Hunting Forecast 2007
Rain promises bounty, unless Mother Nature gets moody.
By John Jefferson
Last year, the hunting forecast was pretty gloomy. Extended drought is not pretty - on landscapes or on wildlife. This year, with the drought having broken, the guys in the know on the ground used a lot of “What a difference a year makes!” and “Night and day!” I almost got happy fingers just typing this.
No one can tell you exactly what hunting will be like in the fall in Texas. All we can do is tell you what the conditions are as we go to press, and let you know the probable results of those conditionsthat is, unless Mother Nature interferes.
The following is what I have garnered from the knowledgeable wildlife biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. You can take what these folks have told me to the bank; just remember, it’s been said that it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. And they didn’t feminize nature for nothing. If the weather changes, all bets are off.
Wildlife must eat. And the plants and seeds the birds and animals gain their nutrition from need rain. So far this year, they’ve gotten it. Jimmy Rutledge, who lives just outside Carrizo Springs and compiled the South Texas reports from the other Brush Country biologists, says January was the second wettest in rain-reporting history. Daniel J. Kunz, in Alice, described it this way: “What was a barren landscape, reminiscent of the moon, is currently lush and healthy … the usual greens, characteristic of good rains, have been replaced by a mixture of colors.” It was that way all across the state, except in the north part of the East Texas Pineywoods, which lagged a little behind, according to Gary Calkins in Jasper.
Let’s see how that affected the game.
Statewide dove program leader Jay Roberson acknowledged that summer surveys had not yet been completed, but the drought held down hunter success last year, and he expects good production this year. Severe spring storms destroyed some nests, howeverincluding one in my retama tree. In the Trans-Pecos, Billy Tarrant predicts spotty success, though numbers are good. Danny Swepston, in the Panhandle, expects good to excellent nesting. Kathy McGinty (Abilene) and Lang Alford (San Angelo) report increasing populations of whitewings and Eurasian collared-doves, the latter of which don’t count in the bag limit. Ralph Suarez, in Ballinger, reminds us that a migratory game bird stamp is required. Whitewings are also increasing in Granbury, according to Dean Marquardt. In South Texas, Brad Porter says there should be enough native forage, crops and adequate water to hold birds there. Let’s shoot!
North Zone: Sept. 1–Oct. 30
Central Zone: Sept. 1–Oct. 30, Dec. 26–Jan. 4
South Zone: Sept. 21–Nov. 11, Dec. 26–Jan. 12
Special South Texas Zone: Sept. 1, 2, 8 and 9,
Sept. 21–Nov. 11, Dec. 26–Jan. 8
(Please report leg bands to 1-800-327-BAND)
Antelope backslid a little in 2006 from the past several recovery years. According to Danny Swepston, in the Panhandle, they are back on track. “Conditions are much improved over 2006 and this should lead to better production and horn development,” he says. Billy Tarrant, in the Trans-Pecos, has similar expectations. Lang Alford predicts improvement west of San Angelo, too, “…unless conditions take a dive.” Stalking may be easier this season with more vegetation to hide behind, rattlesnakes permitting. This looks like the year to go west.
Pronghorn Antelope Season
By permit only: Sept. 29–Oct. 7
Billy Tarrant says bighorns are unfazed by a drought, so 2006 was no setback. Mike Pittman reports a good carryover and expects continued expansion. A record 12 permits were issued in 2006.
By permit only
Poor nesting conditions in 2006 caused a decline. This year, however, Danny Swepston says grain prices have caused farmers to grow out their wheat instead of grazing it, resulting in potentially more nesting cover. The hens will just have to bring the chicks off before harvest! Chip Ruthven, head of the Panhandle wildlife management areas, also expects good reproduction.
Chambers, Jefferson and Liberty counties: Nov. 3–Feb. 24
Panhandle (37 counties): Dec. 1–30
Dean Marquardt blames the hogs’ ingenuity at snatching meals from deer feeders and cattle troughs for their tremendous expansion in recent years. They’ve gotten used to eating well and have reproduced abundantly. They’re everywhere. That’s bad news to ranchers and deer hunters whose feed pens have been torn up, but, as David Sierra in Tyler points out, they provide excellent hunting opportunities and outstanding table fare. Shoot ’em!
No closed season. Landowner permission required. See TPWD Outdoor Annual for licensing requirements.
Jimmy Rutledge says that South Texas rainfall averaged 43 percent above normal through April, and prickly pear - javelinas’ favored food - is “full and robust.” Rick Taylor, in Uvalde, TPWD’s javelina authority, expects good reproduction. Billy Tarrant affirms a sufficient Trans-Pecos population this season.
Approximately 43 counties: Oct. 1–Feb. 24
Approximately 50 counties: Sept. 1–Aug. 31
With rain, quail could be the “comeback kid” of ’07! The habitat is excellent, but carryover of adult broodstock is a problem regarding Panhandle birds, observes Chip Ruthven. The remaining broodstock, you can bet, will do its part. Robert Perez, statewide quail biologist, explained: “When they are at their lowest population level, they have the highest capacity for reproduction.” It’s called “density-dependent reproduction.” So, the feathers have probably been flying!
Jennifer Barrow (Decatur) says although quail are sparse in her area, conditions are favorable for a good hatch. “Production should be optimal,” David Forrester (La Grange) advises, “but we need one more good year.” Charlie Newberry (Henrietta) says, “If landowners left adequate nesting cover, then nesting and brood-rearing are looking good.” Alan Cain (Pleasanton) foresees chicks hatching into favorable conditions. Ashton Hutchins (Pearsall) points to the rain-induced insect production that is so important in the chicks’ diet. (But the chiggers had a good hatch, too!) Nathan Rains, west of the Metroplex, says the habitat is the best he’s seen in his seven years there, but quail are spotty due to land fragmentation. Out west, Billy Tarrant sees it as another good year for scaled (blue) quail. Gambel’s quail also increased.
Statewide (all counties): Oct. 27–Feb. 24
Rio Grande Turkey
T. Wayne Schwertner, statewide turkey biologist, says the ’06 hatch and juvenile bird survival were pitiful. Populations were strong going into last season, however, so carryover was adequate. Throughout the state, nesting conditions are very good, and a substantial hatch is expected. What’s more, the rains enabled insect hatches, which will nourish the poults as they set out to learn how to be turkeys. Most turkey hunting is now done in the spring, but fall hunters will find plenty of gobblers.
Rio Grande Turkey Season
Archery: Sept. 29–Nov. 2
Special youth season (in counties having an open turkey season during the same time period): Oct. 27–28, Jan. 19–20
North Texas (122 counties): Nov. 3–Jan. 6
South Texas (26 counties): Nov. 3–Jan. 20
Brooks, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties: Nov. 3–Feb. 24
No fall season for eastern turkeys
Good rains produced an ample acorn crop and plenty of grass and weeds. Gary Calkins and David Sierra, both in East Texas, predict abundant acorns and good squirrel hunting. Jeff Gunnels says the same thing about East Texas wildlife management areasespecially Keechi Creek. In South Texas, Daniel J. Kunz says rabbits and small furbearers should rapidly increase. He has already observed more cottontails and rodents. Great sport for kids!
Special youth season (51 counties):
East Texas (51 counties): Oct. 1–Feb. 3, May 1–31
Other open counties (see TPWD Outdoor Annual): Sept. 1–Aug. 31
Rabbits and Hares
No closed season
Ty Bartoskewitz coordinated reports from Possum Kingdom District biologists in the north-central part of the state, from Fort Worth to west of San Angelo, and from the Red River to the upper edge of the Hill Country. He describes habitat as “in excellent shape with a tremendous flush of forbs and new growth on important browse species.” In other words, the groceries are on the table in this deer-rich range.
As far west as Abilene, Kathy McGinty says the antlers should be average or better. Danny Davis (Ranger) says the ’06 carryover was average except in counties that came under the new antler restrictions (see TPWD Outdoor Annual). In those counties, more carried over since the restrictions protected many bucks for another season. James Edwards, in DeLeon, feels the consequent carryover of young bucks may be key.
Dean Marquart feels the weather last season - rain, then high wind - also caused an under-harvest in many areas, and more bucks survived. Charlie Newberry says, “This could lead to an increased number of older bucks running around North Texas.” The downside is that lush conditions could hold down hunter success, suggests Raymond Sims in Graham. Ralph Suarez adds that the expected large fawn crop makes it imperative that hunters balance deer numbers with food supply.
Eastward, in the Post Oak Region - between the Hill Country, Possum Kingdom and Pineywoods - Jay Whiteside and David Sierra say similar things: good habitat and good carryover of older bucks should equal improved antlers. But Whiteside doubts deer will concentrate around feeders. Gunnels expects good antlers on Richland Creek WMA.
In the Pineywoods, Gary Calkins feels the carry over and ideal habitat conditions cinch it up for a fine season. David Forrester says antler restrictions in effect in the La Grange area for several years, combined with current conditions, will help hunters see more 13-inch-wide bucks this season.
Deeper into South Texas, Brad Porter points to the good fawn crop four to six years ago — look for more mature bucks there. Alan Cain expects “exceptional” bucks this year. With the habitat as lush as it is, Chancey Lewis (Poth) says he is getting calls wondering why supplemental feed consumption is down. Duh!
In the Hill Country, Joyce Moore says hunters will see fewer young bucks due to a poor fawn crop and poor survival in 2006. Many mature bucks carried over, though, due to the weather-related under-harvest and a heavy acorn crop that kept bucks away from feeders early in the season when much of the harvest occurs. She expects better antlers.
In the Trans-Pecos, Tarrant says Pecos and Terrell counties hold the most whitetails — and some good ones. Panhandle whitetails are in excellent shape, Swepston says. Get ready, taxidermists!
White-tailed deer season
Archery: Sept. 29–Nov. 2
Special youth season (in counties having an open deer season during the same time period): Oct. 27–28, Jan. 19–20
North Texas (200 counties): Nov. 3–Jan. 6
Panhandle (6 counties): Nov. 17–Dec. 2
South Texas (30 counties): Nov. 3–Jan. 20
Late Antlerless and Spike
Edwards Plateau (39 counties): Jan. 7–20
South Texas (30 counties): Jan. 21–Feb. 3
Muzzleloader (23 counties): Jan. 12–20
Parks and Wildlife game biologists all over Texas - from Jeff Gunnels on Richland Creek WMA to Danny Swepston in the Panhandle - reported that spring rains had filled potholes, playa lakes, stock tanks and Lake Travis. Many streams overflowed their banks, creating new wetlands on soil previously parched by a two-year drought, nourishing the land and stimulating germination of annual wetland plants.
Texas is the end of the line for waterfowl migrating down the Central Flyway.
If there is adequate water and feed, many of the birds remain in Texas for the season - or at least for their season! If either or both ingredients are missing, the birds often head further south. The TPWD wildlife field staff said that if the rains continued into the summer, we should see a great fall waterfowl season.
Well, the rains kept coming down. By mid-July, there was still plenty of water and ample feed. And more showers were predicted. But a good season in East Texas depends upon continued rain in the fall and winter to fill bottomlands, according to David Sierra in Tyler.
More important, though, is what happens in the prairie pothole country in the north where the birds breed and brood. And that looks good, too.
Dave Morrison, TPWD’s waterfowl program leader reports, “In (Canadian) provinces that are important to Texas for breeding ducks, conditions are very good to excellent over most of Alberta and Saskatchewan.” That makes him “cautiously optimistic” about the fall migration.
In the Dakotas, a rainy May got it started, and June rains made the good get better. Brood production and survival were expected to be above average. Northeast Montana received substantial rains in May and June, and habitat there improved. Brood survival conditions looked good. Minnesota got torrential rains in the western and northwestern parts of the state, but they may have fallen too late for some species. Still, they created excellent waterfowl habitat.
The central and northeastern parts of the state didn’t get as much rain, but low water levels helped the wild rice cropsaid to be “robust”— and that in turn benefited waterfowl. In Iowa, water levels were adequate, and mallards, blue-winged teal and wood ducks held their own, but Canada goose production was down. Nebraska wetlands have come back from an extended drought and blue-wing breeding was furious. Habitat conditions in Colorado were said to be the best in years - even pintail nests were observed, and pintails are scarce. Most of Wyoming was dry, except the southern portion. Overall, production there was below average.
Duck numbers responded to the good habitat. Every species except pintails has higher numbers than last year, with redheads, shovelers and canvasbacks at record highs. Green-winged and blue-winged teal increased 13 percent and 14 percent, respectively, from last year’s count, and are at their second- and third-highest in history. Mallards increased modestly. Gadwalls jumped another 19 percent and are 96 percent above the long-term average. Wigeons increased 29 percent.
I hope my retriever remembers how to swim.
For waterfowl season dates, pick up a copy of the Waterfowl Digest or visit
Chip Ruthven says the Panhandle deer all came through the winter in good shape. “An old mule deer doe strolled by the office at the Matador (WMA) that could have rivaled me for body fat!” he writes. Danny Swepston expects improved racks. In the Trans-Pecos, Billy Tarrant confirms that 2006 was the first recent “down” year, but his surveys show that muley numbers continue to hold above the long-term average. He says that above-average winter and spring moisture should lead to increases in antler growth and body condition. Mike Pittman says deer on the Black Gap, Sierra Diablo and Elephant Mountain WMAs benefited from moisture earlier this year and antler growth should be average or better.
Mule deer season
Archery: Sept. 29–Nov. 2
Panhandle (36 counties): Nov. 17–Dec. 2
SW Panhandle (7 counties): Nov. 17–25
Trans-Pecos (19 counties):
Nov. 24–Dec. 9
See section on small game. As rabbits and rodents increase, the varmints will follow. Donnie Frels says that coyotes have also increased in the Hill Country due to decreased predator control.
No closed season. Landowner permission required. See TPWD Outdoor Annual for licensing requirements.