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Sweeping Texas Deer Regulation Changes Proposed

From the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission

-- AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission will 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. This is part of a broader move to transition away from political boundaries and toward biologically-based communities for managing deer populations.

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.

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 to 16 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 has 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 15 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, antlerless 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.

For more information, see the public hearing calendar at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/meetings/statewide_hearings
Comments made be made on the Online Public Comment Page at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment

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