Ray Sasser: Harvest now to protect deer population

Whitetail does are fair game in most Texas counties.

Outdoors

Deer hunters are afield by the hundreds of thousands this weekend, and many will end their first hunt without firing a shot.

That’s not because they won’t have an opportunity to harvest a deer. Last year’s statewide deer population was estimated at 3.95 million, the highest since 2005. Alan Cain, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s white-tailed deer program leader, thinks there are well over 4 million deer this year.

Seeing a deer is not a problem in most of Texas. The vast majority of those who hunted on opening day had a shot but chose to be selective, looking for a nice buck and ignoring the does eating corn at their feeders or wandering into wheat fields in late afternoon.

Cain said excellent range conditions resulted in good fawn survival. He advises hunters to take as many does as possible to keep deer numbers at a level that the habitat can sustain. The best time to take does is early in the season, but many hunters put doe harvesting off because they consider it a chore.

As the season progresses, deer become more skittish because of hunting pressure. Those who avoid doe harvesting until late in the season often fail to fulfill their management objectives. Every county that has a deer season allows some harvesting of female deer, though rules vary by county.

Some counties require doe permits; others have doe days of varying lengths. Many allow doe harvesting throughout the season and allow a hunter to take as many as five does per season. Check the laws for where you hunt, either online at http://tpwd.texas.gov or in the Outdoor Annual of hunting and fishing laws available where licenses are sold.

Mountain men of yore had a quaint saying about city slickers who came west to hunt elk. “They don’t know poor bull from fat cow,” is how they put it. Mountain men were hunting for sustenance rather than for big antlers that looked good nailed to a wall.

Mature bull elk run themselves ragged chasing cows and fighting other bulls during breeding season. A cow elk was the premier meat for early explorers.

We should take a lesson from those rugged survivors who helped tame the west. Buck hunting is fun, but female deer are better to eat. Wild venison is sustainable meat without growth hormones or other additives. White-tailed venison is about as lean and healthy as any red meat you’ll find.

Treated right in the field and the kitchen, venison is very tasty. I’m glad deer season is open because our freezer is barren of venison. Our family ate three deer in the last year, two of them does.

We fry the backstraps and tenderloins, make pot roasts from the large muscles of the hindquarters and grind the remainder to use as hamburger meat.

Even if you truly do not enjoy the flavor of venison, you should take a doe or two for the sake of game management. There’s an excellent program called Hunters for the Hungry where you can donate the deer.

You’ll have to drop the field-dressed deer off at a participating meat processor and pay a reduced meat processing fee, usually about $40. Whatever amount you pay can be deducted as a charitable donation from your income taxes. Be sure to keep the receipt.

Hunters for the Hungry processors will skin and quarter the deer, bone the meat, then grind it and package it for distribution through the Texas Food Bank Network to food banks, soup kitchens, food pantries and other assistance providers. Locate participating food processors online at www.tfbn.org.

Calendar

Nov. 21 — Mule deer season begins in the Panhandle.

Nov. 27 — Mule deer season begins in the Trans-Pecos.

Nov. 29 — First split of duck season ends in the North and South zones.

Dec. 5 — Pheasant season begins in 37 Panhandle counties.

Dec. 18 — Second split of dove season begins statewide.

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