By TODD NAFE
Pigeon season is heading into its third week and while reports have been generally good, the best hunting will come as significant cold fronts start to appear on a regular basis. Birds that spend summers in Heartland will migrate south in waves and within a month, central Texas should be awash with pigeons.
But by then, many hunters will be focused on whitetail deer season, which begins Oct. 1 for archers. There will be a special youth-only season the weekend of October 29-30, followed by the start of the general deer season on November 5.
Texas Parks and Wildlife white-tailed deer program leader Alan Cain says that while extreme drought conditions have created tough times for antler and carcass growth, the upcoming deer season should deliver good harvest numbers. and opportunities.
The drought has affected deer quality, thanks to a lack of vegetation during the summer, and wildlife biologist Josh Sears says that while this season should be a good one for meat hunters, trophy hunters are likely to feel disappointed. “While deer numbers have increased thanks to healthy recruitment of young in recent years, the 2022 drought has caused significant antler problems,” Sears said.
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“Antler, the fastest growing animal tissue known to man, reaches its maximum growth when protein is readily available during the April through August growing season. The lack of rain in central Texas during the spring and summer prevented much of these proteins from being produced naturally.
The end result of a lack of nutrition, Sears said, is stunted antler growth. He also predicts lean body weights, especially early in the season. “If the live oak acorn crop doesn’t yield, body weight can continue to be below average throughout the season,” she said.
Acorns are a favorite food for deer, squirrels and other critters, but this year’s acorn crop, again thanks to the drought, is below normal. “Acorns provide a carbohydrate-rich diet for deer so they can store fat reserves to use over the winter,” Sears said. “Unfortunately, I’m not seeing a lot of live oak production again this year.”
He notes that subnormal antler growth and body mass pertain primarily to free-range deer populations, noting that under high-enclosure and managed conditions, protein deficiency can be compensated with supplemental feeding.
When it comes to deer, rain is the key to having a healthy herd. A drought not only has a negative impact on physical growth, but also affects offspring production. The good news for early season hunters is that feeders will be in high demand from hungry deer. There are an estimated 5.4 million white-tailed deer in Texas and last year’s harvest was nearly 830,000.
Rain? That rain?
The recent rains were like spitting on fire. It was enough to green up the gardens, but the rain hasn’t been substantial enough to do what we really need: raise lake and stream levels. Lake Waco is currently about 10 feet below normal, and the rivers and streams that flow into it have been reduced to trickle flows and stagnant puddles.
Forecasters predict that central Texas will experience higher-than-normal temperatures and lower-than-normal precipitation through the end of the month. There is not even relief in sight from the tropics and we are in the peak of the hurricane season. But the rain will return, the levels will normalize and this brutal summer will go from misery to memory.