The pastures are green and look pretty good right now but oh how much has changed this year. The drought arrived last September, roared through the fall and winter, and kicked in 2022 with a vengeance. February saw another brutal winter storm, very little moisture and spring never sprung. Summer heat arrived early and often and we suffered through perhaps one of the driest and hottest summers on record. But finally, August/September rains arrived and helped turn the tide and that brings us here today.
When baby wildlife hit the ground back in the spring and summer, it was hot, dry and lots of bare ground. Few insects, few seeds and even less cover was available, so baby “everythings” suffered because of it. So, production is down across the board this year and that even includes feral hogs! Surveys are still on-going but every ranch has lower numbers this year than in the recent past. This means we must adjust our hunting schemes accordingly to keep the populations healthy and productive and so let’s get started with this year’s forecast.
Whitetail Deer: Central, west and south Texas all have a low fawn survival rate this year generally speaking. If you practice aggressive predator control and reliable supplemental feeding, you have more than your neighbors, but you are still down from the past few years, unless you use the DMP Permit. So identifying HOW LOW is very important because the harvest is controlled by the production. Get detailed with your surveys to identify the fawn survival rate before you finalize any hunting plans to be successful. Regardless of the low rate, harvest is still required to remove those animals not needed or wanted on the range. There will always be bucks that do not impress you or have traits you want to remove such as no brow tines, narrow spreads, few number of points, so work on those types this fall and leave the bucks you do like in the pasture for breeding. I would not recommend harvesting any yearling bucks this fall because they are struggling. Spike antlered bucks comprise 30-50% of the entire yearling cohort so harvesting spikes this year will remove the bulk of your entire cohort and we know those little guys are struggling with nutrition. I would be aggressive on the mature bucks with eight to nine or fewer mainframe points and leave the ten points alone this year. Hunt hard and cull deep starting in the middle age class but be very conservative on the high-quality bucks this year. Of the antlerless deer to select for harvest, start early by harvesting the oldest female you can find that does not have a fawn present. There is a need to lower the total densities on many ranches and removing the older does without fawns are easy to identify early in the season. Do not wait to harvest antlerless deer late this year because bucks will be shedding their antlers much earlier this year and it removes the chance of accidentally harvesting a buck fawn as well.
Turkey: Production has been down for the past three consecutive years. Overall turkey numbers are down so take it easy on the birds this year. They are struggling from the back-to-back February freezes and now the drought. With few insects and few seeds available, turkeys are having to really work hard just to make a quality living so you can expect to see many of them at your feeders this fall.
Quail: Covey counts are way down this year for the same reasons as turkey. Some adults are now pairing back up and fixing to nest again this late in the year. Success will be very low, but the little birds are thankfully tough and resilient. I recommend putting some milo or chicken scratch or even bird seed in your corn feeders this fall and winter to help give them and the turkeys some extra help this year. In far south Texas, particularly in the sand sheet country, quail numbers are solid, however, covey size is small. There should be plenty of birds for late-season hunts thanks to the abundant but late rains.
Feral Hogs: Amazingly, hog numbers are also down this year, so you know the drought was a tough one. Sounder/litter size is less than half of what it normally is, so this is the year to make real headway on controlling their numbers. Trapping, shooting, aerial gunning is all recommended to make real progress this year. You can expect to see many hogs at the feeders this year but realize their overall numbers are down substantially so do your part and help keep those numbers low for as long as possible.
Exotics: Most exotic numbers are up, except for blackbuck antelope. Axis are rebounding nicely from the freezes and all populations are growing once more. Blackbuck are still struggling so take out any predator encountered this year in order to help them recover even faster. Most of the exotic species are great eating so once you finish harvesting the whitetail allotment this fall, take a few exotics home with you too because they are typically very good eating. So, the weather patterns have made this a tougher year than normal. Animal numbers are down this year BUT we have much work still to be done. Surveys, fawn counts and targeted harvesting is required this year. Use your binoculars carefully, feeders won’t be as popular during early season as compared to late and so it looks to be an active season despite the tough growing conditions earlier this year.
Deer Season Dates:
North Zone Nov. 5, 2022 - Jan1, 2023
South Zone Nov. 5, 2022 - Jan. 15, 2023
Antlerless: Oct. 1. 2022, February 28, 2023
Bucks: Oct. 1. 2022- Nov. 4, 2022 (one unbranched antler), Nov. 5, 2022 - Feb. 28, 2022 (all bucks)
Whitetail Deer: Oct. 1, 2022 - Feb. 28, 2023
Mule Deer: Oct. 1, 2022-Nov. 4, 2022 (antlerless and bucks may be taken via archery equipment). Nov. 5, 2022 - Jan. 29, 2023 (all deer may be taken via any legal method)
Sept. 1- Nov. 12
Dec. 18-Jan. 3
Sept. 1-Nov. 1
Dec. 18-Jan. 14
Sept. 14-Nov. 1
Dec. 18-Jan. 23
SPRING CREEK OUTDOORS Fall Newsletter