Sweeping Texas Deer Regulation Changes Proposed, Public Hearing Dates Set

Austin, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on Jan.
21 authorized the department to seek public comment on a suite of
proposed wildlife and hunting related regulations that would expand
special buck antler restrictions and liberalize antlerless harvest
opportunities in dozens of counties, part of a broader move to
transition away from political boundaries and toward
biologically-based communities for managing deer populations.

Also, after extensive public scoping, the department has dropped
consideration of a general gun deer season in Grayson County, opted
to keep the current pheasant season in the Panhandle, and proposed
the first ever deer season in Parmer County. The commission also
decided not to expand youth hunting season throughout October, but
did propose 12 new youth hunting days in January, among other items
detailed below.

The deer proposals are part of statewide proposed hunting and
fishing regulation changes for the upcoming 2009-2010 season. The
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has set a record 46 public
hearings across the state in February and March to explain the
proposals and seek public input. Hearing dates and locations are on
the
2009 TPWD Statewide Public Hearings Web page
. After the
regulations proposals are published in the Texas Register in early
February, anyone may also comment online via the
TPWD Opportunities for Comment Web page
. The TPW Commission
will make final decisions about proposed regulations at its March
25-26 meeting in Austin.

In proposing a more science-based approach to deer management,
the department has identified 33 unique Resource Management Units
(RMUs) across the state having similar soils, vegetation types and
land use practices they believe will more accurately capture deer
population dynamics. The intent is to develop deer season bag limit
frameworks based on these units, although implementation will still
track county boundaries to avoid confusion among hunters.

In briefings to the TPW Commission’s Regulations Committee Jan.
21, the department Wildlife Division staff unveiled an extensive
suite of potential regulation changes in deer harvest throughout
much of the state, as well other wildlife proposals. The proposals
are substantially similar to early ideas described last fall, with
three significant changes involving youth-only hunting seasons, the
archery-only season in Grayson County, and a new mule deer season
for Parmer County, as detailed below.

Expansion of Antler Restriction Regulations

One key proposed change involves further expansion of the
department’s successful antler restriction regulations into 52
additional counties where biologists have identified a need to
provide greater protection of younger buck deer. In these counties,
data indicates more than 55 percent of the harvested bucks are
two-and-a-half years of age or younger, which creates an imbalance
in the deer herd age structure.

According to Clayton Wolf, TPWD big game program director, the
antler restrictions have improved age structure while maintaining
ample hunting opportunity, based on data to date in the 61 counties
where the rule is currently in effect.

Proposed affected counties include: Anderson, Angelina, Archer,
Atascosa, Brazos, Brown, Chambers, Clay, Cooke, Denton, Ellis,
Falls, Freestone, Grayson, Grimes, Hardin, Harris, Henderson, Hill,
Hood, Hunt, Jack, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Kaufman, Liberty,
Limestone, Madison, McLennan, Milam, Mills, Montague, Montgomery,
Navarro, Newton, Orange, Palo Pinto, Parker, Polk, Robertson, San
Jacinto, Smith, Stephens, Tarrant, Trinity, Tyler, Van Zandt,
Walker, Wichita, Wise, and Young.

Bag Limit Changes

The department is also proposing to increase the bag limit from
one buck to two bucks in Baylor, Callahan, Haskell, Jones, Knox,
Shackelford, Taylor, Throckmorton, and Wilbarger counties. Wolf
noted this area of the state is characterized by relatively large
tract sizes and light hunter density and deer numbers have grown
over the years as habitat has become more favorable to white-tailed
deer.

In addition, the department proposes to increase the bag limit
from four deer to five deer in Pecos, Terrell, and Upton counties.
White-tailed deer densities throughout the eastern Trans-Pecos are
very similar to densities on the Edwards Plateau, where current
rules allow the harvest of up to five antlerless deer. This change
would increase hunting opportunity while addressing a resource
concern.

The department also proposes to increase the bag limit in most
Cross Timbers and Prairies and eastern Rolling Plains counties from
three deer (no more than one buck, no more than two antlerless) or
four deer (no more than two bucks and no more than two antlerless)
to five deer (no more than 2 bucks). Counties affected include:
Archer, Baylor, Bell (West of IH35), Bosque, Callahan, Clay,
Coryell, Hamilton, Haskell, Hill, Jack, Jones, Knox, Lampasas,
McLennan, Palo Pinto, Shackelford, Somervell, Stephens, Taylor,
Throckmorton, Wichita, Wilbarger, Williamson (west of IH35), and
Young.

Another proposed change would increase the bag limit from three
deer to five deer (no more than one buck) in selected counties in
the western Rolling Plains. Although white-tailed deer densities
are highly variable in this part of the state, areas containing
suitable habitat have become saturated with deer and whitetails are
expanding into marginal to poor habitat. Browsing pressure is
severe in these areas, where little woody vegetation exists within
five feet of the ground. The proposal would provide additional
hunting opportunity while addressing a resource concern.

Counties affected include: Armstrong, Briscoe, Carson,
Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Donley, Fisher,
Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hardeman, Hemphill, Hutchinson,
Kent, King, Lipscomb, Motley, Ochiltree, Roberts, Scurry,
Stonewall, and Wheeler.

The department is also proposing for the first time a general
open season in Dawson, Deaf Smith, and Martin counties (three deer,
no more than one buck, no more than two antlerless).

Another issue where deer surveys indicate a need for change
involves additional antlerless deer harvest opportunities.
Therefore, the department proposes to increase antlerless deer
hunting or “doe days” in the following areas:

  • from 16 days to full-season either-sex in Dallam, Denton,
    Hartley, Moore, Oldham, Potter, Sherman and Tarrant counties;
  • from 30 days to full-season either-sex in Cooke, Hardeman,
    Hill, Johnson, Wichita, and Wilbarger counties;
  • from four days to16 days in Bowie and Rusk counties;
  • from four days to 30 days in Cherokee and Houston
    counties;
  • from no doe days to four doe days in Anderson, Henderson, Hunt,
    Leon, Rains, Smith, and Van Zandt counties.

This proposal offers more hunting opportunity as well as making
“doe days’ more consistent within each resource management unit (a
suite of counties with similar population and habitat
characteristics). Data indicate that the deer populations can
withstand the additional harvest pressure proposed.

The department also proposes to expand the late antlerless and
spike season into additional counties. Counties affected include:
Archer, Armstrong, Baylor, Bell (West of IH35), Bosque, Briscoe,
Callahan, Carson, Childress, Clay, Collingsworth, Comanche, Cooke,
Coryell, Cottle, Crosby, Denton, Dickens, Donley, Eastland, Erath,
Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hamilton, Hardeman,
Haskell, Hemphill, Hill, Hood, Hutchinson, Jack, Johnson, Jones,
Kent, King, Knox, Lampasas, Lipscomb, McLennan, Montague, Motley,
Ochiltree, Palo Pinto, Parker, Pecos, Roberts, Scurry, Shackelford,
Somervell, Stephens, Stonewall, Tarrant, Taylor, Terrell,
Throckmorton, Upton, Wheeler, Wichita, Wilbarger, Williamson (West
of IH35), Wise, and Young. In Pecos, Terrell, and Upton counties,
the proposed season would replace the current muzzleloader-only
open season.

Biologists are also proposing a special muzzleloader season in
additional counties, lengthening the existing muzzleloader season
by five days to be equivalent in length with the special antlerless
and spike buck seasons in other counties, and altering the current
muzzleloader bag composition to allow the harvest of any buck (not
just spike bucks) and antlerless deer without permits if the county
has “doe days” during the general season.

Counties affected include: Austin, Bastrop, Bowie, Brazoria,
Caldwell, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Colorado, De Witt, Fayette, Fort
Bend, Goliad (North of HWY 59), Goliad (South of HWY 59), Gonzales,
Gregg, Guadalupe, Harrison, Houston, Jackson (North of HWY 59),
Jackson (South of HWY 59), Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Marion, Matagorda,
Morris, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby,
Upshur, Victoria (North of HWY 59), Victoria (South of HWY 59),
Waller, Washington, Wharton (North of HWY 59), Wharton (South of
HWY 59), and Wilson.

In response to a commission directive to seek additional youth
hunting opportunities, last fall the department began looking at
extending the early youth only season to include the entire month
of October and the late youth-only season by 12 days during January
in selected counties to run concurrently with late antlerless and
spike seasons. The intent of the idea was to allow adults and
children to hunt together during different special seasons.

The October youth-only proposal generated significant
opposition, especially from bowhunters, who are currently able to
hunt that month before gun season starts. Department leaders and
staff met with the Lone Star Bowhunters Association in December and
the group articulated several persuasive points. First, they
pointed out that days of opportunity are not the primary bottleneck
limiting youth hunting; bigger factors include a need for more
mentors to take young people hunting and a need for increased
hunter access to public and private land. They expressed strong
support for increased youth hunting opportunity, and pointed out
that bowhunting is one of few hunting segments that is growing,
saying the sport has grown from about 70,000 to more than 100,000
bowhunters in Texas over the past l5-to-20 years. They said the
current archery season before gun season functions as recruitment
tool to get people into bowhunting during a quieter and less
crowded time, and they pointed to growing Archery in the Schools
programs nationally and in Texas as feeder programs that could
further increase bowhunting’s popularity.

For all of these reasons, TPWD will not propose making all of
October part of youth-only deer season. Instead, commissioners
directed the staff to seek public comments on a proposal to add one
additional weekend and 10 additional weekdays in January to the
current youth-only season. For next season, that would add Jan.
4-15, 2010 as additional youth-only days. Currently, the only
January dates in the existing youth-only season are the third
weekend.

The department had also been considering a petition to implement
a general open season (with antlerless harvest by permit only) in
Grayson County, where currently archery is the only legal hunting
means. The petition provided impetus to explore something TPWD
staff had already been considering-a more science-based approach
consistent with deer management by Resource Management Units in
surrounding counties.

However, after extensive discussion with stakeholders, including
a special public meeting held Jan. 8 near Sherman, the department
received overwhelming public opposition to allowing gun hunting in
Grayson County. The public input process did yield substantial
benefits, including improved relationships with local hunter groups
and elected officials, who offered to assist TPWD. As are result,
gun hunting is not being proposed for the county. Instead, the
department is proposing new archery regulations and a new
collaborative project to collect better data for future deer
management.

Current deer regulations in Grayson County allow archery-only
harvest of one buck, two antlerless deer, and four “doe-days” per
hunter. The proposal is for TPWD staff to coordinate a volunteer
data collection effort to collect harvest data at a county scale.
It would keep archery-only hunting, but would change harvest
regulations to a two buck bag limit with antler restrictions, and
antlerless hunting by permit only.

The department is also proposing a one buck only, anterless by
permit, nine-day mule deer season for Parmer County, the first ever
deer season for that county. This proposal was discussed last fall,
but held until the latest mule deer survey data for the county
became available this month.

Game Bird Issues

The department is proposing a temporary, indefinite suspension
of the current lesser prairie chicken two-day season in October
until population recovery supports a resumption of hunting. TPWD
biologists are involved in various actions to recover the bird,
which is a candidate for threatened species listing. Conservation
efforts include an interstate working group and steps to restore
and protect habitat on public and private land, since habitat is
the primary key for the species to recover.

Regarding pheasant season, the department had been scoping an
idea to move the pheasant season up a week, so that it would open
the Friday after Thanksgiving and run for 30 consecutive days.
However, because of strong opposition from Panhandle communities,
that idea has been dropped from proposed regulations changes.

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