Antler quality was off the scale in most regions of the state, but for some reason hunters had a problem being at the right place at the right time to see them. The two biggest issues were that hunters were there during the day and deer were out at night, and when the deer were moving they weren’t dependent on feeders for food.
“It has been a weird year,” added Gary Calkins, the department’s district biologist for the Pineywoods. “All we can base our harvest on now is age, weight and measurement information, but across the district we worked our rear ends off and couldn’t find any deer.”
Calkins first thought was the same as Mote’s, it was warm much of the season and the deer had plenty to eat.
“We had a mass crop that was unexpected and huge, and started dropping early. The deer had the full meal deal on the ground before the season opened. They didn’t have to move. It was dry and they never soured. There were some deer killed that looked like feed lot calves,” he said.
The warm weather extended through the rut and almost to Christmas. If there was any doubt that the deer had gone nocturnal, hunters only had to look at their game cameras. That included Mote’s personal camera.
“I had two pictures of deer at my feeder at daylight. The rest were at night,” he noted.
While hunters have been quick to suspect a dieoff tied to the 2010 and 2011 drought years, both biologist shied away from that as being a cause for hunters seeing fewer deer. Calkins said there is no evidence of a major dieoff that would impact the population. In the Cross Timbers, Mote said there was some loss, but nowhere was the population wiped out.
“I think in places, deer numbers took a hit. There are areas that just didn’t have any runoff and surface water. It didn’t decimate wildlife populations, but it did hurt. It is not a bad thing if you remove them with a bullet or natural forces. It still allows the habitat to recover. There are still plenty of deer out there everywhere,” Mote said.
While there was a missing fawn crop in 2011 in the Cross Timbers, the numbers rebounded last spring with fawn survival at 50 to 85 percent depending on the pasture. That should be the case again this spring.
The combination of reduced harvest the last couple of seasons plus antler restrictions in both regions means hunters could be seeing more mature bucks for years to come. Calkins said the 2011-12 season was the first year that more 4½-year-old bucks were taken in the Pineywoods than 2½s.
“There is going to be a lot of those older deer. With older, smarter deer, hunters are going to have to hunt them harder. Hunting is going to change,” Calkins said.
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