Hunting Season Outlook is Good

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Thanks to timely rainfall and good wildlife production, this fall's hunting prospects are good, state wildlife biologists predict.

"Based on the reports I'm getting from the field, this year is shaping up to be a good one across the board," said Mike Berger, Wildlife division director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "I urge hunters, both veteran and new, to get out and be a part of it."

Hunting plugs about $3.6 billion into the state's economy, but equally significant is Texas' hunting heritage. Last year, more than one million hunters took to the field in pursuit of game ranging from squirrel to white-tailed deer.

Based upon recent field census, TPWD officials are suggesting the following general outlook for the upcoming 2003-04 hunting seasons in Texas.

White-tailed Deer — Texas boasts a whitetail population of about 4 million and most are heading into the fall in good condition. According to TPWD deer program leader Clayton Wolf, timely spring rains resulted in range conditions that helped jump-start antler development in most areas of the state. "White-tailed deer hunting prospects look good for most of the state," Wolf noted. "Most of the state had good soil moisture and forb production from late winter through spring. Antler size per age class should be good to excellent. Body condition should be average to above average, but this late summer dry spell could have some negative impact on body weights if it persists. That won't necessarily be bad for the hunters. Less than optimum forage conditions just prior to and during the hunting season could result in increased harvest success."

Mule Deer — Increased precipitation throughout much of the Trans-Pecos has done much to improve forage quality and quantity, and cover, according to mule deer program leader Clay Brewer. "These improved conditions should provide for an excellent overall 2003-04 hunting season with numbers and body weights increasing and enhanced antler quality expected," said Brewer. "However, the western portion of the Trans-Pecos continues to experience a long-term dry cycle. Deer numbers, body weights, and quality should remain similar to the previous season in this area. Mule deer hunting in the Texas Panhandle should parallel the 2002-03 hunting season with numbers, body weights and antler quality all being good. No significant changes in population and/or antler quality are anticipated for the upcoming season. Despite dry conditions, mule deer should have wintered well as a result of access to cropland."

Pronghorn Antelope — As with mule deer, improved climatic conditions should provide for an outstanding pronghorn hunting season in the Trans-Pecos, Brewer predicts. Recent surveys indicate a 24 percent increase of pronghorns from last year. Significant improvements in body weights and horn quality are expected. "Overall, pronghorn numbers are holding and are fairly stable throughout most of the Panhandle region," said Brewer. "While some outstanding quality was observed at various locations during surveys, overall quality is expected to remain average. Body weights should remain high. As with mule deer, access to crops will help to offset poor range conditions."

Dove — Hunting prospects for both mourning dove and white-winged dove should be good to excellent, according to Jay Roberson, TPWD dove program leader. While the mourning dove breeding population index in May 2003 showed no change from the previous year, said Roberson, large concentrations have already been noted in South Texas. "This may indicate earlier or larger production of young this year," he noted. "We expect at least a 10 percent improvement in hunter success this year." As most ardent dove hunters know, success depends largely upon habitat conditions and weather. Heading into the season, conditions are starting to look ripe. Biologists indicate an abundance of wild dove feed available including pigweed, croton, and sunflower in most of the best dove hunting areas of the state.

Waterfowl — The key to good duck and goose hunting is cold weather and snow in the north and good habitat conditions in Texas, according to migratory game program director Vernon Bevill. Traditional wintering grounds along the upper and central Texas coastal marshes remained extremely dry heading into August. More rain is needed to produce native wetland foods by late October and November. "Waterfowl hunting looks better this year because of improved breeding production, and we're getting back the option of hunting canvasback for 39 days as well as holding on to a 39-day option for hunting pintails," said Bevill. "If it stays dry, those who have water pumped or natural) will have birds."

Quail — Good production last year and a mild winter through most of the state provided a good spring breeding population, said Steve DeMaso, TPWD upland game bird program leader. "Weather conditions were good for most of the spring, providing a good first hatch," he noted. "As summer has progressed, conditions have remained favorable in some areas of the state and conditions have declined in others. There is still a lot of time between now and opening day. Weather conditions during the hunting season will play a big role in hunting success. Statewide, the season should be above average. Specific areas that should be good for bobwhites are the Panhandle and southern Rolling Plains and South Texas. Other areas should see more bobwhites, but not the level of south Texas and the Rolling Plains. West Texas should provide good opportunities for scaled quail hunters."

Fall Turkey — Most of the state had good production for about the third year in a row, according to DeMaso. Fall hunters should see an abundance of jakes, as well as two and three-year-old birds. Statewide fall turkey season should be above average.