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Acorn crop and rainfall impact Highland Lakes deer prospects

General deer season opens Nov. 1 across the Highland Lakes. Area biologists are reporting a mix of good acorn crops to a limited amount depending on rainfall. But the deer appear healthy, and officials are expecting a good season. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

LLANO — When hunters head to the field for general deer season, they could find a mixed bag of nuts as far as natural food sources.

“Some areas are seeing acorns, while in other areas, we didn’t seem to get much acorn crop at all,” said Dale Schmidt, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist out of Llano County. “In those areas without the acorns, I haven’t seen a great amount of forage coming in. So it should mean in those places, the deer will be coming to feeders.”

Acorns provide a natural source of food for white-tailed deer and other wildlife. Given a choice between natural forage and feeders, deer prefer nature’s bounty, leaving hunters who are dependent on corn feeders a bit out of the loop. For a while, at least.

“The deer and the hogs will go through those acorns pretty fast, probably,” said Kevin Schwausch, a TPWD technical biologist. “But until then, it could mean fewer deer coming to feeders.”

Schwausch, who provides assistance to landowners in the Highland Lakes, noted the acorn crop seems to get stronger the farther east you move across the area. A lot of that follows the rainfall patterns this past year.

“I have landowners in Llano County who, until this last round of rainfall, were telling me they only had about nine inches the entire year,” he said. “But then you find pockets with more rainfall. It’s really been hit and miss.”

Habitat and vegetation directly impact deer numbers, quality and health.

Schmidt pointed out one of the ways landowners and hunters can determine what’s happening on their property or lease is by looking for a distinctive browse line. This is an area along which deer eat brush and vegetation – usually from 54 inches high on down. If a landowner can see a distinct browse line, he or she might want to look at reducing deer numbers a bit more aggressively.

Overall, both Schmidt and Schwausch reported seeing healthy deer in the area.

“Hunters may not see many deer coming in (to feeders), but those they do (see) should be good ones,” he added.

Schwausch said the warm weather the area is experiencing could keep deer away from feeders as they turn to acorns and natural forage for food. But that could change if a couple of cool fronts push through and knock back some of the natural forage.

“A lot of what happens depends on the acorns,” he said.

Erin Wehland, a TPWD biologist who serves Burnet County, agreed with the assessment.

“In general, conditions look to be pretty good,” she said. “The acorn crop definitely plays a part in some of the early season success if you’re at a feeder. It’s a seasonal food, but once it’s gone, hunters should begin seeing more deer come in to the feeders.”

Until then, hunters can change tactics, including monitoring game trails where deer move to and from food sources (acorns) and bedding areas or water. Another method is rattling bucks in by knocking two antlers together to simulate fighting bucks. Though this works best during the rut, early season or pre-rut rattling can sometimes draw the attention of bucks.

“Overall, this should be a good year,” Schwausch said. “We’ve already seen some nice bucks come (off during bow season.) Hunters just need to be patient.”

General deer season is Nov. 1 through Jan. 4, 2015. Go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us for more information, season limits and dates as well as to purchase hunting licenses.

editor@thepicayune.com