New mule deer antler restrictions in Texas pay off
About two years ago, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) established a four-year mule deer antler restriction to help younger bucks mature and persuade hunters to take older, “heavier-antlered” bucks. The restriction specifically prohibits hunters from taking mule deer bucks with “outside antler spreads of less than 20 inches” in seven Panhandle counties, Texas Sports Nation reports.
And now, on the cusp of the third season, it seems to be paying off.
“It’s built a lot of excitement around the antlers,” said Shawn Gray, TPWD’s mule deer and pronghorn program leader.
Initially, Briscoe, Childress, Cottle, Floyd, Hall and Motley counties were put into the 20” minimum program in 2018. In 2019, TPWD added Lynn County to the program. According to Texas Sports Nation, hunters within these counties must adhere to the 20” minimum through the 2021 deer season. Afterwards TPWD plans to re-evaluate the program.
Those who hunt in the Managed Lands Deer Program do not have to follow the 20” restriction.
According to Texas Sports Nation, the 20” minimum restriction is a result of a request by hunters and landowners within these counties “to help improve age structure of bucks.” Initial TPWD data found that the age structure in these areas of the Panhandle was comprised “disproportionately” of younger bucks.
The good news? Only two years into the program and the age structure is already improving. In fact, within the 5 1/2 and older buck age-class, reported harvests were at 51% in 2018-19, according to Texas Sports Nation.
“The age structure looks like it’s getting older in the harvest and the sex ratio is becoming more natural, instead of being skewed from overharvest,” said Gray.
The mule deer antler restriction program success directly correlates with what TPWD had already established with Texas whitetail deer. For whitetail, there is a 13” inside spread restriction requirement. Like the mule deer program, the whitetail antler restriction was also established to protect young bucks and allow them to mature. That program began in 2002 in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Washington counties and, since then, 117 counties now require that 13” minimum antler restriction, according to Texas Sports Nation.