IOMATIA — It was cold.
Based on the sheets of ice in the ditches it had to be freezing or colder. Add a northwest wind gusting to 25 miles per hour and it was miserably cold.
But that was outside the truck. Inside with the heater running it was a comfortable 68, and that is where I intended to stay barring something unexpected.
Twelve hours earlier it was a balmy 70 degrees. Sweating as I walked through the field toward a stand in a bottom, it was at that point too hot to go deer hunting.
It wasn’t too hot to shoot a wild pig so I did that instead. It is never too hot to shoot a pig.
But just before sunset the wind shifted and the temperature slowly began to plummet. I had plenty of clothes. My hunting bag stays packed for just about any weather extreme this time of year.
The problem, I realized, was I just wasn’t that mad at the deer. It has been a long season, starting back in September for bow hunters and those with Manage Lands Deer permits. With Level 2 and 3 MLDPs it could continue until the end of February, and that included the ranch I was on.
The rancher still had about a dozen doe permits and about half that many buck permits. I just wanted to add some meat to the freezer, but I quickly realized I was burned out. From early October through Thanksgiving I had gone hunting every week. Throw in some duck and quail hunts and visits to other ranches, and, well, enough is enough.
The Texas deer season has become a long ordeal. Too long, some will say. Biologically it is no big deal. The state’s white-tailed deer herd remains healthy at more than 3 million animals, and despite a season that is 143 days long Texas hunters still only take between 500,000 and 600,000 deer a year.
In comparison, this year’s Oklahoma’s deer season is from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15, but that is for bow hunters only. Its gun season only lasts 15 days following Thanksgiving, but then Oklahoma has less deer than Texas harvests each year. Alabama’s season is pretty liberal, running from Oct. 15-Jan. 31 for archery and spear hunting, yes, spear hunting, and Nov. 23 through Jan. 31 for the most liberal gun season. Pennsylvania, where hunters kill almost as many deer as in Texas, the season starts and stops beginning as early Oct. 5 and running as late as Jan. 25. The various seasons are split among archery hunters, muzzleloaders, flintlock hunters and finally a month-long rifle season from Dec. 26-Jan. 25 this year.
In Texas the majority of deer taken are going to come in November, followed by December and then October.
MLDPs have certainly been a game-changer since their introduction in 1997. In the early days of the program their advantage was more austere, offering hunters just 14 extra days of hunting. It quickly expanded to hunting from early October through January and participation has grown from 5.8 acres in 2003 to 18 million for white-tailed deer and 5 million for mule deer last year.
The perception of the program is that it allows landowners with permits a license to kill, and that they kill an inordinate percentage of the state’s deer. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, however, only about 27 percent of the total harvest is with the permits.
In East Texas there becomes a concern about late season hunting. It is not unusual for some bucks to begin losing antlers in early January. By early February it is a real problem and the last thing you want to do is screw up management work with an unnecessary mistake.
So despite the opportunity and the permits we decided to sit in the truck and drive around for a couple of hours. Had a doe walked out in front of us, there may have been a debate. Opening a gate was bad enough.
It has been a long season.
On the other hand, we saw 17 Eastern wild turkeys. That season opens April 15.
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