Experimental Antler Regulation Results Encouraging
A unique set of experimental regulations governing the harvest of buck deer in a six-county area of the Post Oak Savannah ecological region appears to be having the desired affect, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department field reports.
"We expected about a two-thirds reduction in the number of bucks harvested and I believe we will have at least that amount," said Gary Graham, Ph.D., TPWD wildlife division director. A lot of hunters we've visited with have seen bucks and let them walk because they do not meet the antler restriction criteria. Passing up a buck is a new mindset for a lot of hunters, but most that we have talked with are very excited about what they might see in their deer stands in a year or two."
During the first month of the general deer season, hunters have brought in 345 legal bucks and a few illegal bucks to the mandatory TPWD deer check stations set up in the six county area where the new regulations took affect this fall. In Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Washington counties, hunters may harvest a buck only if it is one of the following:
- A deer having a hardened antler protruding through the skin and at least one unbranched antler or:
- A deer having one antler with six or more points or:
- A deer having an inside spread measurement between the main beams of 13 inches or greater.
"Of the 345 bucks brought to check stations during the first month of the season, 215 had an inside spread greater than 13 inches, 124 had one unbranched antler, and 6 had six points on one antler," said Bob Carroll, TPWD wildlife district leader in LaGrange. "We believe that the number of deer brought in with one unbranched antler will increase as we get closer to the end of the season because hunters have been holding out for a 13 inch or greater spread buck."
Biologists and game wardens have knowledge of about two dozen bucks that were taken illegally in all six counties during the first month of the deer hunting season. "From the reports I've seen, hunters like the idea of doing something about the quality of the bucks they have an opportunity to harvest," noted Col. James Stinebaugh, TPWD law enforcement division director. "I would say that the new restrictions have been successful with a minimum of problems in enforcement."
The regulation is designed to address intense hunting pressure on buck deer in the affected counties and is expected to protect about 65 percent of the buck population the first year, according to Carroll, allowing more deer to mature and thereby create a more balanced herd and higher quality hunting opportunity in future years. The average spread of a 3.5-year-old buck is 13 inches in the affected counties, he noted, and the approximate distance between the tips of a buck deer's ears is 13 inches.
"Most of the comments that we have received from hunters have been positive," said Carroll. "We did an informal survey of the hunters that came by check stations the first week-end of the season and out of 70 hunters, 65 approved the new antler regulation. We have a better relationship with the public in these counties than we have had in my 36 years of service with TPWD."
The experimental regulation will remain in effect for three years.