2013 Texas fall hunting season forecast again shapes up to be good

By on September 5, 2013
Texas hunting seasons again have shaped up to be good.

Texas hunting seasons again are here, and with a little help from Mother Nature things are looking up for doves, deer, ducks and a host of other wildlife.

With that in mind, here is a preview for fall hunting seasons, including the best areas of the state for a variety of game:

Doves

OUTLOOK: Some hunters have found birds while others have had to work for them in the early season.

The ongoing drought that has affected most of the state hasn’t been as bad in East Texas and North Texas, but it still has put a premium on moisture sources for migrating birds. Hunters looking to fill their 15-dove daily limit should concentrate on even the smallest amount of steady water, be it a fresh playa or dependable stock tank.

Despite extended drought conditions that continue to linger across much of Texas, wildlife biologists are predicting a good dove hunting season, which this year offers increased opportunities for white-winged doves in South Texas.

Texas boasts fall dove populations in excess of 40 million birds and its roughly 300,000 dove hunters harvest about 6 million birds annually (5 million mourning doves and a million whitewings) or nearly 30 percent of all doves taken in the United States. Dove hunting also contributes more than $300 million to the state economy.

Dove hunting provides an entry into the sport of hunting because it is relatively economical and accessible. Through its Public Hunting Program, TPWD offers affordable access to quality hunting experiences with the purchase of a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit.

This year TPWD again has leased tens of thousands of acres of public dove hunting fields, many of which are located near major urban areas. The hunting units are distributed from South Texas to the Panhandle and from Beaumont to West Texas.

Waterfowl

OUTLOOK: Texas will continue to see liberal hunting season dates and even more liberal bag limits under waterfowl frameworks issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The duck count remained well above the overall long-term average coming in at just less than 46 million birds during this year’s summer report. That 45.6 million number is 33 percent above the long-term average, but is actually less than last year’s record of 48.6 million ducks.

Population estimates for eight of the 10 surveyed duck species increased or were at similar levels to last year, according to the study. Estimated mallard abundance was 10.4 million birds, similar to the 2012 estimate of 10.6 million birds and 36 percent above the long-term average. Greenheads always are a welcome sight in the late season and there should be plenty across the Rolling Plains, North Texas and East Texas this winter.

Blue-winged teal estimated abundance was 7.7 million. Although that was 16 percent below the 2012 estimate of 9.2 million, which was off the charts, the blue-wing population is 60 percent above the long-term average. Similarly, the green-winged teal estimate of 3.1 million is 12 percent below last year but still 51 percent above the long-term average. Hunters will be able to bag six teal during the early September season in Texas based on the overall abundance of the fluttering fliers. You may not see many teal during the late season, but if you do, they’ll be in big flocks, which doesn’t mean they’re any easier to hit.

The pintail estimate of 3.3 million was similar to the 2012 estimate of 3.5 million and was 17 percent below the long-term average. These birds love the Texas coast and areas such as Rockport, Port O’Connor and Baffin Bay will have rafts of them later in the season.

Estimated abundance of American wigeon was 2.6 million and 23 percent above the 2012 estimate and similar to the long-term average. These birds also like coastal climates, but typically can be found in good numbers in the Cross Timbers area, enjoying the solitude of stock tanks and farm ponds that are still around later in the year.

Surveys conducted each January during the past decade along the coast show that nearly 2 million ducks winter there each year, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports. Surveys of the High Plains region also show that more than a half-million ducks winter there annually, including more than a third of the pintails in the Central Flyway.

Population estimates for eight of the 10 surveyed duck species increased or were at similar levels to last year, according to the study.

Deer

OUTLOOK: Dry conditions push animals to food and water sources. Nowhere is this more evident than when looking at deer species.

Even in down or average seasons, we’ve still got it good when it comes to deer quality.

We have the largest white-tailed deer population in the country, and coupled with an increase in habitat management statewide, it means that regardless of whether you’re sitting in a Pineywoods thicket, a South Texas sendero or a Panhandle shelter belt, the odds of seeing your best buck ever are as high as they’ve ever been on any given fall afternoon.

However, ongoing drought has gripped the entire state since last year and has been detrimental to growth and overall production for all wildlife. Deer in particular have been hit hard in some areas. Without adequate moisture, forbs and other forage sources drastically have been thinned out, and in many locales does and their offspring also have greatly been affected. One thing that may help some bucks make it through this fall are the antler restrictions in place in more than 100 counties in East Texas, the oak and coastal prairie regions and the eastern edge of the Edwards Plateau. Those frameworks also have aided the overall age structure in those parts of the state, which has done big things as more deer that may have been harvested in the past get more time to walk.

While the overall big buck outlook is not as bright as it has been in previous years when we received plenty of moisture and there was loads of high-protein natural forage during the spring and summer, there still are going to be plenty of deer out there with impressive headgear.

Turkey

OUTLOOK: Fall turkey hunting is different than the pursuit in the spring, when revved-up gobblers readily come to imitations made by hunters as the breeding season is in full swing from the top of Texas to the bottom.

This year’s fall Rio Grande turkey season frameworks run into January in notable hot spots such as the Edwards Plateau, and hunters are able to take either sex of birds in most places. However, in some counties hunters may only harvest gobblers, jakes or bearded hens during the fall months. Check the Outdoor Annual produced by TPWD to make sure you’re legal on all accounts.

The annual bag limit for Texas turkey hunters in the aggregate for all counties is four. That includes eastern turkeys, which may only be hunted during the spring, with a limit of one eastern bird per year. The aggregate also applies to spring seasons so hunters should be cautious of using up all their tags in the fall if they anticipate wanting to chase after the birds in March, April and May.

The main thing to consider when fall turkey hunting is safety. There are many more hunters in the field, at least a half-million or more people hunt deer in Texas even in below average seasons, according to TPWD estimates, and rifles carry much more destructive force over longer ranges than do shotguns. Hunter safety instructors and game wardens urge hunters to not wear anything with blue, red or black hues during the spring as the colorations could cause confusion for hunters in low light or who are too quick with pulling the trigger before identifying a target. That is doubly reinforced in the fall, especially if you’re hunting on public tracts of land.

Quail

OUTLOOK: Dry conditions and other factors continue to work against this species. Biologists and land managers continue to wonder where all the quail have gone, with scientists looking at numerous theories, including viruses, predation and dry conditions.

Hot, dry conditions made it tough to hunt the birds last season and are set to continue beginning in the October opener.

Pheasant

OUTLOOK: These are some of the most sought-after game birds in North America with hunters scouring fields in numerous Midwest states.

The only viable population of birds in the state is in the Panhandle and despite dry conditions, the birds always seem to be plentiful. Part of the bird’s ability to thrive has been the Conservation Reserve Program which pays landowners to leave areas unplanted. The effect is more cover and food sources for wildlife.

Pronghorn Antelope

OUTLOOK: Tthe pronghorn numbers in Texas and surrounding states should stay about the same, though in some years, landowners have excess permits they can’t sell to hunters.

The short season in Texas keeps the animals from any kind of over-hunting.

2013-14 Texas Hunting Seasons

Doves

  • North, Central Zones: Sept. 1-Oct. 23 and Dec. 20-Jan. 5
  • South Zone: Sept. 20-Oct. 27 and Dec. 20-Jan. 20

Teal

  • Sept. 14-29

Pronghorn Antelope

  • Sept. 28-Oct. 6

White-Tailed Deer

  • Archery: Sept. 28-Nov. 1
  • Youth Season: Oct. 26-27; Jan. 6-19
  • North Texas (212 Counties): Nov. 2-Jan. 5
  • South Texas (30 Counties): Nov. 2-Jan. 19

Mule Deer

  • Archery: Sept. 28-Nov. 1
  • Panhandle (39 Counties): Nov. 23-Dec. 8
  • Southwestern Panhandle (11 Counties): Nov. 23-Dec. 1
  • Trans-Pecos (19 Counties): Nov. 29-Dec. 15

Pheasant

  • Panhandle (37 Counties): Dec. 7-Jan. 5

Quail

  • Oct. 26-Feb. 23

Sandhill cranes

  • Zone A: Nov. 2-Feb. 2
  • Zone B: Nov. 22-Feb. 2
  • Zone C: Dec. 21-Jan. 26

High Plains Ducks

  • Youth Season: Oct. 19-20
  • Regular season: Oct. 26-27 and Nov. 1-Jan. 26

North, South Duck Zones

  • Youth Season: Oct. 26-27
  • North regular season: Nov. 2-Dec. 8 and Dec. 21-Jan. 26
  • South regular season: Nov. 2-Dec. 1 and Dec. 14-Jan. 26

Western Zone Geese

  • Nov. 2-Feb. 2

Eastern Zone Geese

  • White-fronted geese: Nov. 2-Jan. 12
  • Canada geese: Sept. 14-29; Nov. 2-Jan. 26
  • Light geese: Nov. 2-Jan. 26

For more information, check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, available wherever licenses are sold.

Hunting Licenses and Permits

Resident hunting: $25

  • Valid to hunt any legal bird or animal (Stamp endorsement requirements apply)

Special Resident Hunting: $6

  • Valid for residents and non-residents younger than 17 and residents 65 or older (Stamp endorsement requirements apply to persons 65 and older)

Non-resident General Hunting: $315

  • Valid to hunt any legal bird or animal (Stamp endorsement requirements apply)

Non-resident Special Hunting: $132

  • Valid to hunt exotic animals, all legal game birds excluding turkeys and all nongame animals (Stamp endorsement requirements apply)

Non-resident Five-Day Special Hunting: $48

  • Legal for any period of five consecutive days and valid to hunt exotic animals, all legal game birds excluding turkeys and all nongame animals (Stamp endorsement requirements apply)

Non-resident Banded Bird Hunting: $27

  • Valid to hunt banded game birds (bobwhite quail, partridge, pheasant, mallard ducks) on private bird hunting areas

Hunting Stamp Endorsements

Archery Stamp: $7

  • Required to hunt deer or turkey during archery-only open season

Migratory Game Bird Stamp: $7

  • Required to hunt any migratory game bird (waterfowl, coot, rail, gallinule, snipe, dove, sandhill crane and woodcock. A valid federal duck stamp and HIP certification are also required of waterfowl hunters 16 or older

Upland Game Bird Stamp: $7

  • Required to hunt turkey, pheasant, quail, lesser prairie chicken or chachalaca

Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp): $17

  • Required for all waterfowl hunters 16 or older and is available at most post offices, all TPWD Law Enforcement offices and Austin headquarters.

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