For the past three years, drought has been part of any conversation about land and wildlife in the south central region. Without adequate rainfall, there is little cover to hide fawns from predators, little to no crop production, no spring and summer plant growth on rangelands to provide food for deer and produce big antlers on bucks. And, of course, water is scarce. The most recent drought map shows random parts of Texas and the extreme western Oklahoma Panhandle with some drought conditions, but New Mexico is the worst off. Almost the entire state is shaded in red and brown, indicating extreme and exceptional drought levels.
But central and eastern New Mexico, some of the driest regions on the earth the past three years, have received good rains in the last couple of weeks. The ranch where I bought a landowner permit to hunt pronghorns this year got 3 inches of rain in one storm. In the eastern Oklahoma Panhandle, friend Shawn Hoover reports they’ve had about 10 inches of rain this summer. His land looks much better this year than it did last year and he is optimistic for better-than-average antlers this fall.
At my ranch in the Texas Panhandle, we received good rains in July and August. That’s a little too late to help much with antler development--early spring moisture is when it matters most--but the grass is tall and the land is rebounding fast. So while the region as a whole is still considered in various stages of drought, some places have received above average rains and conditions are improving.
Last year, more than any year I remember, bucks with broken racks were common across the region. Selective hunters passed up many bucks with broken tines and busted main beams. (One possible explanation for all the broken racks, according to one biologist I talked to, is that the bucks had brittle antlers, caused by mineral deficiencies due to the drought.) I passed up two solid 140-class bucks last season because of that condition. I’ve already got pictures of both of those familiar faces on my trail camera. I’ll be hunting for them early in October.
As I write this in late August, bucks are still in full velvet. The rut is a long ways off, but the time is now to setup trail cameras and start scouting. Hopefully, weather patterns are changing and this will be the last year to talk about drought.
About the Author: The ranches and farmland of the Lone Star state and its neighbors have some tremendous deer, and Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family’s Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y nontypical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM