Sports
Reduced wildlife numbers expected going into hunting season
By Adam Russell, Texas A&M
Oct 11, 2018
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Thrall, Texas -- Drought conditions throughout much of the state this summer likely will mean lower wildlife numbers this hunting season, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. John Tomecek, AgriLife Extension statewide wildlife specialist, Thrall, said deer, quail and turkey numbers would likely be affected. Fewer forbs and reduced nutritional value in browse and other food crops along with typical predation are contributing factors, he said. Hunters should also
be careful not to overhunt quail broods. 

“Hunters in areas that experienced drought conditions can expect reduced numbers because of the heat and lack of rain and nutrition on the ground,” he said. “Young animals will probably be a little poorly going into the season, though recent rains may help them bounce back a little. But generally, hunters aren’t going to see the quality on a region-to-region basis that they might have seen the last few years.”

Tomecek said he does not expect catastrophic herd declines in deer as happened during the 2011 drought. But along with fewer deer, hunters will likely see a decline in antler quality.

“Genetics play a role in antler quality, but the vast majority of antler production is nutrition,” he said. “It would take an aggressive supplementation regimen for a deer herd to make a difference because it’s very difficult to replace an entire diet with supplemental feed.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department quail survey is not complete yet, but long-term AgriLife Extension studies show quail numbers dwindle during drought, Tomecek said. This means hunters and landowners should pay close attention to the quail they are harvesting to avoid a long-term detrimental effect on local bird populations.

Tomecek said landowners are very adept to self-regulation when it comes to quail, and that this season might be the time to dial back on harvest numbers.

“Historically, severe drought conditions can have a sharp effect on quail in the short-term,” he said. “Quail should have a lot of offspring compared to the number of adults during a typical year. So, hunters should age the birds in hand during hunts. If they see higher numbers of mature birds and not many juvenile birds, they may want to stop hunting for the season to avoid cutting into the brood stock too much.”

Turkey numbers will likely be affected by drought conditions, but hens and young birds have a dietary option – insects – that may assist a flock’s survival rate,Tomecek said.

“Turkeys don’t reproduce in high numbers like quail, so hunters might see smaller flocks,” he said. “Hens and younger birds have a more flexible diet and may have zeroed in on insects. We had a decent grasshopper crop this summer, and those birds may have made good use of them.”

Tomecek said dove season has been slow in many areas of the state, but migration numbers could rise quickly with a cold front.

“I would tell hunters to have their shells and shotguns ready for the first real cold front of the season,” he said. “Landowners who have millet, sorghum or another seed crops would be smart to hold off shredding some until then and cut heavy before the cold front. That might mean birds stay in an area for a day or two if there is extra food on the ground.”