SAN ANTONIO – Hunters in Texas should expect to see improved harvests and opportunities when the season opens due to better habitat conditions.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said thanks to rain in the spring, there was an abundance of vegetation for deer to eat. Since those weeds and flowers are “a critical component of a deer’s diet coming out of winter,” that helped with the growth of bucks, lactating does, and new fawns, a news release states.
The improved habitat also helped with the survival rate of fawns.
TPWD states even in areas that didn’t receive as much rain, antler quality should still be better than in 2022.
“Texas has one of the longest deer seasons in the nation, so take some time this fall and winter and enjoy one of the best deer herds in the country, right here in your home state,” white-tailed deer program leader Blaise Korzekwa said in the release.
Hunters should also expect to see an increase in harvests, as the last season produced a reduced number of bucks, TPWD states.
However, that doesn’t mean Texas is clear of the drought.
“While we’ve been in drought for a good two years now, spring rains temporarily helped keep it in check and greened us up,” KSAT meteorologist Justin Horne said. “The brutal summer, however, brought the drought right back. Now, this fall, rains are once again chipping away at the drought situation. We still have a long way to go.”
The general season for white-tail deer starts on Nov. 4, and the general season for mule deer starts in mid-late November, depending on where you live. Click here to see hunting seasons by animal.
Here is the white-tailed deer season forecast by ecological region (information provided by TPWD):
The Cross Timbers ecoregion in north Texas has the second-highest deer population in Texas, with more than 820,000 animals, just behind the Edwards Plateau region. Higher densities of deer are generally found in the central part of the region. Because of the relatively consistent fawn production, buck age structure is generally well distributed across all age classes. Hunters focusing on mature bucks should not be disappointed with the upcoming season.
Edwards Plateau/Hill Country
Surveys show the Edwards Plateau has the highest deer population in the state, with an estimated 1.6 million animals. Hunters looking for opportunities to see lots of deer when afield should put this area on the priority list to hunt this fall.
Harvesting does around Llano and Mason counties will be especially important to relieve browsing pressure on habitats by lowering deer densities and bringing the doe-to-buck ratio more in balance.
Western Edwards Plateau-area landowners and hunters are encouraged to limit the number of does harvested this year in the hopes of increasing the population in the area. This part of the Hill Country saw a population decline from an expansive anthrax outbreak in 2019 and has yet to fully recover.
Hunters should expect an increase in the number of two-and-a-half-year-old to four-and-a-half-year-old bucks due to past fawn recruitment years. Hunters looking for older age-class bucks should focus on the area between Hondo to Del Rio and north of Highway 90.
Pineywoods population surveys estimate more than 330,000 deer throughout the region this season, which is higher than the previous three years. Habitat management is critical to sustaining deer populations in the Pineywoods. Properties that manage for quality habitat year-round often see more deer taking advantage of the environment during hunting season.
Initial estimates show a lower density of deer between Houston and Beaumont, with improved population numbers near Tyler.
Hunters should expect a few more bucks in the five-and-a-half-year-old range compared to the younger age bucks.
Post Oak Savannah
The Post Oak Savannah ecoregion enjoyed a good spring which should contribute to average fawn production this year. Higher deer populations could be found along the Interstate 10 corridor between San Antonio to Houston.
Population densities will be lower east of Dallas due to habitat fragmentation. Relative to other age classes, there should be more bucks in the four-and-a-half-year-old class.
The Eastern and Western Rolling Plains generally have a lower deer population than other regions. Severe drought conditions and low fawn recruitment in 2022 led to a slight decline in the estimated population in this portion of the state.
Sporadic fawn production over the last several years may create age gaps in some of the middle-aged groups, but mature buck numbers remain steady. These regions should expect a great season for mature buck harvest and antler quality.
Antler production is expected to be above average, especially on properties that have limited competition for resources during previous hunting seasons.
South Texas Plains
The South Texas Plains are known for mature bucks and above-average antler quality relative to most other areas in the state. Harvest is expected to be up for 2023 with average to above-average antler quality.
Despite drought conditions in 2022 impacting the number of fawns surviving their first six months, the deer population has remained steady in South Texas. Many hunters passed on harvesting trophy bucks last season in hopes of improved habitat conditions in 2023. Biologists expect the two-and-a-half-year-old to five-and-a-half-year-old age classes to be abundant and offer plenty of opportunities to see mature bucks.