Changes in Deer Regulations Could Affect Hunting Plans
Although the season is still months away, many Texas hunters are starting to make deer hunting plans. Changes to hunting regulations this year could affect those preparations, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
State wildlife biologists have been working to simplify and restructure regulations governing deer seasons to manage resources more effectively and to enhance hunter opportunity without adversely impacting deer populations. In the process, a number of counties will see changes in harvest restrictions and season dates this fall. Following is an overview of those changes and the counties affected. For additional information, hunters are urged to review regulations in TPWD’s Outdoor Annual available in August.
Elimination of Aggregate Bag Limits — The department in 1989 implemented what is popularly referred to as the ‘aggregate bag limit’ rule, which designated a number of one-buck counties, primarily in the eastern third of the state, from which, in the aggregate a hunter could take no more than one buck. For example, if a hunter took a buck in Nacogdoches County (one-buck bag limit), that hunter could not take another buck in any other county affected by the aggregate bag limit rule.
At the time, the department’s intent was to prevent the overharvest of buck deer in regions of the state where populations were low or hunting pressure was high with respect to abundance. In 1999, to increase hunter opportunity the department separated the aggregate one-buck counties into two zones divided by Interstate Highway 35, allowing a hunter to harvest a buck from each zone. Harvest and population data from counties on either side of the I-35 dividing line, counties that by their proximity to each other were the likeliest to incur greater buck harvest, indicates no significant deviation from historical trends over the period from 1999 to the present.
The department is therefore eliminating the aggregate bag limit, meaning that a hunter could take the statewide personal bag limit of three bucks by taking one buck in each of three one-buck counties. A similar provision applied to counties with a two-buck bag limit (i.e., a hunter could take one buck in two, two-buck counties, or two bucks in a single two-buck county, but could not take a third buck in another two-buck county). The department’s concern in this case was that hunters would focus on taking a third buck, which could lead to an unwanted decline in doe harvest. Analysis of harvest data indicates that this concern may not be as pressing as originally thought; therefore, the aggregate two-buck bag limit is being eliminated as well. Therefore, this portion of the new section is necessary to reduce regulatory complexity.
Alteration of Doe Days — Prior to this rulemaking, there were five ‘doe day’ packages: 4, 9, 16, 23, or 23-plus days (the 23-plus package allows the take of does until the Sunday following Thanksgiving, which means the package length varies from year to year). The new section would eliminate the 9- and 23-day ‘doe day’ packages and increase the number of ‘doe days’ in many counties, and introduce ‘doe days’ in some counties where the take of antlerless deer has been by permit only.
Counties now having four ‘doe days’ to take place from Thanksgiving Day to the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving Day are: Bowie, Camp, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Grayson, Hopkins, Lamar, Morris, Red River, Titus, Upshur, and Wood counties.
Counties where ‘doe days’ will increase from four to 16 are: Cass, Harrison, Marion, Nacogdoches, Panola, Sabine, San Augustine, and Shelby counties.
Counties where ‘doe days’ will be replaced with full-season, either-sex hunting in the Panhandle and northern Rolling Plains are: Armstrong, Borden, Briscoe, Carson, Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Donley, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hansford, Haskell, Hemphill, Hutchinson, Jones, Kent, King, Knox, Lipscomb, Motley, Ochiltree, Randall, Roberts, Scurry, Stonewall, Swisher and Wheeler counties.
Counties where ‘doe days’ will increase from 16 to 23-plus days are: Hardeman, Wichita, and Wilbarger counties.
Counties where ‘doe days’ will increase from nine to 16 days are: Denton and Tarrant counties.
Counties where ‘doe days’ will increase from nine to 23 days are: Cooke, Hill, and Johnson counties.
Counties where ‘doe days’ will be revised from a fixed 23-day season to 23-plus days are: Brazoria, Fort Bend, Goliad (south of U.S. Highway 59), Jackson (south of U.S. Highway 59), Matagorda, Victoria (south of U.S. Highway 59), and Wharton (south of U.S. Highway 59) counties. The alteration will make rules governing antlerless harvest consistent with those in a number of adjoining counties to the east.
Buck Harvest Restrictions — The new regulations also alter the take of buck deer in Austin, Bastrop, Brazoria, Caldwell, Colorado, De Witt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Goliad, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Jackson, Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Matagorda, Victoria, Waller, Washington, Wilson, and Wharton counties. Hunting pressure in the Post Oak Savannah ecological region has been excessive for more than 30 years. Hunter-harvest survey data collected by the department indicates that this area has some of the highest hunter densities in the state.
In 1971, the department instituted a one-buck bag limit in an effort to reduce pressure on the buck segment of the population. Although the one-buck bag limit successfully redistributed hunting pressure, it did little to reduce overall buck harvest. Department data indicate that prior to 2002, 80 percent of the buck harvest in these counties was comprised of bucks younger than 3.5 years of age.
In response to requests from concerned landowners and hunters in the area, the department in 2002 implemented what at the time were called ‘experimental’ antler restrictions, which defined a legal buck as a buck with at least one unbranched antler (typically a spike buck), a buck with at least six antler points on one side, or a buck with an inside spread of 13 inches or greater. The rules were designed to protect the majority of bucks in the younger cohorts until those deer could reach a level of physical maturity.
After three years under the experimental rules, the department’s intensive survey effort indicates that the percentage of harvested bucks younger than 3.5 years of age had dropped from 80 percent to 29 percent and the percentage of harvested bucks 3.5 years of age and older increased from 20 percent to 71 percent.
These data also show a decline in the harvest of spike bucks and an increase in the harvest of bucks with an inside spread of 13 inches or greater, which means that one effect of maintaining a one-buck limit under the antler restrictions is that hunting pressure is deflected from the spike-buck segment of the population, which is undesirable. The new regulation implements a two-buck bag limit, one of which must have at least one unbranched antler, and redefines a legal buck as a buck having an inside spread of 13 inches or greater or at least one unbranched antler. The six-points-or-better criterion in effect prior to this rulemaking is eliminated, as department data clearly indicate that the 13-inch-or-better standard is sufficient by itself to protect younger bucks.
Eliminating the 6-points-or-better criterion simplifies the regulation, while resulting in a negligible decline in mature-buck harvest. By adding a second buck to the bag while requiring at least one buck to have an unbranched antler, the department intends to encourage the harvest of spike bucks which department research has indicated are less likely to develop into lawful bucks.
The department has conducted public scoping sessions in other areas of the state to gauge constituent attitudes about these kinds of buck harvest restrictions, but no official action has been taken for the upcoming 2005-06 hunting seasons.