The 2016 Texas quail season served as a renaissance reminder of how good hunting can be when all the right elements converge. Specifically, weather and habitat aligned to create a “super boom” year for quail production that led to exceptional hunts the likes of which had not been seen in many years.
Quail enthusiasts are hoping some of that magic will carry over this fall when the season gets under way Saturday, Oct. 28. For that to happen, a sizable percentage of last year’s birds will have to carry over as well, according to wildlife biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,
Texas Bobwhite Production Good
This year’s quail production, although not as robust as last year’s, is expected to be adequate to sustain populations in areas having suitable habitat. Heading into 2017, average amounts of late winter and spring rainfall set up sufficient nesting cover, winter forage and enough insects to trigger nesting. A lack of timely rainfall during the summer, however, may have hurt chick survival.
“Portions of South Texas and the Rolling Plains regions were in moderate drought during mid-summer, which may have negatively impacted brood survival,” said Robert Perez, quail program leader with TPWD. “Hunters will likely see more adult bobwhites in the bag compared to more productive years.”
Looking at Quail Surveys
TPWD projections are based on annual statewide quail surveys that were initiated in 1978 to monitor quail populations. This index uses randomly selected, 20-mile roadside survey lines to determine annual quail population trends by ecological region. This trend information helps determine relative quail populations among the regions of Texas.
Comparisons can be made between the mean (average) number of quail observed per route this year and the long term mean (LTM) for quail seen within an ecological region. The quail survey was not designed to predict relative abundance for any area smaller than the ecological region.
A regional breakdown of this year’s TPWD quail index survey, including highlights and prospects, is available online.
Texas Quail Hunting
Quail hunting season runs through Feb. 25, 2018. The daily bag limit for quail is 15, with 45 in possession. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The bag limit is the maximum number that may be killed during the legal shooting hours in one day.
Anthrax is a fatal disease that impacts both wildlife and domestic animals. Anthrax usually shows up in the heat of summer following above average spring rainfall. It is highly contagious and impacts white-tailed deer populations negatively in the areas where the disease is present.
Anthrax in Ozona?
Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) officials confirmed anthrax in 5 cattle on a Crockett County premises. This is the first anthrax case in Texas for 2017. Wildlife species have not been documented at this time.
The property where anthrax has been confirmed is located approximately 13 miles east of Ozona and has been quarantined. TAHC rules require proper disposal of affected carcasses and vaccination of other cattle on the premise prior to release of the quarantine.
Monitoring Anthrax in Crockett Co.
“The TAHC will continue to closely monitor the situation,” said Dr. Susan Rollo, TAHC State Epidemiologist. “Producers are encouraged to remain vigilant and consult with their local veterinary practitioner if they suspect their animals are affected with anthrax or are interested in vaccinating their livestock.”
What is Anthrax?
Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, which is a naturally occurring organism with worldwide distribution, including certain parts of Texas. Anthrax cases in Texas are historically found in the triangular area bound by the towns of Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass. This area includes portions of Crockett, Val Verde, Sutton, Edwards, Kinney and Maverick counties. A vaccine is available for use in susceptible livestock in high risk areas.
Acute fever followed by rapid death with bleeding from body openings are common signs of anthrax in livestock. Carcasses may also appear bloated and appear to decompose quickly. Livestock or animals displaying symptoms consistent with anthrax should be reported to a private veterinary practitioner or a TAHC official.
If Anthrax is Suspected
If affected livestock or carcasses must be handled, producers are encouraged to follow basic sanitation precautions such as wearing protective gloves, long sleeve shirts and washing thoroughly afterward to prevent accidental spread of the bacteria to people.
If anthrax is suspected on your Crockett County property or elsewhere contact the TAHC.
The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) has named the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as the recipient of its 2017 Agency of the Year Award. The award was presented at QDMA’s 2017 National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, in recognition of the agency’s commitment to a strong deer management program.
“The white-tailed deer is a charismatic symbol that has come to represent the importance of wildlife conservation in Texas,” said QDMA founder Joe Hamilton. “The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department understands deer hunting is an essential and longstanding contributor to the state’s culture, economy, and motivator for land stewardship.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s signature deer management program has been so successful that its 80 wildlife biologists work with over 10,000 properties on 25 million acres, including nearly 200 wildlife Cooperatives actively receiving deer harvest and management recommendations. Texas is one of only a few states with a wildlife Cooperative program that includes a dedicated Cooperative staff member and incentives for participating landowners.
“Successful management of white-tailed deer is dependent on a strong partnership with hunters and landowners,” said Kip Adams, “QDMA’s Director of Education and Outreach. TPWD’s engagement of hunters has been a catalyst to spark that partnership for wildlife and habitat conservation.”
Additionally, according to data compiled by QDMA for its annual Whitetail Report, Texas has one of the best buck age structures in the whitetail’s range. During the 2015-2016 deer season, only 23 percent of bucks harvested by hunters were 1.5 years old while 59 percent were 3.5 years old or older.
Fall fronts will soon start pushing the earliest of ducks, the blue-winged teal, down from the north. With the arrival of our northern friends we can’t help but ponder the Texas duck hunting forecast for the 2017-18 season. September is just weeks away, so there are a number of reasons to break out and dust off your ole shotgun.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its report this week on 2017 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June by FWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Overall duck numbers in the survey area remain high.
Total populations were estimated at 47.3 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is similar to last year’s estimate of 48.4 million and is 34 percent above the 1955-2016 long-term average. The projected mallard fall flight index is 12.9 million birds, similar to the 2016 estimate of 13.5 million.
Duck Numbers and Texas Hunting
The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and the boreal forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2017 breeding population survey were generally similar to last year with a few exceptions.
The total pond estimate for the United States and Canada combined was 6.1 million, which is 22% above the 2016 estimate of 5.0 million and 17% above the long-term average of 5.2 million. These robust numbers already suggest that duck hunting within Texas, a major destination for ducks in the Central Flyway, is going to be great.
“The surveys indicate that wetland conditions and populations of most frequently harvested ducks remain above the long-term average, and for most species, populations were at or above those from last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “This is great news for waterfowlers who can now turn their attention to preparing habitat, tuning up dogs and relentlessly watching the weather forecasts for the onset of fall and winter weather that will push the birds on their annual southward migration.
Duck Hunting Good, Some Species Still Low
While total duck numbers are well above long-term averages there are still a couple of species that still are showing no substantial turnaround in population numbers. One diving duck, the northern pintail, and one diver, the lesser scaup, still have numbers that could improve. The pintail drake, a very regal bird, is a highly-sought duck in Texas and elsewhere.
“DU remains concerned about northern pintails and scaup in particular, as the survey information continues to indicate these two species remain below their long-term average (LTA) populations. Both species have struggled to regain desired populations. We will continue to work with our many conservation partners to understand what drives populations of these two species. If science points to habitat limitations as contributing factors, we’ll rely on the science to develop conservation solutions to help restore populations of these birds.
“Hunters may notice in the report that mallards declined 11%, or about 1.3 million birds, from 2016. The bulk of that appears to be related to drier conditions in the Canadian parklands region, where the surveys detected about 0.6 million fewer mallards. Overall, mallard populations remain in great shape, and FWS estimates the mallard fall flight will be similar to last year.
Texas Hunters, Ducks Benefit from Habitat Boom
“Hunters should always remember that habitat and populations are going to vary over time, so we must keep focused on habitat conservation efforts over the long term. Ultimately, we need to maintain landscapes so that when precipitation and other conditions are right, the ducks will respond, produce more ducks and provide us all with a nice return on our conservation investments.”
Although most migratory game bird populations remain abundant, when and where birds will be encountered depends on many factors. Food availability, habitat and weather conditions, and other factors all influence local bird abundance, distribution, behavior and, ultimately, hunter success.
The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting regulations. Individual states set their hunting seasons within a federal framework of season length, bag limits and dates. Hunters should check the rules in their states for final dates and bag limits.
Duck Population Estimates for 2017
Mallards: 10.5 million, 11% lower than 2016 and 34% above LTA
Gadwall: 4.2 million, 13% above 2016 and 111% above LTA
American wigeon: 2.8 million, 19% below 2016 and 6% above LTA
Redheads: 1.1 million, 13% below 2016 and 55% above LTA
Canvasbacks: 0.7 million, similar to 2016 and 25% above LTA
Scaup: 4.4 million, 12% below 2016 and 13% below LTA
Habitat condition will be a factor by Texas duck hunting region as the season approaches and gets underway. Often times, duck numbers can be high overall but without adequate surface water, which turns otherwise dry areas into duck feeding hot spots, the daily hunts can be far from spectacular. But right now, most hunters should consider the Texas duck hunting forecast for the 2017-18 season good to excellent for their region.
Hunters can view all the data and get a species-by-species breakdown by visiting the Ducks Unlimited website.
Ducks Unlimited (DU) has achieved a conservation milestone with more than 14 million acres of habitat conserved in North America. The groundbreaking number is a cumulative accomplishment of the millions of DU volunteers and partners who have been a part of the organization over the past 80 years.
DU’s Wetland Habitat Programs Grow
“As we celebrate our 80th anniversary, this milestone is a fitting tribute to the hard work of each and every volunteer, partner and staff member who has contributed to our mission over the past 80 years,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “If not for their dedication and commitment to conservation, this accomplishment would not have been possible.”
Such conservation gains did not come easily in the face of ongoing threats to waterfowl and their habitats. Loss of wetlands across North America is a challenge DU volunteers take seriously, and their efforts will continue into the future. Although DU has successfully conserved more than 14 million acres of critical wetlands and associated habitat since our founding in 1937, wetland losses continue.
Texas Prairie Wetlands Project
The Texas Prairie Wetlands Project (TPWP) started in 1991 when DU teamed up with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The results has been tremendous for wetland habitat, wintering waterfowl and Texas property owners, particularly those along the Gulf Coast.
TPWP projects focus on harvested croplands, moist-soil areas, emergent wetlands and other created wetlands to increase biodiversity for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species.
In return, landowners sign a minimum-10-year wetland development agreement and commit to managing and maintaining the wetlands. TPWP works closely with rice producers to improve fields and infrastructure for water conservation, production and habitat management.
Each year, TPWP projects provide critical staging and wintering habitat for thousands of waterfowl, including white-fronted geese, snow geese, northern pintails, green- and blue-winged teal, gadwalls, northern shovelers and redheads. Local birds also benefit greatly. Resident fulvous and black-bellied whistling ducks, as well as mottled ducks, rely heavily on permanent and semi-permanent wetlands for nesting and brood rearing during the spring and summer.
Many landowners utilize TPWP projects for goose and duck hunting leases and ecotourism. Many sites are also on historic agricultural fields. By working with private landowners to increase and restore wetland habitats, water quality and water quantity, an issue of great concern in Texas, can be improved.
Mitigating Wetland Loss
In the last 50 years alone, the United States has lost more than 17 million acres of wetlands. As human populations grow, demands for clean and plentiful water for use at home and in many agricultural and industrial processes also increase.
DU, working with partners, provides valuable, on-the-ground solutions that benefit waterfowl populations and maximize water resources through the dynamic natural functions of wetlands. In addition to providing habitat for waterfowl, wetlands naturally slow and store water to help recharge watersheds and aquifers, improve water quality through biological and physical processes and provide important wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
Waterfowl Management Through Habitat Conservation
“DU’s policy efforts and the hard work of our volunteers, partners and staff will be more important than ever in the coming years,” said Dr. Tom Moorman, DU’s acting chief conservation officer. “DU, along with our waterfowl conservation partners at the state, federal and private levels, must continue with the cooperative progress that led to 14 million acres conserved, and expand that effort wherever possible to meet ongoing or new threats to wetlands and waterfowl habitat in North America.”
The groundbreaking number is a perfect example of how hunters and others with a passion for waterfowl and wetlands conservation can come together for a common goal.
DU’s mission has always been to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitat for North America’s waterfowl, and this milestone is a direct reflection of that statement.
About Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14 million acres throughout Texas and the U.S. thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent.
Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.
The Managed Lands Deer Permit (MDP) Program offered by TPWD has been around almost two decades and has experienced some changes this year. Land owners that have participated in the past as well as those interested in enrolling for the 2017-18 deer hunting season must register online before the deadline.
The MLDP program offers two different options starting this year, the Conservation Option (CO) and the Harvest Option (HO). Both offer landowners/hunters the ability to receive deer tags for the property that they own or hunt. The program is intended to help with deer management and/or hunting, but the two options are different in terms of how can help.
Conservation Option Vs. Harvest Option
After reading guidelines for the voluntary program, it appears that the Conservation Option offers the most opportunity for a property owner to effectively manage the deer found on a property. However, it does require that the landowner perform 3 “department-approved habitat management practices each year.”
It also requires that properties participating in CO perform deer surveys each year. For those interested in managing the deer found on their property this seems like stuff you will already be doing. The deadline for signup in August 1.
The HO is different. It does not require any management practices on the participating property and it does not required that annual deer surveys be performed. Deer permits are issued using some formula based on the property. TPWD has developed a HO Tag Estimator that determines how many tags a particular property will get. Here is a good article discussing how to use the MLDP tag estimator for the upcoming deer season. The deadline for HO signup is also August 1.
When a person goes to register a property for MLDP enrollment in either option the system asks for a map of the property. This same map is (presumably) used to determine deer harvest recommendations under the HO but deer survey data is used to make harvest recommendations under the CO (since it’s required for the option).
Per TPWD, “The MLDP program is intended to foster and support sound management and stewardship of native wildlife and wildlife habitats on private lands in Texas. Deer harvest is an important aspect of habitat management and conservation. Landowners enrolled in either the MLDP Harvest Option or Conservation Option are able to take advantage of extended season lengths and liberalized harvest opportunities.”
MLDP participation is completely voluntary, but better deer herd management and longer deer hunting seasons are very compelling, especially with regard to the Conservation Option. I can envision situations where the Harvest Option may be a good idea for certain properties as well.
The MLDP enrollment deadlines for each option are rapidly approaching, August 1, so whether you have participated in the past or are consider register for the upcoming hunting season, act fast. Just remember that once enrolled, program participants must meet MLDP requirements for the full year of enrollment. The specific information on each option can be found here.
Good News: There will be more white-winged dove hunting in the Texas South Zone this fall because of a special season expansion! South Texas dove hunters will see more shots at dove this year thanks to a season framework adjustment expanding the early September 4-day Special White-winged Dove Area hunting season to the entire South Zone boundary.
The change to the special white-winged dove hunting season is part of the 2017-18 migratory game bird seasons adopted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “For the second straight year, Texas will be taking advantage of a 90-day dove season and the expansion of early white-winged dove hunting during the first two weekends in September, in effect, create early September hunting opportunities statewide for the first time ever,” said Dave Morrison, TPWD Wildlife Division deputy director.
Texas Dove Population Looks Good
It’s been another good year for rain in much of the state and that helps with annual bird production. Expect both mourning and white-winged dove numbers to be good, especially in areas where seed-producing plants are present. Look for sunflowers and implement a little pre-season strip-shredding for some fast and furious pass shooting.
As usual, expect potentially dry conditions in early September to push doves in droves to stock tanks and other accessible water sources. These sites are particularly good in the late afternoon and early evening.
Below is the dove season calendar and framework for 2017-18:
Texas Dove Hunting Seasons 2017-18
North Zone: Sept. 1 – Nov. 12 and Dec. 15-31.
Central Zone: Sept. 1 – Nov. 5 and Dec. 15 – Jan. 7, 2018.
Special White-winged Dove Days (entire South Zone): Sept. 2-3, 9-10.
South Zone: Sept. 22 – Nov. 8 and Dec. 15 – Jan. 21, 2018.
Bag Limit: The daily bag limit for doves statewide is 15 and the possession limit 45.
Special White-wing Dove Area
During the early two weekends in the Special White-winged Dove Days, hunting is allowed only from noon to sunset and the daily bag limit is 15 birds, to include not more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves. During the general season in in the special area, the aggregate bag limit is 15 with no more than two white-tipped doves.
Waterfowl hunting in Texas is big deal. Each year, hunters across the state chase ducks and geese from the Panhandle down to the coastal plains. But very few of the birds harvested in Texas are produced here. The bulk of waterfowl breeding habitat is found much further north.
“Waterfowl habitat conservation has to take place not only here on Texas’ continentally significant wintering grounds, but also on the breeding grounds that produce our waterfowl,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Executive Director Carter Smith said.
“TPWD is proud to be a strong DU partner across North America. Ducks Unlimited’s match and leveraging ability give our contributions four times the impact we could have alone. That’s a return on investment we can all be proud of.”
Habitat Work for Waterfowl
During remarks at Ducks Unlimited’s 80th National Convention, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith announced the department’s decision to award Ducks Unlimited $600,000 for habitat management projects on waterfowl breeding grounds in Prairie Canada.
This commitment brings Texas’ cumulative contribution for habitat conservation on Canadian breeding grounds important to Texas’ waterfowl to more than $4 million.
Habitat Work Funded by Texas Hunters
Recognizing the migratory nature of waterfowl, state wildlife agencies have been contributing to habitat conservation in Canada since 1965. More than 40 states participated this year, and funding comes primarily through hunting license sales. In Texas, all funding comes from the state Migratory Game Bird Stamp fund.
This fund is solely supported by the sale of Migratory Game Bird Stamps, required of all migratory bird hunters in Texas. These funds may be used to support waterfowl habitat conservation in Canada, and Texas has been doing so since 1985.
“The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is one of our greatest partners in conservation in Texas and across the continent. They continue making wise investments in waterfowl habitat important to the birds that wing their way to the Lone Star State each year,” said DU Southern Region Director Jerry Holden.
“Banding data shows us a large portion of the ducks harvested in Texas come from Saskatchewan and Alberta, so investing the state’s dollars in this region clearly provides the greatest return for Texas waterfowl hunters.”
Waterfowl Breeding Grounds
Breeding ground habitat work is critical for the health of continental populations of waterfowl, and Texas’ waterfowl hunters understand that. The nearly 50,000 Texas DU members are appreciative of TPWD’s continued contributions to the program.
“The importance of state contributions to Canadian habitat conservation and restoration projects cannot be overstated,” said DU Canada’s Director of International Partnerships Pat Kehoe. “Individual state contributions are combined with other state contributions, matched dollar for dollar by DU Inc., used as match for North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants and then leveraged further by DU Canada.”
Ducks Unlimited Committed to Waterfowl
Ducks Unlimited’s programs in the U.S. and Canada are science-based and consistent with the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Prairie conservation programs on both sides of the border are structured to protect native, highly productive habitat while also improving waterfowl production in working agricultural landscapes.
These habitat projects have benefits far beyond waterfowl, including nature based flood protection, groundwater recharge, water quality enhancements and habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife.
It’s not all hot air. Soon hunters in Texas can literally “make it rain” onto herds of feral hogs using the comfort and stealth that hot air balloons provide. Texas lawmakers have approved the hunting of feral hogs and coyotes from hot air balloons. Boom!
Feral hogs numbers have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and it seems lawmakers will stop at nothing to provide hunters with opportunities to control the non-native, rooting machines that are feral hogs. Hunting is already open year-round and their are zero bag limits. Hunt on.
Texas’ growing hog population causes millions of dollars worth of damage to agricultural crops every year. Texas has an estimated 3 million feral hogs. The high breeding rate of wild pigs and a lack of natural predators has seen feral hog numbers skyrocket. With hog numbers going up, so should the hunters.
Texas already allows the shooting of feral hogs from helicopters, but in addition to be costly, many say it is unsuccessful because the aircraft often scare the hogs out of shooting range. Hot air balloons are quieter and offer a more stable shooting platform, which understandably would be better for “sniper-like” hog hunting.
Before hunters can take to they sky for bacon to fry, the bill does require the state to license hot air balloon hunting. But with the bill out of the state congress and house, it now goes to Texas Governor Greg Abbott for his consideration. And in Texas, you know he’s gonna sign it like it’s hot… air balloon.
Texas offers several once-in-lifetime type hunts every year. Residents and non-residents can apply for these hunts for $10 with no additional fees, other than once picked you must obtain a valid Texas hunting license.
Hunting is Always in Season
The upcoming hunting seasons may still be months away, but starting today you can enter the Big Time Texas Hunts drawing to win one or more of nine premium guided hunt packages. These exclusive packages include food, lodging, a professional guide, as well as taxidermy in some cases.
Texas Big Time Draw Hunts
The crown jewel of the program is the Texas Grand Slam hunt package, which includes four separate hunts for Texas’ most prized big game animals — the desert bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, mule deer and pronghorn. Other popular guided hunt packages included in the Big Time Texas Hunt program are the Ultimate Mule Deer Hunt, the Premium Buck Hunt, the Exotic Safari, the Wild Hog Adventure and more.
Entries for this year’s Big Time Texas Hunts are available now online for just $9 each, or for $10 each at license retailers. There is no limit to the number of entries an individual may purchase and all proceeds benefit conservation, wildlife management and public hunting. Deadline for entry is October 15.
Big Time Texas Hunts is made possible with support from Toyota and the Texas Bighorn Society. More details on all nine premium hunts can be found online at the link in the above paragraph. These really are once in a lifetime hunts, so best of luck to all that enter!