Ray: The Drought and Deer

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.

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I took the accompanying photo in the Texas Panhandle. An ominous gray cloud that blackened the western sky at sunset and seemed on a sure course to bring rain to our dusty ranch. It was only a tease. The big clouds skirted around the west side of our property and while my neighbors got some much-needed rain, we never got a drop.

Unfortunately, that has been a common theme across the region this year. Most of Texas, New Mexico and parts of Oklahoma are in the grips of the worst drought in more than 100 years. Wildfires have burned thousands of acres. At my family's ranch in the Texas Panhandle, through the first seven months of the year we had about two inches of rain. The yearly average for that same period is about 12 inches. Other parts of the region are even drier. It's also the hottest summer on record.

This means there's less forage for wildlife. There's also little to no cover for hiding fawns and newborn turkey, quail and pheasant chicks. Recruitment this year will be minimal at best. The drought and searing heat also take their toll on mature animals.

In the upcoming weeks, I'll take a closer look at what these drought conditions mean for deer hunters this fall. Yes, there¹s bad news, but it's not all negative. I've already captured images of a couple of big bucks on my trail cameras. Bucks I've watched for a couple of seasons now. Even in drought years, there are always bucks that defy the odds and get enough nutrition to grow an above-average rack.

In fact, I killed two of my best-ever whitetails, a 176-incher and a 184-incher, in the drought years of 2006 and 2009. Both of those bucks came from a wooded creek bottom where even when the rest of the county was dry, there was always water and some green vegetation along the creek and under those cottonwoods.

In places where deer can get water and access to plants that grow near the water, like the riparian zones where I killed those two big bucks, you can bet the deer will be better off than others living far from such creek channels.

Stay tuned and we'll see what 2011 has to offer.