Expert: Warm weather a factor in slow South Texas hunting season

South zone white-tailed deer not as active for hunter success


South Texas hunters are having a tough time battling the weather in this year’s white-tailed deer season that started back in early November.

Macy Ledbetter, a wildlife biologist for Spring Creek Outdoors who assists and works with landowners in wildlife and habitat management, said South Texas hunters – especially those who have planned well in advance to hunt in the month of December -- are growing frustrated with the lack of deer activity in their area, which is attributed to recent warmer temperatures.

“A lot of guys plan hunts a year in advance or maybe they have to take a vacation, so they plan it four, five, six months in advance,” Ledbetter said. “But there’s a lot of people who hunt outside of Texas that come to Texas and they will book a hunt a year or two in advance. So you’re clearly taking a gamble on what the weather is going to be.” 

According to the National Weather Service, the average maximum temperature for Webb County – one of 30 counties in the south zone region – in December is 67.7 degrees. Hunters typically find more success when temperatures are much cooler than the recent warmer temperatures, which have topped at 87 degrees in back-to-back days this month for Webb County.

However, South Texas hunters are not the only ones being affected by warmer temperatures, Ledbetter said.

“For the wildlife itself, it’s not that good. The wildlife (are) covered in parasites, ticks, fleas, deer keds, and we need the ... cold, cold winters to kill some of those parasites to allow those animals to rest and recover without the parasites taking (away) from their body conditions,” Ledbetter said.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website, the legal shooting hours for all game animals and nonmigratory game birds is the period from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. The warmer temperatures during that time not only make it difficult for hunters, but the shorter days in December – the winter solstice on Dec. 21 marks the shortest day and longest night of the year – also make it tough, as the long, cool nights become more ideal for deer activity than during the day, Ledbetter said.

Matt Reidy, wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said warmer temperatures might cause white-tailed deer to become more nocturnal, but for this season in particular, heavy rainfall in past months has played a key factor for deer activity.

“When we have really good habitat conditions, the white-tailed deer don’t have to move as much,” Reidy said. “There’s a lot of food everywhere (and) those feeders that people put out, the deer don’t need those very much. Really what’s happened is those deer are sitting in the brush and enjoying the weeds, leaves off the trees, acorns, (and) enjoying the native wild foods a lot more than what’s in the feeders.”

For most hunters, December has become the ideal month to hunt white-tailed deer because of the “rutting” period – the breeding season of white-tailed deer – which typically peaks from Dec. 14-21 for the South Texas Plains.

“The length of the day really what determines a lot of the factors that impact wildlife. As day-length shortens going into winter, that’s going to determine that process of the breeding cycle,” Reidy said. “When the doe go into estrus, that’s when those bucks really get rolling. That coincides generally with cooler weather because (of the) shorter day-length and winter time frame.”

The weather may play factor to this year’s hunting season, but South Texas hunters shouldn’t be discouraged for next year’s hunting season, Reidy said.

“Generally in high rainfall years, we do see higher fawn crops (and) we like to see good fawn crops. That means the deer population is growing and (there will be) more deer for people to hunt,” Reidy said. “From our perspective as biologists, I like to see a greater than 50 percent fawn crop (and) we’re probably seeing much higher than that in most places this year -- closer to that 70, 80, 90 percent.”

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