Whitetail Hunting photo

It started in fall 2010—the epic drought that has since plagued the south-central region. During the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons, fawn recruitment was low to non-existent, adult deer died off, and antler size was average at best. The landscape across Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma’s deer country looked like the moon. Rain is such an important part of the equation for healthy wildlife populations, and sometimes we forget that … until the rain stops.

But 2014 is a better year. Rainfall has been at average levels in some parts of the region, below in a few and above in others. Overall, the land is in much healthier condition than it has been in four years. That alone is reason to look forward to this coming deer season.

According to Jeff Bonner, wildlife biologist with Texas Parks & Wildlife, “We should expect above-average antlers this year compared to the last three years. Timely spring and early summer rains produced weeds and forbs for deer to eat. Things are definitely better as a whole this year than they have been in several years across Texas.”

Bonner reminded me of a few consequences of the extended drought.

“In 2014, there will be fewer deer overall [because] of mortality and low fawn crops from 2011-2013, but the survivors are the strongest of the herd. The years of 2007 and 2009 were good fawn years in the country north of Abilene into the Panhandle, so in 2014 there should be good numbers of 5 and 7 year old bucks. Due to the low fawn crops of 2011-2013, the 2016-2018 years will have very few mature bucks. That’s when trophy hunters will really feel the effects of the extended drought.”

Friends are already blowing up my phone with trail camera pictures of better-than-average bucks, like the tall-tined buck in the photo above (the exact GPS coordinates are a secret, of course. Deer hunters like sharing pictures, but they don’t like giving away their honey hole!). Antlers are bigger, bellies look fuller, and the deer look normal. There is a renewed sense of excitement. My trail cameras are set and I’ll be checking them soon. I’m eager to see what some of the familiar faces from last season look like.

The drought’s not over, but it’s raining outside at the end of August as I write this. What a nice change. This should be a good year.