Lynn Burkhead — Outlook is good as Texas archery season begins

Herald Democrat
On the eve of the Lone Star State's early archery season opening up on Saturday, Oct. 2, deer numbers remain high across the state, habitat is in great shape, and antler quality is good. As a result, archers can expect another good year of bowhunting across the state, including here in Grayson County.

In simple terms, there is rarely a poor deer season in the state of Texas, a place that supported more than 5.4 million whitetails last year.

In fact, only severe drought and broiling hot summers — the kind experienced in 2011, for instance — put a serious dent in the Lone Star State’s voluminous whitetail resource.

And even after the historic winter weather siege last February, a nearly two week parade of arctic cold fronts, snowstorms, and even sub-zero temperature readings, the damage appears to be minimal to the Texas deer herd according to Alan Cain, the white-tailed deer program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“We’re currently finishing up some survey work right now, and we’ll have a better handle on things by next month, but as far as we can tell right now, the freeze really didn’t impact whitetails in Texas,” said Cain. “That’s not too terribly surprising since whitetails are pretty adaptive at handling extreme weather events.”

According to Cain, reports this spring and summer seem to indicate that the state’s deer herd — the largest in the nation — came through the historic visit from Old Man Winter with little long term impact.

“What we’re hearing is that there was very little mortality,” said Cain. “We might have lost some real old deer, but you almost expect that. Mother Nature tends to weed out the old and the weak and the young and sick. Overall, our deer population came through Winter Storm Uri without too many problems.”

Cain does note that the same can’t be said for the state’s exotic game animal populations since there were numerous reports of significant losses of axis deer, blackbuck antelope, etc.

But on the eve of the 2021 early archery deer season in Texas, which runs from Oct. 2-Nov. 5, the outlook for bowhunters is good. With one caveat, of course.

“It’s going to be, from what I hear from our biologists right now, a little bit green and lush early on,” said Cain. “It’s been a little dry the last month or so, but there’s still a lot of native forage out there. I’d say that early this month, you’ll stand a better chance of getting a buck if you hang your stand in a creek bottom filled with oak trees rather than near your corn feeder.”

The reason for that advice is because deer prefer Mother Nature’s banquet table to the gold nuggets that come out of a feed bag. While corn feeders have their place and certainly are a big reason why Texas deer hunters are so successful each year, nothing compares to the real thing when it comes to early season food.

In fact, when asked what tips he might have for bowhunters this next month, Cain didn’t hesitate: “Find the acorns, I’m serious. In fact, one landowner I work with said that he walked the creeks on his property last week and the trees were loaded up with acorns. That might explain why some hunters are seeing corn pile up right now under their feeders.”

But despite the wealth of acorns and native forbs right now, hunters — including the Lone Star State’s bowhunting crowd — should expect to see another great fall of whitetail action unfold in many of the state’s 254 counties.

“White-tailed deer forecasts and expectations are, in large part, driven by habitat conditions that the deer are experiencing across their range in Texas in the eight to ten months prior to the season,” said Cain in a news release that TPWD sent out a few days ago.

“Though the end of 2020 was dry, and early 2021 experienced freezing conditions that delayed green up of important browse plants, the late spring and summer rainfall acted like liquid fertilizer for forb, grass, and woody plant production and has provided a buffet of natural forages for deer.”

Combine all of that with a relatively mild summer, and the result should be bucks having high antler quality, healthier fawn crops that have good body weights, and does that are in prime body condition right now should a hunter want to simply put some meat in the freezer.

What about conditions here in the Red River Valley, a place with a strong history of archery hunting?

As always, in a place where deer numbers are not as robust as they are in other parts of the state, expect some mixed results.

“Deer populations in that particular part of the world range from as few as 8 deer per 1,000 acres to as many as 45 deer per 1,000 acres,” said the Pleasanton, Texas based biologist. “Like most places, it just depends on how good the habitat you’re hunting on happens to be.”

Grayson County, which has seen a couple of previous challenges to its archery only status over the years and might see another one in the future, is much the same.

If you’re in the right spot with good habitat, you’ll see a few deer and maybe even a bruiser buck like the 190 3/8-inch net non-typical arrowed last fall by Tyler Wells or the 152 3/8-inch net non-typical tagged in 2021 by bowhunter Dustin Counts.

But if you’re not in one of the county’s select spots, then you might spends days — even weeks or the whole season — wondering where the deer are.

The good news is that there are ample opportunities, some in Grayson County and plenty in other counties, so archers can tag a bruiser buck in October well before the state’s traditional gun season opens next month.

How successful will those bowhunters be? Cain said that last year, there were approximately 852,000 deer harvested in Texas during the 2020-21 season, including 12,959 deer in the Blackland Prairies; 113,231 in the Cross Timbers; and 89,702 in the Pineywoods.

Of that total number of deer taken by all methods (gun, bow, and muzzleloader), the deer harvest by archery equipment made up approximately 11.05 percent of the state’s total harvest according to Cain.

Cain also notes that while there aren’t any hard and fast numbers on exactly how many bowhunters there are in Texas, he can back into an approximate figure through some of TPWD’s survey work. In that work, when asked what weapon they like to hunt with, some 22.82 percent reported that they used archery equipment during their fall deer hunting activities.

“Now please understand, that doesn’t mean that they only used archery equipment exclusively,” said Cain. “But at least that percentage — right at 23 percent — indicated that they hunt deer at least part of the fall with archery equipment.

While there aren’t any hard and fast numbers here in Grayson County either — either on total number of deer taken by bowhunters or how many bowhunters there actually are in the woods — it stands to reason that bowhunting remains king locally.

And while there aren’t big numbers of whitetails in the local area — drive around in the evening over the next few weeks, even in areas of good habitat and you’ll be hard pressed to see many deer — there are some good ones thanks to the ability of bucks on the local turf to grow old to maturity.

In other words, don’t expect a big number of photos out of Grayson County to find their way to social media over the next three months.

But when you do see one, don’t be surprised if it’s a monster. Because once again, that’s the kind of chance that local bowhunters can look forward to during the 2021 archery season.