Once again, TPWD predicts banner deer season

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

It's a broken record, I guess, but there's rarely if ever a bad deer season in the state of Texas.

And that's even true after a massive Arctic air invasion, combined with nearly two weeks worth of snow, ice and extreme cold last February, did it's absolute best to hurt the Lone Star State's famous white-tailed deer herd.

But even with days of sub-freezing cold — and even some significant sub-zero cold — the end result was little effect on the nation's best overall deer herd.

In fact, Winter Storm Uri or not, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists recently predicted in a news release that the Lone Star State's deer hunters can expect an exceptional 2021-22 white-tailed deer season as it gets underway this weekend. 

TPWD reminds that the general season runs from Nov. 6 through Jan. 2, 2022 in the North Zone — including here in Grayson County where the means and method of harvest is restricted to lawful archery and crossbow gear — and Jan. 16, 2022 in the South Zone. A special youth-only gun deer season is set for Oct. 30-31 and Jan. 3-16, 2022.

Wherever it is that you hunt in the next several weeks, you should see plenty of deer. Why is that? Because biologists estimate that there are some 5.4 million deer residing in Texas right now. And while that figure might be down slightly from previous years, TPWD biologists indicate that fawn recruitment (fawn survival rates) predictions this year still indicate an overall robust population increase headed into the season.

As is usually the case, that TPWD optimism comes because of habitat conditions in recent months as the state's white-tailed deer herd takes advantage of several months of rainfall, good food, and solid growing cycle conditions throughout much of 2021.

With the possible exception of last February, of course, when Old Man Winter did his best to upset everything in Texas from power supply to groceries at the store to even the amount of wildlife roaming the landscape of Texas. But after the two week spell of arctic weather, TPWD says that late spring rains provided needed relief and accelerated forb growth (weeds and flowering plants) and grass production, all of which  helped to bolster deer body conditions ahead of the fall and winter.

For this upcoming season, TPWD biologists expect good whitetail numbers across much of the landscape this fall, including the Cross Timbers, the Edwards Plateau, and the Pineywoods areas where an estimated eight to nine hunters per 1,000 acres will hunt. While there are good deer numbers, biologists do warn that early on in the season, an abundant acorn crops and good native forage is likely to slow early season movement.

That means that like always, harvest numbers can vary dramatically as the season progresses, along with where a hunter is hunting and how much quality habitat there is in the area.

As has been the case for decades now, TPWD biologists say that the state's Hill Country, or more technically, the Edward’s Plateau, once again has the highest deer population in the state with an estimate of more than two million deer. Biologists says that hunter success in the Hill Country runs about 79-percent each fall with some 12.7 deer being harvested per 1,000 acres.

In the agency's deer season forecast news release, TPWD said that Hill Country hunters should expect to see more bucks in the mature age class (5.5 years or older), that number being relative to other age classes after good fawn crops from 2013 to 2016. To find older, mature, trophy class bucks, TPWD recommends the area between Hondo and Del Rio to the north of Hwy. 90.

The South Texas Plains, or the Brush Country south of San Antonio, is the state's best region again for mature bucks and above average antler quality this year. While trophy bucks reside in most other parts of the state, the Brush Country is home to the most Boone and Crockett, Pope and Young, and Texas Big Game Award entries each year. And with hunter success estimated by TPWD to be 79 percent last year, and with an estimated harvest of 7.9 deer per 1,000 acres in 2020, expect more bragging size bucks to come from South Texas this fall.

How about closer to our backyard, up here in the Post Oak Savannah ecoregion? TPWD says that estimated deer densities can vary widely, ranging from 32 to 89 deer per 1,000 acres. If you've ever driven the backcountry roads in Grayson County and counted the buck's you've seen on one hand, you know that this part of the world isn't the best spot in Texas to deer hunt.

At least where numbers are concerned. But there is trophy potential here as a glance at the Grayson County Whitetail Record Book will show. And almost certainly, there will be another few entries of huge bucks coming to the 2021-22 version of the GCWRB, thanks to another year of solid antler growth and fawn production.

While deer densities are pretty low in portions of the Post Oak Savannah region — particularly in the area north of Interstate 20 and east of Dallas — TPWD says that age and antler surveys indicate that 66 percent of the buck harvest in 2020 was represented by bucks 3.5 years old or older. That means plenty of mature, trophy class bucks and more of the same is expected this season in the same area.

What about in East Texas? TPWD notes that 2020 survey data from  the Pineywoods showed a deer population at more than 280,000 whitetails, which is higher than the previous three years. The agency's news release does note that although the area has been plagued by relatively low fawn production, population growth has remained stable for the past five years or so.

And with fawn production  expected to be above average going into the 2021-22 season, TPWD predicts that could bolster the overall deer population in East Texas. With the area's buck harvest trends indicating that 53.3 percent of the previous year’s harvest were bucks 3.5-years-old or older, hunters should expect more of the same in 2021 as the antler restriction regulations continue.

To the west and southwest of Texoma, TPWD says that the Cross Timbers region of north Texas continues to support the second highest deer population in the state with more than 800,000 deer currently estimated by biologists. And with fawn recruitment in 2021 expected to be around 60 percent, and with exceptional habitat conditions at times this year and early fawn reports this summer, it should be another good year in this particular region. Especially in light of above average fawn crops in 2016 and 2017, which TPWD says may suggest that the region could have more bucks in the 4.5 to 5.5-year-old age groups right now, at least relative to younger age classes.

Out towards Abilene, in the popular Rolling Plains region, the area's lower deer population looks to still be increasing in 2021 according to the Austin-based agency. In fact, TPWD says that deer harvest success is slightly higher in the eastern Rolling Plains right now with a 69 percent success rate in 2020 along with a 65 percent success rate in the western Rolling Plains. And like other regions of the state, expect similar hunting success this year.

With that look at numbers around the state heading into the 2021-22 general deer season, what about the quality of antlers riding on top of the noggins of bucks roaming the Lone Star State countryside? Well, TPWD gives a thumbs up there too and says that statewide, antler quality is predicted to be well above average this season, thanks again to timely precipitation, good habitat, and the solid genetics that the state has throughout much of its whitetail range.

The bottom line is this on the eve of the 2021-22 general deer season in Texas. There are plenty of deer, there are plenty of big bucks, and this is not the year to sit at home if you love chasing whitetails across our great state. Once again, the Texas deer season looks to be about as good as one could hope for. And in this state, that's saying something, isn't it?