Woods, waters and wildlife: Deer hunters take a back seat

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The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission had a chance recently to rectify a decades-long discrepancy between the closing dates of the North Texas Deer Zone and the South Texas Deer Zone.

The TPWD staff had proposed lengthening the North Zone season so that it closed two weeks later next season on the same date as the South Zone – the third Sunday in January.

The staff of professional wildlife biologists saw no biological reasons to deny the petition for rule making presented to it by the public that requested the change. Hunters had questioned the different closing dates for years.

The longer deer season in South Texas has existed since the 1990s and came about when one member of the commission—a South Texas hunter -- pushed for it back then. He also got the commission to approve a third buck tag for hunters in South Texas counties. Those differences still exist. (See Outdoor Annual, page 86, for Maverick County in the South Zone, and Menard County in the North Zone).

The difference in bag limits was not part of the annual changes in hunting regulation changes proposed by TPWD staff on March 22 when the 2018-2019 Hunting and Fishing Proclamation was considered. It seemed like everything was moving smoothly, until the extension of closing date of the North Zone deer season came up.

Even then, when the wildlife biologist presenting the proposals announced the score of comments and testimony received, 91 percent favored standardizing the closing dates as the third Sunday in January to correspond with the South Deer Zone closing date. Some quail hunters had opposed it, as had the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee.

Several members of the public testified. One quail hunter spoke against the change since it would mean a conflict between quail hunters and deer hunters. A representative from the National Wild Turkey Federation announced their support for the proposals. The executive director of the Texas Wildlife Assn. stated general support, but ambivalence regarding the season date extension.

Approval still seemed likely. Then the commission chairman voiced his disapproval of extending the deer season closing date in the 226 counties in the north zone. He entertained a motion to strike that item from the proposals, and the proposals passed without the closing date extension.

The chairman is extremely well respected – one of the most conscientious commission members I have observed in 50 years of following the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. But knowing that quail hunting often declines in late January and February due to cold weather affecting the fragile birds, it seemed like a curious move. And much of the North Zone is only fair quail habitat, at best. Roughly 20 or so counties in the Rolling Plains are usually exceptions, but even they can be inconsistent. Considering the overpopulation of deer in the Hill Country and Cross Timbers, two more weeks of deer hunting appeared desirable.

Did the tail feathers wag the dog?

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