The Whitetail In Texas

Deer of about the size of our largest fallow deer, and in herds of from ten to a thousand, are common in every part of the country.

Excerpt From Texas Safari: The Game Hunter's Guide To Texas

Whitetail Deer or Texas White-tailed deer

Odocoileus virginianus

During the remainder of the day we passed through a flat country and found a great many deer.  We saw around us, almost at the same time, as many as three or four hundred of these animals.

----Juan Antonio de la Pena, 1722

The deer are so numerous, that they are often found in herds of several thousands…

                        ----Francis Moore, Jr., 1840  

Deer of about the size of our largest fallow deer, and in herds of from ten to a thousand, are common in every part of the country.

                        ----Arthur Ikin, 1841

 Although the sight of whitetail deer (correctly identified as white-tailed deer) in herds of upwards to a thousand in number may seem difficult to believe, many early settlers and explorers in Texas, even as far back as the 1700s, made reference to such tremendous herds in diaries, journals, and letters home.  In some portions of the (future) state whitetail herds were larger than buffalo, an animal that few people have trouble in accepting as gathering in herds that large.

To these early Anglo settlers, and the indigenous people that came and lived before them, the deer was easily accessible food.  So accessible in fact that by as early as 1840 settlers began to notice a severe drop in whitetail numbers.  Only a minute portion of this tremendous decline can be attributed to substance hunting.  The larger impact came from land encroachment, competition from newly introduced livestock, and, just as with the buffalo, senseless and unjustified slaughter.  The extent of this slaughter is well described by John C. Reid who in 1857 wrote:

“Various modes are adopted, by the citizens here, for killing the wild animal.  Game is ever in season.  Thousands of deer are slain by the light of the fire pan; by snares and pitfalls, by the laying concealed near holes of water or “licks”; stooping in the tall grass and attracting those in sight by occasionally tossing in the air an unfurled red handkerchief; or shooting those gentle enough to allow you to approach.  They are often beguiled by the docility of others already domesticated; by driving them towards standers in waiting; by chasing upon fleet horses and lassoing them.”

While these methods are almost unconceivable to sportsmen today the numbers by which deer were slaughtered is almost incomprehensible.  Although there was no official census taken in the years during Anglo settlement it is estimated that there could have been between 30 and 125 million deer roaming the land that would become Texas.  By 1900 it was estimated that there were only 500,000 deer in the entire United States.  Like the buffalo, deer were slaughtered almost to the point of no return.

With government intervention and the establishment of strict game laws, deer rebounded quite quickly.  By 1990 the number of deer in Texas had reached between 3 and 4 million.  Just how well deer rebounded is made apparent when considering that the average number of deer legally taken in the state is close to what the population of entire country was in 1900.  In fact, in some areas of the state deer are actually dangerously overpopulated.

Today deer hunting in Texas is not only well regulated but big business. How big?  Consider that in 2004 a group of Texas investors near Seguin paid $450,000 for a massively racked buck that they planned to breed for profit.  By taking orders for semen at $3,500 and bred does at $25,000 the investment group expected to recoup their money almost before they began.  At the hunting end of the spectrum the amount of money involved is almost as astronomical.  Hunts for high scoring Boone and Crockett Club whitetails in the South Texas region alone have gone in excess of $20,000.  Despite this monetary excess plenty of deer hunting exists for individuals with tighter budgets.

What whitetails eat is partially determined by where they live.  In the Edwards Plateau region for example deer graze twice as much as they browse. Over 67% of their feeding time is spent eating grasses and forbs. In South Texas the numbers are almost reversed.  Deer browse twice as much as they graze.  Percentages and diet are altered considerably when supplemental feeding and land management are entered into the equation.

Just as with their diet, whitetail weight is heavily determined by where deer live.  Deer in the Eastern portion of the state and in the Edwards Plateau tend to be smaller in body than those in South Texas or on the upper plains.   In general though, whitetail average from between 70 to 150 pounds.

In terms of color, whitetails are grayish brown or grayish blue in winter with coat taking on a reddish brown tinge in winter.  Under parts are lighter in color if not white.  True to their name, whitetails have a white tail that stands erect when fleeing danger.  Antlers grow outward from the back of the head before curing slightly forward.  Each tine grows off of a main beam. 

There are probably as many hunting methods for deer as there are hunters, but in Texas hunting from an elevated stand is by far the most common.  Whether as simple as a tripod or tree stand, or as lavish as an enclosed box blind with insulated walls and sliding windows, elevated blinds offer better visibility and, theoretically, more opportunities at game.  Elevated blinds also offer the best possibilities to see wildlife often overlooked or unseen while hunting from the ground.

Although a hotly debated subject, many elevated stands overlook a feeder or other food source.  Some hunters find the idea of shooting an animal over deposited food unethical and immoral.  Others find that it allows the hunter more time to judge the animal as well as add to the probability of making a clean shot.  Regardless of the views taken, hunting deer over feeders is not illegal in Texas. 

During the rut many hunters take to “rattling,” the act of bashing and scraping antlers together to imitate the sound of sparing bucks.  This and other “calling” techniques add an element of excitement to the hunt most often not associated with pursuing deer.  Often time rattling is a simple addition to the more traditional spot and stalk method of hunting.

In Texas deer may be hunted with almost any type of weapon.  Hunters have their choice between muzzleloaders, traditional firearms, archery, and handgun.

Best places to hunt:  Anywhere.  Whitetails are found in great numbers throughout the state.  The largest bucks tend to come from the South Texas Plains region with the deer in the Rolling Plains, High Plains and Trans-Pecos, Mountains, and Basins regions come in a close second.  The eastern regions as well as the Edwards Plateau generally hold much smaller animals.

Recommended calibers: In the eastern and central portions of the state calibers such as .270 or .30-06 are fairly common.  Many hunters have turned to the newer 12 or 20 gauge slug guns with great success, especially in the thicker Pineywoods region.  Some hunters swear by .222, .223, or .243 for smaller deer.  For the remainder of the state anything from a .270 and up (within reason) is more than sufficient.

Scoring:        

Boone and Crockett Club typical awards 160, all-time 170, nontypical awards 185, all-time 195

Pope and Young min. typical 125, min. nontypical 155

Rowland Ward (Northern races) min. 22 7/8 inches

Safari Club International free range typical gold 143.75, silver 133.75, bronze 125, min. 125, bow gold 143.75, silver 130.25, bronze 110, min. 110, estate typical gold 149.25, silver 137.75, bronze 125, min. 125, bow gold 111.125, silver 0, bronze 110, min. 110, free range nontypical gold 157.375, silver 145.5, bronze 131, min. 131, bow gold 126.25, silver 0, bronze 116, min. 116, estate nontypical gold 144.625, silver 0, bronze 131, min. 131, bow gold 146.875, silver 0, bronze 116, min. 175

Trophy Game Records (North Texas) gold 315.0 plus, silver 280.0-314.9, bronze 279.9 and lower, (South Texas) gold 360.0 plus, silver 325.0-359.9, bronze 324.9 and lower

 Texas Safari: The Game Hunter's Guide To Texas

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