White-tailed deer hunting is king when it comes to hunting in Texas. The Lone Star State, however, is a big place with 11 natural ecoregions. Whitetail are found it all them in varying numbers. The major deer hunting strongholds of the state are the South Texas brush country and the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas, affectionately known as the Hill Country. South Texas is famed for growing big bodied, large antlered bucks. The Texas Hill Country is well known for having high numbers of deer, with some really good bucks coming out of the region from time to time.
The truth is, good deer and big bucks can be found all across the state. The High Plains, Rolling Plains and North Texas can all offer good hunting for white-tailed deer. Even East Texas, which gets a bad reputation for “poor genetics” and over hunting, regularly produces wall hangers. Whitetail range from the Coastal Plains to the High Plains and real life trophies have come from every nook and cranny of Texas. It seems mature bucks really like to hang out in out of the way places, so how do you hunt them?
Deer Hunting in Texas: Follow the Food
Like any other animal, white-tailed deer need food, cover and water to survive. Finding a deer hunting hot spot that has all three and so much the better, but hunting near food puts more deer on the ground in Texas every year than any other method. This is a simple concept that even the first-time hunter can employ, if you know what deer like to eat. Remember, hunting can be hard but it’s not difficult. Keep it simple.
Many successful hunts end up near a whitetail food source, be it a feeder, a food plot or a place in the woods where natural foods are abundant. A deer pretty much tries to accomplish two goals every day of its life, try to find enough food to fill an empty belly and survive to see another day. Years of deer hunting experience from East to South Texas and lots of places in between have taught me a lot, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is that nothing beats the honest to goodness natural foods that Mother Nature provides.
Whitetail have evolved eating native plants and they prefer to eat them when they are available. Now, not all plants are created equal. Deer prefer forbs over most plants, but also consume browse and mast (the fruits/nuts of plants). Deer absolutely love acorns. The best tip I can offer is to find the plants that whitetail prefer in your part of Texas and hunt near them during the hunting season. It’s common for deer to eat 8-10 pounds of food a day during the fall and winter, so use this requirement to your advantage no matter where you hunt in Texas.
Hunt for Deer Habitat
Good habitat makes for good deer hunting because it provides a white-tailed deer with everything that it needs. Habitat is comprise of plants and those plants serve deer in two way, as food and as cover. Some plants are purely ornamental, meaning deer do not eat them but definitely use them for screening and hiding. Others are good grub that deer readily consume. Finding good habitat is about find edge.
Whitetail like wooded areas for the cover it provides, but deer also like open areas for the abundance of forbs that often grow there. Find a good mix of forested or brushy areas interspersed with open areas or fields and you will find deer at the edge of where those different plant communities come together, on the edge. Whitetail will rarely venture more 300-400 yards away from woody cover during daylight hours.
Hunting Drainages, Pinchpoints & Bottlenecks for Deer
Plant communities will vary from one part of Texas to another, but you can be assured that deer will be drawn to certain features on the landscape no matter which part of the state you hunt. White-tailed deer are crepsuscular, meaning they are most active during dusk and dawn. They behave this way to conceal as much of their movement as possible, to make it as difficult as possible for predators (you included) to see them. They also move a lot at night, but it’s not legal for us to hunt at night, so that’s a non-starter.
Deer are creatures of habitat. This is also why most people head out deer hunting early in the morning and in the late afternoon. Hunting the first couple and last couple hours of the day increases our chance of crossing path with a deer, hopefully a big, mature buck. Hunters can use a deer’s normal daily pattern to determine WHEN it is going to move, but a hunter can also predict WHERE a deer will want to travel without having stepped foot onto a property.
White-tailed deer are drawn to drainages of any type. This can include waterways such as creeks, streams and rivers, but can also consist of ditches, wet weather creeks, draws and washes. Find a low-lying area and you will find a deer highway. Another great place to set up for a morning or afternoon of deer hunting is near a pinchpoint or bottleneck. Since deer like to travel within or near cover, a hunter can find likely ambush area for deer simply by looking at an aerial photo.
A pinchpoint is an area where two blocks of woods merge at their verices/corners. Since deer will typically avoid crossing in the wide open, a hunter can find where two brushy or wooded areas join at a well-defined or narrow point and hunt the travelway connecting the two blocks. Look for tracks to confirm your suspicions. Deer hunting setups rarely get better than this, especially when the pinchpoint is positioned between feeding and bedding areas
A bottleneck is simply an area where the woods or brush is quite narrow across, forcing deer to move within a well-defined area. For example, a small strip of woods connecting a field and a larger growth of woods will become a deer’s normal place of travel if it is feeding in the field and bedding in or beyond the larger wooded area. A hunter can set a stand inside the treeline on one side of the narrow woodline and effectively hunt the entire bottleneck. Set up with wind at your advantage and capitalize on proper stand placement.
Hunting the Wind
Speaking of wind, another factor that is as important as knowing where deer will be traveling is knowing where your scent will be going. You NEVER EVER want to hunt in such a way that your scent is blowing towards where the deer will be coming from. Although many hunters do no heed this advice, this is a deer hunting no-no. No matter how much delicious food or cover or how many deer are in the area, hunting upwind of deer is simply a waste of time. They will smell you. And they don’t want to smell you, so they will promptly move away from you.
Always hunt downwind of deer. Whitetail have fairly good eyesight, but a deer’s nose is it’s number one weapon. It will keep them out of danger that they can not even see. Use the wind to your advantage and give them the perceived safety to move within range.
Deer Hunting 101
Don’t over think it. Go hunt areas that have deer, even if most of them are does. Many hunters get discouraged because their deer hunting areas are dominated by does. This could be indicative of the over-hunting of bucks, but having a lot of does is a high quality problem in just about every other situation. What you are seeing may also be a factor of when you are hunting. Things change from summer to fall. Whitetail bucks can change their daytime travel patterns as the rut approaches.
A moon-phase-rut research study found that white-tailed deer are more active the last two hours of daylight than the first two hours of daylight in early fall, from September to mid/late October. After the end of October, deer movement patterns reversed, revealing the greatest daytime activity occurred during the first two hours of daylight. When the breeding period ended, whitetail activity increased during the 10 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM. to 5 PM time periods.
To sum up, there are numerous places to hunt deer in Texas. Often times, the deer are closer than you think. Whitetail do well on rural farm and ranch lands, but they also thrive in suburban settings. Texas offers some public hunting for deer and other game species, much of the deer hunting takes place on private lands. Get busy before the hunting season gets here. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
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