The worst single-year drought in Texas history has left deer undernourished and, in some cases, dying in greater numbers than before. Many of the deer hunters are bringing home are skinnier than normal and the population of fawns surviving through the summer took a nosedive in many parts of the state.
At McBrides Gun’s in Austin, Thomas Hunt is looking for the perfect rifle to take his son Mathew out hunting. The appropriately-named Hunt has already bagged two deer this year. He says the impact of the drought was noticeable right away.
“The same deer that we saw last year has had bigger horns last year than they had this year,” he said. “I’ve had one that was a very large — probably 14 point — that was a 10 point this year. So we’ve seen that much reduction in the horn size.”
Allen Cain, deer program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said the legacy of the drought could be with us for years.
“Obviously hunters are not harvesting fawns, so it’s not a big impact as far as harvest this year. What’ll happen is you’ll see that impact four or five years down the road,” said Cain.
Despite the toll the drought has taken, Cain hopes hunters bring home a lot of deer this year. The reason? As distressed as some deer populations are, Texas’ habitat is in even greater distress, and too many deer foraging in a drought-stricken landscape can severely damage the ecosystem.
“Especially during drought, it’s likely to do more damage to that habitat which can also impact other species that aren’t hunted like songbirds, to whatever else out there,” said Cain.
An uptick in deer hunting would also be good for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Department has seen a drop in revenue as park attendance and fishing licenses have been down dramatically in the drought.
Back at McBrides Gun Shop in Austin, Thomas Hunt says he’s also seen fewer bird hunters this year.
“I don’t think the duck hunting has been as good and all the duck hunting has been pushed to the coast. All the ponds on our place are dry,” said Hunt.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, another species that has a seriously negative impact on the land, feral hogs, also appears to be down in the drought.