A Hot, Dry Year Will Affect Size of Texas Deer

The 2011 calendar year was the driest, hottest year in Texas' recorded history. Not a great year for growing big antlers overall or for producing a good fawn crop.

Now, in 2012, Texas is still in the grips of a drought. In my backyard, the Texas Panhandle, we had decent rains through the first five months of the year. That helped the bucks get a good start on antler growth. But then things turned hot and dry starting in early June. July was a scorcher with many days at or above 100 degrees. We are well below the average on rainfall for the year. So what does all this mean for deer hunters?

Expect average antler growth on bucks again this season. Of course, there will be exceptions. Even in a drought, some bucks defy the odds and get enough nutrition to grow bigger-than-average antlers. Also, expect low fawn survival rates, again. That means back-to-back seasons of low to no fawn recruitment in many locations. Bad news for 4-5 years down the road when there will be a shortage of mature bucks.

Ranches with supplemental feed programs, few or no cattle and well distributed water will fair better than overgrazed, poorly managed ground.

My front yard is a mix of dried, yellow grass, patches of dirt and cracks running so wide and deep you could drop a bicycle in one and lose it forever! We need rain. And lots of it. But even if a flood of Biblical proportions hit tomorrow, it would be too late to help bucks grow bigger antlers this season.

Despite the bleak news, I've already seen a couple of bucks with good racks, both whitetails and mulies. I'll share some trail camera photos in future reports. Drought or not, the rut will happen.

Postscript: After I wrote this report, 1.3 inches of rain fell at my ranch in the Texas Panhandle in one night. It will certainly help the landscape and the animals, but overall the region is still way behind the average on rainfall. And the state as a whole is still very dry.

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 non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.