Ray Sasser:Tips for a good deer season

Texas hunters are hoping for a shot at a great whitetail buck when deer season begins Saturday.

Every Texas deer season is a personal best for many lucky hunters. With two years of abundant rainfall, Texas is set up for an outstanding season.

There is one slight flaw. There’s a gap in the most desirable age for whitetail bucks.

The 2011 drought killed a lot of fawns. Hunters will see fewer 5-year-old deer than usual. Whitetail bucks generally grow their best antlers at ages 5, 6 and 7. Otherwise, the outlook is good, said Alan Cain, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s white-tailed deer program leader.

“Because Texas is such a large state, we don’t always see good habitat conditions that stretch from Amarillo to Brownsville or El Paso to Houston,” Cain said. “But 2016 has been an unusual year. The vast majority of the state received good rains and, surprisingly, temperatures remained relatively mild.”

Most deer hunters are really buck hunters. They consider doe harvest to be a chore and put it off while they hunt for a big buck. It’s best to fill doe tags early in the season, leaving available browse for remaining deer.

Late winter is the most difficult season for deer. With two years of above-average fawn survival, the estimated population of four million whitetails has grown considerably. Here are some deer hunting tips:

TPWD is asking deer hunters to voluntarily submit harvested animals to a county wildlife biologist to be tested for chronic wasting disease. An unfrozen brain sample is needed for the test, which is done at no expense to the hunter. Details are online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/cwd. The only free-ranging Texas deer to test positive for CWD were female mule deer near the New Mexico border, but the disease has been found in captive white-tailed deer herds.

Whitetails prefer the same weather as people — cool and still. They move less when the weather is hot and/or windy, or during periods of extreme cold or rain. The internet’s long-range forecasts help you be afield when bad weather breaks — when the rain stops, when hot weather turns cool, when the wind dies down or when the sun warms a bitterly cold stretch. Deer bed during inclement weather and get up to feed as soon as the weather breaks.

Carefully study the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Annual to determine regulations on butchering a deer at camp and transporting a deer taken by another hunter. If in doubt about any rule, call the nearest game warden and ask what the law means. Regional office numbers are listed in the Outdoor Annual. You also can find regulations online at www.tpwd.texas.gov or download them via a smartphone application. Read general regulations as well as specific regulations for the county where you hunt. Rules differ in some counties.

Legal shooting hours for deer hunting are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. You can find precise sunrise and sunset times for wherever you hunt at www.sunrisesunset.com/usa/Texas.asp.

A white-tailed deer’s first line of defense is its sense of smell, which is at least as good as a dog’s olfactory abilities. You can do two things to help defeat a deer’s nose. The most important thing is to stay downwind of where you expect to see a deer. That means choosing your deer stand based on wind direction. If that’s not possible, at least spray yourself with one of the scent-killing sprays so popular with archery hunters. An elevated stand helps keep your scent above the animals.

Whitetails may look delicate, but they are tough animals. It takes a well-placed shot to humanely bring one down. Even if the deer runs away, seemingly unhurt, always follow up on every shot. Get a good mark on where the deer was standing when you shot and where it ran, wait 15 minutes (longer if you’re hunting in the morning), then check thoroughly for blood or any sign that the deer was hit. A deer may run more than 100 yards despite a mortal wound. If you know that you’ve made a bad shot, back out and leave the animal alone for as long as possible — overnight if the weather is cold and you’re not hunting in an area with a lot of coyotes. Follow the trail the next morning.

Most Texas deer hunters use automatic corn feeders to bait deer near a hunting blind. The feeders scatter a few pounds of corn at prime movement times and are usually set to go off 30 minutes or so after daylight and an hour or so before dark. It doesn’t take long for multiple deer and/or hogs to clean up the corn. You can keep animals near the blind longer by hand feeding or using a tailgate feeder on a vehicle to put out more corn before entering the blind. If a target buck sees other deer around a feeder, he’s more likely to consider it safe.

Bring a good digital camera on every hunting trip. Use it to take photos of the camp, campfire and your hunting companions.

Common deer hunting violations

No hunter education certificate. Every hunter born on or after Sept. 1, 1971, must pass a state-approved hunter education program. A one-time deferral for $10 is available for hunters 17 or older who haven’t passed the course.

Improperly tagged deer. Use a knife or scissors to cut out the date of harvest and an ink pen to write the appropriate information on the tag.

Harvest log violation. Use your pen to duplicate the tag information on the hunting license harvest log printed on the back of your license.

Untagged deer. The deer must be tagged with the appropriate hunting license tag as soon as it is recovered. Your hunting gear should include tape, wire or some other means of attaching the tag to the carcass.

Hunting without a license. Every hunter, regardless of age, must have a hunting license.

Calendar

Today — Second split of duck season begins in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit.

Saturday — White-tailed deer season begins statewide. First split of duck season begins in the South Zone.

Saturday — Free Texas Parks and Wildlife fly fishing class taught by members of Dallas Fly Fishers, 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, 201 E. Jones St. in Lewisville. The class covers everything from casting to fishing ethics. There is a $5 per car entrance fee to the venue. Classes are for anglers 12 and older. Boy Scouts may take the class to earn requirements for the fly fishing merit badge. Call Richard Johnson at 469-877-0695.

Saturday and Sunday — Special youth-only weekend for duck hunting in the North Zone.

Sunday — First split of dove season ends in the Central Zone.

Nov. 12 — First split of duck season begins in the North Zone.

Nov. 13 — First split of dove season ends in the North Zone.

RAY SASSER is a special contributor to the Denton Record-Chronicle. If you have an area outdoors event or big-catch picture, e-mail drcsports@dentonrc.com.

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