bulbs.
nSharpen your knives. They are going to get used during the season whether it is cutting rope or skinning a deer. A dull knife can be more dangerous than a sharp one because it takes more effort when skinning.
One new handy tool is the Gatco Edgemate sharpener. Slightly smaller than a Mini-Maglite, the sharpener will fit easily in a backpack and is handy to have when gutting or skinning deer.
nTake doe early. Texas hunters are doing a better job of taking doe statewide, but a lot still want to wait until later in the year. This plan might work in the Hill Country and South Texas where deer more readily come to feeders, but in East Texas waiting to harvest anything can result in lost opportunity.
If you find you need to take more deer than you can eat over the winter, consider donating some to the Hunters for the Hungry program. In the last 15 years hunters have donated more than 2.5 million pounds of venison, which not only helps feed those needing a good protein source, it also makes deer management work easier to accomplish.
In the Tyler area Lynch’s Food Store and the East Texas Woods and Waters Foundation have again teamed to make the program free to hunters. Deer to be donated should be taken to the store at 3400 E. Fifth St., during regular business hours.
nKnow the law. The most common violation Texas game wardens come across by a long shot is hunters who have not taken a hunter education course. Hunters who need the course, but can’t get it done before going hunting, can get a $10 one-year deferral from license outlets. They will have to take the course before hunting again next season.
The next three biggest violations are improperly tagged deer, harvest log violations and untagged deer. With the exception of those hunting with Managed Lands Deer permits, a deer should be tagged immediately after being shot. This includes writing the name of the ranch on the tag and cutting out the date.
Although it is easy to forget hunters who tag a deer also must immediately fill out the harvest log on the back of their license.
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.