White-tailed deer are the most popular big game animal for hunters in North America, and the Texas Hill Country boasts one of the largest regional populations of the species. Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Even though Chris Mostyn of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hasn’t been “rolling around in the brush” in the weeks leading up to general deer season, the Llano County biologist likes what he’s seeing.
“Everything is looking good,” Mostyn said. “We had some good rains last winter and good spring rains. It turned off in the summer, but that’s normal. I think even with the recent dry summer, the deer are healthy.”
Those are words hunters like to hear.
General deer season opens in the North Zone, which includes Burnet, Blanco, Lampasas, and Llano counties, on Saturday, Nov. 7, and continues through Jan 3, 2021. With some of the highest white-tailed deer numbers in the state, both overall and in density, the Texas Hill Country is a beacon to hunters looking to fill their tags.
TPWD biologist Erin Wehland covers Burnet and Lampasas counties. Like Mostyn, she’s encouraged by what she’s seeing on the land and what she’s hearing from her co-workers and landowners.
“I would say they’re pretty healthy,” Wehland said of the area’s white-tailed deer population.
Both Wehland and Mostyn pointed to this past spring and the previous fall and winter as laying a good foundation for this year’s deer health and quality.
“I think if you went back to last year, we had this tremendous acorn crop, and they didn’t rot,” Wehland said.
The acorns provided a nutritious food source for deer as they entered the breeding season — also known as the rut — and the winter, which turned out to be fairly mild. It also contributed to a healthy birth rate in late spring and early summer.
Though this year’s fawns aren’t the mature deer that hunters are targeting, a good fawn crop is indicative of the health of the overall white-tailed population.
As for bucks with nice antler growth, Mostyn said a number of factors play a role, including the deer’s age, genetics, and, again, nutrition.
“I think one of the most critical attributes is nutrition,” he said.
He and Wehland also pointed out that land management, something with which they assist landowners, factors into the types, quality, and amount of food available to wildlife.
While the Hill Country isn’t considered “trophy country” compared to South Texas, hunters can still expect to see some nice bucks.
Where a strong acorn crop such as last year’s contributes to white-tailed deer health, it also means they might not come to feeders as regularly as hunters prefer. This year’s acorn crop isn’t as bountiful, Wehland said.
“The acorns are out there, but not like last year,” she said. “But you may have pockets of them, but it’s not across the entire region like we saw last year.”
So, deer could gravitate toward feeders more this season, especially as the weather turns colder and particularly after a good freeze knocks back other forbs, or plants, the deer eat. The Hill Country normally experiences regular overnight freezes beginning in late November or early December.
Weather, Wehland and Mostyn added, also can impact deer movement.
Some of that is “hunter bias,” Wehland explained, as people tend to go hunting in cooler weather.
Deer also become more active in cooler weather, she added. And with the rut beginning across the Hill Country around mid-November, hunters might want to take advantage of it and any cool fronts sweeping across the area.
The rut usually stays on schedule, Mostyn said, but weather can affect how deer behave during it.
“Last year about this time or earlier, we had a strong norther come through, and when deer experienced that big weather change, it stimulated breeding behavior,” Mostyn said. “When you see a temperature drop, that’s a big attribute that stimulates breeding behavior.”
He and Wehland recommended hunters keep an eye on the weather and consider heading afield during or following a cold front.
In the end, the key to a successful deer season rests with hunters. Being in the field or woods, monitoring deer activity and behavior, and tracking weather changes can help hunters fill their tags.
“As far as hunters go, they just need to have everything in place and be in tune with the weather,” Mostyn added.