Texas Wildlife November 2016 - Hunting the Big Country

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Hunting the

Big Country





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s a boy, November meant quail hunting. Quail hunting meant all the men and boys in our family lining up abreast in formation to tromp through shin oak mottes and down fencerows, wagon-wheeling around at the end of each pass. We carried our shot shells in canvas hardware store nail aprons and shouldered shotguns that had mostly been in the family for decades. My great-grandfather carried a .410, my father carried a 12 gauge side-by-side, and I carried the family favorite 20 gauge pump. An uncle from Ft. Worth had a fancy auto-loader. The men ribbed each other on missed shots and collectively ruled over the boys’ safety with unforgiving authority. When there was snow on the ground, I would pull plastic bread sacks on between layers of socks to keep my feet dry. We would break only to drive from one pasture to another or to eat a sandwich at the small general store nearby. At the end of the day’s hunt, we would clean all our birds and take them back to my grandparents’ home to be collectively inspected (hunters and game alike) by wives, mothers and grandmothers. My grandmother would then begin the evening quail fry. When reflecting on those old hunts, I realize there was nothing missing. Family, tradition, camaraderie, fair chase, hard work, life lessons, immersion in nature and wholesome nutrition for loved ones and ourselves—it was a complete package. Yet, it was a relatively modest affair. I enjoy new gear and creature comforts as much as the next sportsman, but I sometimes think we miss out on opportunities and dilute the experience by waiting on the perfect weather, fussing with technology, or relying too heavily on supplements instead of skill and old fashioned boot leather. Theodore Roosevelt preached the virtues of living the “strenuous life,” elaborating that “a healthy state can exist only when the men and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives; when the children are so trained that they shall endeavor, not to shirk difficulties, but to overcome them; not to seek ease, but to know how to wrest triumph from toil and risk.” One of the last best places in today’s modern society that we can still practice living strenuously is in the field. I humbly suggest that the world would be a better place if we all had to work a little harder and spent a little less time focused on comfort and quick fixes. Make no mistake, I will be wearing insulated boots and carrying a scoped rifle this deer season. But I will strive to rely more on boot leather and wits than a heated pickup cab and trail cameras. It is a rewarding path. Be it with rifle, shotgun, camera or notepad in hand, I hope you all have many chances to get in the field this winter and that you seize them. And if you do, please take a youngster with you. I have said it before and I will say it again: it’s good for you, it’s good for them and it’s good for Texas. Happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

Mission Statement of the Texas Wildlife Association

Serving Texas wildlife and its habitat, while protecting property rights, hunting heritage, and the conservation efforts of those who value and steward wildlife resources.




TEXAS WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126 San Antonio, TX 78247 www.texas-wildlife.org (210) 826-2904 FAX (210) 826-4933 (800) 839-9453 (TEX-WILD) OFFICERS

Marcus T. Barrett IV, President, San Antonio J. David Anderson, Vice President, Houston Dr. Louis Harveson, Second Vice President for Programs, Alpine Tom Vandivier, Treasurer, Dripping Springs For a complete list of TWA Directors, go to www.texas-wildlife.org

PROFESSIONAL STAFF/CONTRACT ASSOCIATES Administration & Operation David Yeates, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Lisa Flowers, Director of Programs Quita Hill, Director of Finance and Operations Cheryl McPherson, Office Administrator

Outreach & Member Services David Brimager, Director of Public Relations Luke Sammons, Director of Communications Nicole Greaney, Director of Membership Kristin Parma, Membership Coordinator

Programs Kassi Scheffer, Director of Education—Outreach Programs Leslie Wittenburg, Director of Education—L.A.N.D.S. Intensive Clint Faas, Director of Conservation Programs Courtney Brittain, Consultant Elanor Dean, Education Program Specialist Toni Purnell, Education Program Contractor Elisa Velador, Education Program Contractor Adrienne Paquette, Education Program Contractor Kimberly Shaw, Education Program Contractor Sarah Grella, Education Program Specialist Brian Robert, Education Program Specialist Shelby Bessette, Education Program Contractor Jo Picken, Education Program Contractor Marla Wolf, Curriculum Writer Olivia Sanchez, Conservation Legacy Program Assistant COL(R) Chris Mitchell, Texas Youth Hunting Program Director Bryan Jones, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Bob Barnette, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Barbara Scheib, TYHP Program Coordinator Kara Starr, Texas Big Game Awards Program Coordinator Kim Hodges, TYHP Administrative Assistant

Advocacy Joey Park, Legislative Program Coordinator

MAGAZINE CORPS David Yeates, Executive Editor Kim Rothe, Consulting Publications Coordinator/Editor David Brimager, Advertising Director Lorie Woodward Cantu, Special Projects Editor Publication Printers Corp., Printing, Denver, CO


Ralph Winingham Lorie Woodward Cantu Dale Rollins, Ph. D. Billy Higginbotham, Ph. D. Steve Nelle Henry Chappell Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource Management, Sul Ross State University-Alpine Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University-Nacogdoches Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University-Lubbock TEXAS WILDLIFE is published monthly by Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. E-mail address: twa@texas-wildlife.org POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. TEXAS WILDLIFE is published monthly by the Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. E-mail address: twa@texas-wildlife.org. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. The Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) was organized in 1985 for the purpose of serving as an advocate for the benefit of wildlife and for the rights of wildlife managers, landowners and hunters in educational, scientific, political, regulatory and legislative arenas. TEXAS WILDLIFE is the official TWA publication and has widespread circulation throughout Texas and the United States. All rights reserved. No parts of these magazines may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without express written permission from the publisher. Copyrighted 2016 Texas Wildlife Association. Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the Texas Wildlife Association. Similarities between the name Texas Wildlife Association and those of advertisers or state agencies are coincidental, and do not indicate mutual affiliation, unless clearly noted. TWA reserves the right to refuse advertising. For advertising information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, TX 78247 or e-mail dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.

Mission Impacts

NOVEMBER Volume 32 ★ Number 7 ★ 2016

8 Hunting the Big Country by RUSSELL A. GRAVES

16 Issues and Advocacy

Chronic Wasting Disease Response by DAVID YEATES

18 Hunting Heritage

Taking Quality Harvest Photos by DAVID BRIMAGER

20 Lessons from Leopold

The Practitioner of Conservation

L.A.N.D.S. Intensive Seadrift Teacher Training In August, a L.A.N.D.S. Intensive teacher training was conducted at Falcon Point Lodge in Seadrift. Here are a few of the teacher comments that were on evaluation forms: “The L.A.N.D.S. Intensive 2 ½ day training is a hands-on learning experience that I can use to positively impact my classroom. The workshop is a wealth of resources to enhance my curriculum. Thank you for the training. Very beneficial.” “Engaging workshop focusing on conservation, land management and instilling an appreciation for nature by providing hands-on experiences.” “It is an eye-opening conservation workshop to help you connect students to nature.” “L.A.N.D.S. is a way to increase hands-on learning for students and increase their involvement in nature” “L.A.N.D.S. let’s you show students practical information across science, math and history. Helps your students also learn teamwork and leadership skills while being outdoors.”


22 Conservation Legacy Educating Generations

28 TWA Members in Action Blue Mountain Peak Ranch by LORIE WOODWARD CANTU

34 Guns & Shooting

Light Caliber Fans Favor Low Recoil, Better Accuracy by RALPH WININGHAM

38 Pond Management

Cool Weather Considerations by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM

40 Borderlands News


42 Rainwater Havesting by HENRY CHAPPELL

44 Deer Management by STEVE NELLE

48 Biggest Bang for Your Buck by JOHN GOODSPEED

ON THE COVER Learn More About TWA

Scan the QR code with your smartphone to learn more about the Texas Wildlife Association or visit www.texas-wildlife.org

This beautiful Texas Rolling Plains buck was photographed in the wide-open expanses of the Panhandle by State Photographer of Texas Wyman Meinzer. Whitetails are now everywhere, thanks to the contributions of private landowners promoting habitat management across Texas deer range. In this issue, Russell A. Graves writes about hunting whitetails in the big country in his article starting on page 8.



Hunting the

Big Country





FOR INFORMATION ON HUNTING SEASONS, call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112, consult the 2016-2017 Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, or visit the TPWD website at tpwd.state.tx.us.


JUNE 2017



Wildlife for Lunch Webinar: Because Ranching and Wildlife Go Together, presented by Tyler Campbell, Ph.D., East Foundation. For more information contact Clint Faas at (800) 839-9453 or cfaas@texas-wildlife.org.

Texas Big Game Awards Sportsman’s Celebration, Regions 4 and 8, Willie DeLeon Civic Cener, Uvalde. For more information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.



Wildlife for Lunch Webinar: Patterns of Supplemental Feed Consumption in White-tailed Deer, presented by Emily Belser, CKWRI. For more information contact Clint Faas at (800) 839-9453 or cfaas@texas-wildlife.org.

JULY 2017

Texas Big Game Awards Sportsman’s Celebration, Regions 1, 2 and 3, Abilene Civic Center, Abilene. For more information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.

The Texas Wildlife Association and Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service sponsor lunch-based webinars the third Thursday of every month. If you are not able to attend the live webinar, each presentation is archived on the TWA website.



JULY 13-16

NOVEMBER 17 Because Ranching and Wildlife Go Together Presented by Tyler Campbell, Ph.D., East Foundation


DECEMBER 15 Patterns of Supplemental Feed Consumption in White-tailed Deer Presented by Emily Belser, CKWRI

WildLife 2017, J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. For more information contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.

MAY 2017 MAY 20

Texas Big Game Awards Sportsman’s Celebration, Regions 5,6 and 7, Pitser Garrison Convention Center, Lufkin. For more information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.

Statewide Texas Big Game Awards Banquet, during TWA’s Annual Convention,WildLife 2017, J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. For more information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or dbrimager@ texas-wildlife.org.


On the day of the webinar, simply go to https://texas-wildlife.webex.com, and click on the title of the webinar you wish to attend. The webinar series provides sound, science-based wildlife management options delivered by experts to you in the comfort of your own home or office.


Each web-based seminar is fully interactive and allows you to engage the experts, make comments and ask questions during the course of the presentation.


Contact Clint Faas at (210) 826-2904 or cfaas@texas-wildlife.org

For first-time users of the WebEx webinar program, advance log on (up to one hour before the presentation) is recommended to address any potential problems. Users may be prompted to download WebEx software to run the program correctly. There is also a test site to setup and test WebEx any time, day or night. Please visit http://www.webex.com/test-meeting.html to join a test meeting, today.




Photo by Wyman Meinzer





Photo by Russell A. Graves



t's a moment I’d been waiting for my whole life. Years spent tending to my hunting property, filling feeders, mowing roads and year-round scouting came full circle. Standing on the property’s highest ridge was a buck so big that my teenage daughter thinks it’s a mule deer. I do too at first. The deer is simply among the biggest I’ve ever seen in the wild and the biggest I’ve ever seen while hunting. At over 500 yards away, I knew better than to take the shot. Common sense dictates that if I’d miss, the bullet will sail to who knows where. And while I hunt the big country all the time, I don’t feel comfortable making a shot over a quarter of a mile away, so I wait. Soon a doe shows up and then a smaller buck flanks them both. The rut is in progress so the big buck sticks with the doe while keeping an eye on the smaller buck. For a few minutes, they browse around the prickly pear flat to my east. “So close, but so far away,” as the old saying goes. So I wait… Soon they make their way down the hill towards the draw that I overlook from my blind. If they take the path I hope they will, they’ll be within 75 yards of the blind. It’s a chip shot for the

30-year-old Savage Model 110 .243 rifle that my parents gave me when I was a teenager. If the deer don’t take that path, they’ll still be about 300 yards away, but shootable with the flat shooting rifle and 100 grain bullets. Win or lose, it’s a great scenario especially considering that white-tailed deer, as far as hunting goes, are relative newcomers to the Texas Panhandle. From my own observations, I’ve seen wildlife numbers, in general, increase across the state. For example, when I moved to Childress from Fannin County in 1993, white-tailed deer were fairly uncommon here except along the Red River. Now, whitetails are everywhere, and the Texas Rolling Plains region is arguably one of the most popular places to hunt deer in the state. Even in Fannin County, where I was raised, game numbers and opportunities continue to increase. I can remember finding the first deer tracks on a piece of leased land in central Fannin County in 1986. Two years later, my dad and I harvested two eight-point bucks in two days from the same stand. The deer numbers are so strong in the county that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department imposed antler restrictions in an effort to further improve the burgeoning deer herd.




Photo Photo by Russell by Nate A. Graves Skinner

From a deer hunting standpoint, it seems that we are living in the good ol’ days. Never before in the modern history of our state has such an abundance of hunting opportunities existed. Even in the face of a population boom and unprecedented urban growth, whitetail deer, especially in the big country west of the 100th meridian, seem to be as plentiful as mesquite trees. My thesis is simple: In terms of game abundance, now is the best time for hunting in the last 100 years. Moreover, the future is bright. I defend my thesis with the help of a book, Principal Game Birds and Mammals of Texas: Their Distribution and Management, published in 1945 by TPWD’s predecessor, the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission. The book provided the first accurate account of Texas game animal population and ranges after the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey released its findings about Texas wildlife in 1905. The book has an original price of $2, but its information is




priceless, offering a glimpse of where we’ve been and how we came to have outstanding hunting opportunities today. The opening lines of the foreword read: “Here, for the first time, is presented in full an accurate account of the former and present range of the principal game species of this state, and of more vital interest, the factors controlling their abundance. It is here for all to read, and as the foundation on which Texas may build a sounder game program. Perhaps it shall aid in leading us out of our present desperate plight of flagrant land abuse, which if continued and accelerated will lead game—and man to their oblivion.” Today, the words sound a bit dire. Considering when the book was published, though, the warning was well-founded. Fifty years prior, game animals weren’t nearly as abundant and, in fact, many animals like wild turkeys and pronghorns were nearly extirpated from their historic ranges and their population

Photo by Nate Photo by Russell A.Skinner Graves


numbers nationwide were dangerously low. In fact, around the turn of the 20th century, white-tailed deer numbers nationwide were only about a half-million. As the United States trudged through World War I and the Great Depression, interest in wildlife conservation grew steadily. Aldo Leopold had established the nation’s first wildlife management program at the University of Wisconsin and penned the first book published on wildlife management in 1933. Eight years prior to the publication of Principal Game Birds and Mammals of Texas: Their Distribution and Management, the federal government passed landmark legislation in the form of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, the law places an excise tax on guns, archery equipment and ammunition, which is apportioned to each state based on land area and hunting licenses. This payas-you-go, hunter-funded system has proven its value as a positive revenue source in the nearly 80 years since its passage. Make no mistake, though, modern success in Texas game management hasn’t been the result of a single entity. Since the book’s publication, private landowners, hunters, conservation groups and the TPWD have all worked in concert to provide the game opportunities we enjoy today. In 1945, Texas big game was already recognized as a significant source of recreation and income for hunters and landowners. Partly due to poor land use practices and screw worm infestations, white-tailed deer were relegated mostly to the Hill Country and South Texas, with pockets of deer in suitable habitats scattered over much of the lower two-thirds of the state. Today, whitetail populations are booming. From 1939 until 1990, TPWD was heavily involved in trapping and relocating whitetails. In that time, approximately 34,000 deer were moved from higher population density areas of Texas to

those areas with very low numbers of deer. The combination of relocation efforts, extensive white-tailed deer research and private landowner and hunter efforts has been key to species population growth from 238,000 in 1939 to more than 4 million today. The contributions of private landowners to the success of Texas white-tailed deer are huge since almost all of the whitetail deer management takes place on private lands. Private landowners and hunters are the ones conducting habitat and population management by promoting healthy habitat across Texas deer range. While there are a lot of deer west of the 100th meridian, the densities in most places in this region still don’t rival deer hotspots like South Texas or the Hill Country. When you see deer here, they are often hundreds of yards away so a good binoculars and a spotting scope are essential. On my best day over the past 10 years or so, I saw 30 bucks one day during the peak rut, but virtually all of them were more than 800 yards away. While it’s not impossible to close the distance in open country by using the topography’s creases and folds, good optics are essential in assessing the quality of a buck before stalking. My typical setup is: I base my hunts from an elevated blind that overlooks the scrub from a 10-foot perch. The enclosed blind is a quiet and comfortable place where I can see up to 1,000 yards away in all directions, and it gets me high enough to see over the brush that fans out from my centrally located position. In fact, I can see 80 percent of the property from one carefully selected location. Of course, like most hunters in this part of Texas, I have a corn feeder nearby. While plenty of does and pigs come visit the feeder, I mainly use it as a way to lure some animals to keep me occupied when the bucks are moving slowly. While I do have pictures of bucks coming to the feeder at night,



Photo by Russell A. Graves





Photo by Russell A. Graves


decent bucks almost never eat corn during the daylight. Mature bucks are smart enough to avoid feeders when people are likely to be hunting near them. Small, young bucks often stop for a bite, but the really mature ones just don’t. While my setup is basic, it does give me options. If I see a deer I can either leave the blind and stalk the buck if he’s a distance away, a method that’s effective depending on the topography and wind, or I can simply wait to see if he’ll travel a well-worn hog path that often leads does directly to my feeder. Essentially, learning to hunt big bucks in the wide open big country is a lesson in patterning big bucks who may not always fall into a conventional travel patterns. They don’t always follow creek bottoms, stick to crop field edges or hang out in tree mottes. Much of the land in northwest West Texas is unbroken expanses of mesquite and prickly pear flats with only subtle topographical changes. Whitetails, though, are creatures of habit so their movements, while perhaps not as deliberate as those in Midwest farm country, can be ascertained with enough scouting. That’s why when I see the giant buck on the ridge, I decide to wait. I’ve seen dozens of does make their way down the hill from

the ridge, pick up the worn pig trail, cross the small creek, and pop up just yards from the blind on their way to the property’s single feeder. I hope that the does that has his interest will do the same and bring the love-starved buck right along with her. Like clockwork, the doe heads down the hill and the big buck follows. Only 150 yards away, I snap a picture or two of the deer. The favorable wind is a steady 15 miles an hour from the southeast and I am southwest of the deer. Suddenly, the doe stops and looks southeast before she flags and runs headlong back up the hill. The bucks—both big and small—follow her. Just before they disappear into a big wash, the trio stops. With my flat shooting .243, I aim and squeeze the trigger. Just over the buck, the red dirt flies from an embankment. I thought I hit the deer and the bullet passed through but the last time I saw the buck he was running east and running fast. No blood and no buck, it was a clean miss. In my haste, I misjudged the distance and shot over the buck of a lifetime. Next time I’ll add rangefinder to my list of needed gear to hunt the big country.




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2017 TWA RAFFLE WIN THIS JEEP CUSTOM BUILT BY Custom Outfitted Ad Placeholder 2001 Jeep Wrangler 4x4 $100 per ticket

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Net proceeds benefit the Texas Wildlife Association and its mission to serve Texas wildlife and its habitats, while protecting property rights, our hunting heritage, and the conservation efforts of those who value and steward wildlife resources. Send your check to: Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Drive, Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. Or to purchase tickets via phone, please call: (800) 839-9453. We will mail you your ticket stubs. Winner need not be present to win. Drawing to be held July 15, 2017 during TWA’s annual convention. Vehicle presented as is with no warranty offered or implied. Winner responsible for all taxes and fees. Note: The Texas Wildlife Association is classified as a 501(c)(4) by the IRS. TWA is a 501(c)(4) organization because we engage in lobbying activities. Donations to TWA are not considered charitable donations. Some donations can be deductible as a Business Expense up to 75%. You should consult with your tax professional. No goods or services were supplied in return for your contribution.



Chronic Wasting Disease Response Article by DAVID YEATES


or a little more than a year now, there has been considerable attention given to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) here in Texas. The Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) has been involved heavily in the issue, so we wanted to provide a summary of the CWD response to our members. In late June 2015, Texas had its first detection of CWD in white-tailed deer at a captive deer breeding facility. That facility had direct exposure to many other facilities in many other Texas counties, leading the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) to halt all permitted artificial movement of live deer. Within two months and before hunting season, TPWD and TAHC began allowing permitted artificial movement of live animals again under a new set of rules. These rules addressed testing thresholds for CWD surveillance and were crafted with input from various captive deer breeding trade associations, as well as other rural stakeholders, including TWA. TWA supported the new rules, which were originally enacted under executive order by the TPWD Executive Director and endorsed by TAHC. The TPW Commission later adopted the rules allowing them to stay in place through the 2015-2016 hunting season. These rules represented the best solution possible in the face of time constraints and uncertain exposure of CWD statewide. The TPWD staff and TPW Commission committed to revisit the rules following the 2015-2016 hunting season when more facts were available.



TPWD had established a statisticallyrelevant goal to collect 7,726 CWD samples disbursed across their 33 regional management units of Texas. By the close of the 2015-2016 hunting season, TPWD had collected 10,569 samples from hunter-harvested deer or road kill. This sampling effort detected one CWD positive free-ranging mule deer in the Panhandle’s northwest corner. There is known CWD in Colorado’s southeast corner and very little surveillance in northeast New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle, so this positive very likely arrived through natural wildlife movement. During that same time period, captive deer breeders submitted 4,699 CWD samples from inside their pens and 3,863 samples from their associated release sites. At the time of this writing, CWD has been detected at four different captive deer breeding facilities and/ or release sites. Facilities and sites with direct connections to these CWDpositive sites are under TAHC herd management plans and/or quarantines or have “tested out” through prescribed surveillance requirements. Beginning in February 2016, TPWD convened a broad group of stakeholders to begin working on revised rules for CWD surveillance associated with artificial movement of live deer. That group was distilled into what was called the Small Stakeholders Group, which met many times over the course of several months. TWA was honored to be a part of this group. These meetings were moderated by a representative from the University of Texas Law School Center For Dispute Resolution, who


submitted a summary report to the TPW Commission. On May 26, 2016 the TPW Commission met to consider adopting the rule package recommendations that came out of the Small Stakeholders Group. TWA provided public comment in favor of the proposed rule package. However, in response to substantial public comment from captive deer breeders in opposition to the rules during the meeting, the TPW Commission tabled the rules and set a Special TPW Commission meeting for June 20, 2016 to reconsider the rule package. On June 13, 2016 TPWD staff convened another Small Stakeholders Group meeting with two TPW Commissioners to discuss possible rule package amendments. TPWD staff recommended some amendments that came out of that discussion. On June 20, 2016 the TPW Commission voted unanimously to adopt the amended rules package, which was endorsed by TAHC. At this meeting, there was enormous support for the rules from a very broad group including TWA, wildlife biologists, university professors, land conservation associations, state and national wildlife conservation groups, livestock associations, land managers, former TPW Commissioners, hunting outfitters, veterinarians and a myriad of other wildlife enthusiasts. In addition to surveillance for CWD through sampling efforts, TPWD and TAHC recommended establishing geographic zones around known CWD-positive sites in order to restrict live animal movement and require heightened sampling. TPWD staff


conducted town hall meetings in the three areas of Texas where zones were recommended: the Hueco Mountains region of far West Texas (where CWD was first detected in free-ranging mule deer in 2012), the far northwest corner of the Panhandle (where CWD was detected in a free-ranging mule deer in the 2015-2016 hunting season), and the northwest corner of Medina County (where CWD was detected between June 2015 and the end of the 2015-2016 hunting season in three captive deer breeding facilities). On Aug. 25, 2016 the TPW Commission voted unanimously to adopt staff recommendations for three CWD zones. Notably, the Medina County zone is substantially less restrictive by not imposing mandatory CWD sampling of hunter harvested deer and providing captive deer breeders options to move live animals through higher testing. This approach was driven by a science-based approach to the

unique circumstances on the ground in this area as well as a grassroots effort by local landowners and elected officials to voluntarily provide substantial CWD samples. TWA provided public comment in support of this rule package as well. It should be noted that TAHC Commissioners voted on Aug. 23, 2016 to propose a mirror set of CWD zones for surveillance and movement restrictions for CWD-susceptible exotic species (specifically elk, red deer and sika). These rules will be considered for adoption following a public comment period later in the winter. TWA believes that TPWD and TAHC staff, as well as the Commissioners of both agencies have shown a responsible duty of care in their response to CWD findings here in Texas. We recognize that continuity of business interests must be taken into consideration when creating new rules, which both agencies have clearly done. Captive deer breeders have been afforded multiple options to


continue their businesses, including the use of live-animal CWD tests (a first in the nation) and flexible testing regimes. What must not be lost in the discussion is the enormous cultural and economic value of a precious natural resource, the deer herds of Texas. Approximately 1,200 captive deer breeders hold approximately 100,000 deer in pens. Approximately 250,000 farms and ranches across Texas provide habitat for approximately 4.5 million deer. Those deer provide hunting opportunities for approximately 750,000 deer hunters, who generate over $2.8 billion in economic impact for our great state. That impact keeps working lands and rural communities together, providing immeasurable benefit to all Texans. TWA thanks agency staff, their Commissioners, and all those who supported the state’s response to CWD for doing right by Texas.




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Taking Quality Harvest Photos Article by DAVID BRIMAGER Photos courtesy of HUNTERS

TWA Director David Watts displays his trophy Panhandle mule deer. He uses the sky as the main background as well as positioning photographer below the hunter and animal.


unting is a pastime. A way to bring friends and families together to share in what the outdoors has to offer. All hunting trips provide memories to last a lifetime. So why not take quality field photos which



will bring back those memories forever? When assessing photo opportunities in the field, consider the broader world view of hunting today. There are many anti-hunting groups and people who are looking for ways to condemn our


hunting heritage. Some of the negative perceptions of hunting can be associated with what they see. One way to change their perception and to help champion the hunting industry is by taking quality field photos. First, let’s discuss the gear you need. Obviously, you need a good camera. Today’s cameras are easy to use and most are digital, so you are able to look at your photos in the field and delete undesirable shots immediately, keeping only the best ones. Some prefer expensive cameras, but even today’s disposable cameras can suffice. When you are on backpack-type hunts, you might want to consider a simple camera that fits easily in your pack. Also consider one with a timer in case you are by yourself when you take that trophy of a lifetime. A tripod might help uncertain situations as well. I also suggest packing some paper towels and water or baby wipes to use for cleaning blood and dirt off of the harvest. To set up a field photo, first choose a site in the field and in the area where you are hunting. The artificial setting of truck beds and ATVs are not desirable. It is important to place the animal in a respectful position. Place the animal’s legs under the body. Clean the animal so there is visible no blood or entry wounds. Cut the tongue out or place it deep in the mouth so it is not protruding.. Make sure there is no brush or objects in the way. Have the area clean of trash, hunting items, drinks, etc. Decide if you want your bow or firearm in the photo and present it properly. Many favorite shots from quality photographers include the sky as a backdrop. Position the animal on a small


When posing this trophy, think of the antler configurations you want to showcase. Here, TWA Director Curtis Anderson displays his whitetail with a slight turn to show all the whitetail’s tines.


Terry Johnson uses the clear blue sky as a background, sits behind the deer to showcase the antlers and chooses a clean ground surface free of tall grass. The photographer also positions himself below the animal/hunter to display the harvest in a respectful and quality manner.

When taking a field photo with more than just the hunter, like Tyler Brimager (l) and TWA’s David Brimager, frame the animal so all can be seen properly and caps are tilted up to reveal the hunters’ faces.

hill or anyplace you can access the sky. A “busy” background distracts from the animal. If possible, take some photos with you behind and beside the trophy so that you are not blocking the antlers. Many professional photographers say the optimal times of day for outdoor photography are the hour just after sunrise and the hour right before sunset. In a hunting situation, these times may not be practical. You can try taking your photos in mid-morning or early afternoon. Make sure you have ample light. Also, make sure to always use your flash. Even with great lighting there are always shadows that might take away from the picture. Flash will fill those areas and make the colors in the photo brighter and not so dark or washed out without the flash. Finally take your time. You can never have too many photos of your trip. And use different positions and viewpoints to get all aspects of the hunt and the animal. You’ll be glad you captured those memories in photos.



Leopold The Practitioner of Conservation

Photo courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation (www.aldoleopold.org)

Lessons from


It has always been admitted that several kinds of conservation should be integrated with each other and with other economic land uses. One and the same oak will grow sawlogs, bind soil against erosion, retard floods, drop acorns to game, furnish shelter for song birds and cast shade for picnics. One and the same acre can and should serve forestry, watersheds, wildlife and recreation simultaneously. The plain lesson is that to be a practitioner of conservation on a piece of land takes more brains and a wider range of sympathy, forethought and experience than to be a forester, game manager, range manager or erosion expert in a college or a conservation bureau. Integration is easy on paper but a lot more important and more difficult in the field than any of us foresaw. ~Aldo Leopold


f all the qualities we see in Aldo Leopold, one of his finest attributes is that he was able to see the big picture. And because he left behind a wealth of writing, he still helps today’s conservationists see a bigger, clearer picture. There are several worthwhile lessons contained in this excerpt from Leopold’s 1934 essay, Conservation Economics. The first lesson is that true conservation should not be separated from real world economics. This is especially significant in a private lands state like Texas. Next, Leopold reminds us that every plant has multiple values. Grass is not just for grazing. Shrubs are not just for loafing cover or browse. Likewise, every acre of land has multiple purposes and benefits. We may view a pasture as providing quail habitat and cattle forage, but if it is properly managed, it is also providing watershed protection, groundwater recharge, biodiversity, song bird habitat, pollinator habitat, carbon sequestration and other vital natural services. The oak tree described by Leopold has many simultaneous uses and values. Some uses, such as lumber have direct economic value. Some values are very

beneficial to society but currently have no direct economic value, such as the binding of soil and the slowing of floods. Other uses are good for landowners, hunters, bird watchers and picnickers, and these benefits can sometimes be translated into economic value. Who ever thought that an oak tree or any other kind of tree could be so important to so many different people? The third lesson is that conservation is a complex endeavor, requiring more skill than any of its components. A proper view of conservation requires practical knowledge, skill and experience in soils, plants, range management, wildlife management, livestock management, economics, estate planning and other core disciplines. The term that is sometimes used to describe this is holistic management, which attempts to integrate the whole rather than just study or manage the parts. The final lesson in Leopold’s passage is that all of this is easy to talk about and put on paper but very difficult to actually apply on a farm, ranch or forest. There are many people who know the theory and principles of land management—but the landowners or land managers are the ones who must make it work at the practical

and economic level. Leopold owned a small tract of land in Sand County, Wisconsin. It was here that he discovered and tested many of the principles of land and wildlife management he espoused. It was here that he distilled many of the philosophical beliefs that later became his set of land ethics. Owning a piece of land and learning how to take care of it is by far the best teacher of conservation. The greatest conservationists of today are not the scientists, professors, agency biologists or the leaders of conservation organizations. All of these perform a valuable service but each is only a small cog in the larger machine. The real practitioners of conservation are the men and women who manage the lands, waters and wildlife of Texas and who do so in a thoughtful, skillful, responsible way. The benefits of this include both economic gain and long term sustainability—all of it driven by the kind of land ethic taught by Aldo Leopold. These are the people who produce the food, fiber, wood, wildlife, water and recreation that we all depend on. To you, we say “thank you.”

WRITER’S NOTE: Aldo Leopold (1887—1948) is considered the father of modern wildlife management. More importantly, he developed and described many of the concepts of conservation, ecology and stewardship of natural resources. Leopold was an amazingly astute observer of the land and man’s relationship to the land. His writings have endured the test of time and have proven to be remarkably prophetic and relevant to today’s issues. This bimonthly column will feature thought-provoking philosophies of Aldo Leopold, as well as commentary.







DAVID E. CULVER dec@landtx.com

(C) 210.422.4676 (O) 325.294.4616 www.landtx.com





On behalf of the Conservation Legacy Team, thank you to all the students, educators, volunteers, colleagues and staff who value the importance of educating generations of Texas land stewards.









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Blue Mountain Peak Ranch Article by LORIE WOODWARD CANTU


hile Richard Taylor’s accent can be traced to central Massachusetts where he was reared, his land ethic and respect for private property rights are 100 percent Texan. “We find this state to be wonderful for private stewardship,” said Taylor, owner of the Blue Mountain Peak Ranch near Mason, which was honored with the 2016 Leopold Conservation Award for Texas. He accepted the award with his partner Suzie Paris. The Impetus Taylor and his late wife Sally began looking for property after a local inspector in Monterey County, Calif. informed

them they couldn’t walk on their 16acre property near Big Sur because their foot prints constituted foot paths, which required a permit. To deliver this news, the inspector had hiked more than 1.5 miles over an adjoining ridgeline to approach the property from the backside to maximize his visit’s surprise. This announcement came after the Taylors finally had completed their 1,600-squarefoot home, an ordeal that required 8.5 years to navigate a permitting labyrinth encompassing 14 different agencies and costing more than $1 million in permitting and legal fees. “I believe in voting with my dollars and my feet,” Taylor said, noting that his

ancestors on his mother’s side who came to America on the Mayflower had done the same thing when they left Europe to escape oppressive taxes. The Taylors’ quest to find a suitable property took them seven years and led them to 11 states north and west of Texas, as well as Canada and Mexico before they came to the Lone Star State. Their search was deliberate and thorough. When they found a property of interest, the couple would spend a week to 10 days in the area interviewing everyone from the sheriff and fire chief to local tax appraisers and natural resource specialists. “Our experience in California had a big influence on what we asked and what we

Richard Taylor (r) and partner Suzie Paris on their beautiful Blue Mountain Peak Ranch. Thanks to their commitment to sound management practices, the oncebarren ranch is home to white-tailed deer, turkey, doves, quail, raccoons, foxes, owls, birds including a multitude of black-capped vireos, armadillos, possums, horned lizards and the rare spot-tailed earless lizards. © CHASE A. FOUNTAIN, TPWD





were aware of,” Taylor said. “In California, the overreaching regulations are a thinly disguised land grab. The government makes the permitting process so onerous that landowners spend all of their money on permitting and legal fees over the course of many years. When landowners are unable or unwilling to pay taxes, the government seizes their property.” In Texas, the Taylors found what they were looking for: land that had been overused and neglected; property with water or the potential for water; and a place where private landowners are appreciated, respected and helped. “The private property rights and the support of private land stewardship that is enjoyed in Texas is gone elsewhere,” Taylor said. “It has been regulated out of existence.” The Land Blue Peak Mountain Ranch, located about 25 miles southwest of Mason, had been on the market for two years when the Taylors and the realtor made their first trip to the 830-acre property. It had been settled in the mid-1800s, grazed hard by sheep, cattle and goats through the years, and over time had become a dense cedar break with distinct browse lines and more rock-strewn, bare ground than grass. When the Taylors arrived on the ranch, they caught their ranch broker by surprise. They asked him to leave them there for three hours, so they could walk the property. They were the first potential buyers to make that request. Taken aback, the broker asked if he could go along. “We should’ve left him in the truck,” Taylor said laughing. “Because he was privy to the potential we saw, he showed the property with a different focus afterward and we ended up in a bidding war.” The Taylors saw evidence of water in the fairly recent past. Although there was only one small active spring, the Taylors spotted numerous calcium deposits on the rock cliffs that marked water flow. “We knew if water was there in the past, it could be there again in the future,” Taylor said. The Taylors did their homework before signing the final papers. The ranch’s namesake, Blue Mountain, at 2,134 feet

is Mason County’ highest point. It was also home to a gap-filler radar system in the 1950s. Although the 1,200-squarefoot facility was only operational for a few months, its presence ensured that Blue Mountain was not named on any future map and also opened the possibility of contamination. It took a Freedom of Information Act request from a U.S. Congressman to get the Taylors access to the original plans, so they could determine with certainty whether there were underground storage tanks or other issues that would make them responsible for remediating the government’s damage. Their research proved the land was clear. In 2001, the Taylors closed the deal and moved to Mason, where they learned the fine distinction between a Yankee and a damn Yankee. “You’re a Yankee if you have a northern accent, but you’re a damn Yankee if you move in,” he said laughing. The damn Yankee credits his interest in the natural world to time spent on an uncle’s Nova Scotia farm and his parents’ willingness to let him independently explore the fields and forests around Framingham, Mass., where he grew up. “I always found nature so much more interesting and varied than a parking lot,” Taylor said. The Restoration The Taylors’ first move as land stewards was to educate themselves. “I’m a learner,” said Taylor, a former electronics factory manager and selftaught engineer who twice worked his way from the production floor to the vice-presidential suite in the computer industry. “I’m the first guy to say, ‘I don’t know’—and I sure as hell didn’t know much about managing Texas rangelands when we got started.” For two years, they took advantage of every educational opportunity they could find including attending TWA seminars and workshops, consulting with NRCS personnel and TPWD biologists, touring facilities such as the Kerr Wildlife Management Area and the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Sonora, and talking to local ranchers. “The amount of information available

and people’s willingness to share their expertise was staggering,” Taylor said. “It was a far cry from our previous experiences when bureaucrats would refuse to answer a question because we didn’t have an appointment to ask it.” Armed with new knowledge, the couple set a goal. It began as a page. They edited it to a paragraph and eventually condensed it into a single sentence. “Our goal is ‘increasing species diversity and water into the aquifer,’” he said. “It’s the litmus test that we weigh our decisions against.” The first steps were picking up the massive amount of trash that littered the ranch and removing the excess Ashe juniper that was choking out the other vegetation. The Taylors, who chose not to use herbicides or pesticides on their land, began with his-and-her chainsaws. They also worked with Keith Blair, a certified burn manager, to learn about and later implement prescribed burns. “In this area, fire historically was the primary ecological force,” Taylor said. “The grazing herds likely passed through, but stayed at the lower elevations.” He laughs at the memory of his naiveté. “We were en route to our first week-long burn school and I actually said, ‘Let me get this straight, we’re going to spend seven days learning how to light a match?’” Taylor recalled. “Obviously, I had no idea of the number of variables involved in the science of fire.” They held their first prescribed burn in 2003. “I stood in the midst of the ash and thought, ‘What have we done? We’ve killed it all,’” Taylor said. “Then two days later, tiny green shoots were pushing through. It was an ah-ha moment.” Work on the ranch was put on hold, when Sally was diagnosed with cancer. “She told me, ‘I’m not leaving until the last cedar is cut,’” Taylor said. It was and she died in 2007. The Strategies Ideally, Taylor and Paris, who has been his partner in life and conservation for the past eight years, would like to burn onetenth of the ranch each year. “We see the greatest response after an area has been burned three times,” Taylor




Taylor said that their primary goal was to increase species diversity and add water into the aquifer. Their stewardship is working. Once-dry springs have come back all over the ranch. © CHASE A. FOUNTAIN, TPWD

said. “The seed bank just seems to be completely reinvigorated by repeated fire.” Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. They’ve had to cancel the last three scheduled burns because conditions haven’t been right. As a result, they have not conducted a large prescribed burn in the past five years. “We’re betting that conditions will be right this winter and preparing for a major burn,” Taylor said. “We need one to maintain our progress because nature is always in motion.” While Taylor is the first to admit that the safety brought by proper conditions is paramount, he has noticed a subtle change in the regulatory atmosphere. “When we started 15 years ago, we could work with our county officials to get a waiver for a burn,” Taylor said. “Now, they can’t do that because the state has assumed some control of a local issue.” In addition to prescribed burning and mechanically controlling cedar, Taylor and Paris also actively manage the deer herd under an MLDP to keep the population in balance with the food supply. When they started their management program, there was a deer to every 3.5 acres, now it is about one deer to every 12 acres. Initially, they had to harvest at least 75 deer per



year. These days the annual deer harvest is 25. Paying hunters are allowed to harvest spikes, three-pointers and older does as the management team works to improve the quality of their mature bucks. Hunters who want the opportunity to shoot a mature buck on the ranch, give Taylor a check for $2,500 in advance. He immediately cashes the check. If the hunter takes what is considered a trophy on Blue Mountain Peak Ranch, Taylor keeps the cash. If the hunter doesn’t harvest a trophy, Taylor gives the money back. Management whitetails, feral hogs, brown-headed cowbirds and fire ants are the only animals killed on the ranch. Hogs are trapped, and deer hunters are offered a $10 per head bounty for every hog they take. Paris is in charge of dispatching cowbirds. Last year, she trapped 309. This year she is operating a second trap to further reduce the number of nest-parasitizing cowbirds. Fire ants are controlled with a mixture of orange oil and molasses called Anti-Fuego Soil Conditioner that improves soil and drives out fire ants by introducing a fungus into their mounds. The ranch is home to increasingly scarce horned lizards, which rely on the harvester ants that are often


decimated by the imported fire ants. “It’s all about striking a balance, so we can move toward a more diverse complement of plants and animals,” Taylor said. “For instance, people ask me why we don’t kill the mountain lions that pass through. From my perspective, if we have a mountain lion eating 25 deer a year that’s 25 deer we don’t have to harvest.” The Results As a point of reference, Taylor and Paris have kept four acres in its original state. The matted Ashe juniper and bare rocks stand in stark contrast to the open grassland sprinkled with live oaks and just enough brushy plants to provide wildlife habitat. “During our last prescribed burn, we actually had to fight fire to protect this area,” Taylor said. “We wanted a reference point, so people, including us, can see how far we’ve come.” Their stewardship is working. Once-dry springs have come back all over the ranch. “Every year since 2002 when we began, the springs have run farther and longer, regardless of the amount of rain,” Taylor said. “Initially, the water rushed down the ravines after a rain. Now it percolates into the aquifer.” One of his measures is the primary well


that provides water for the ranch. Against the driller’s recommendation, Taylor had it sited at the top of Blue Mountain to allow for a gravity flow system. They hit water at 200 feet and dropped the pump at 250 feet. Today, the water level continues to rise. “Anecdotally, it tells me that the more grass we get on the land, the more water we’re putting into the aquifer,” he said. With the water came wildlife. Today, the once-barren ranch is home to whitetailed deer, turkey, dove, quail, raccoons, foxes, owls, birds including a multitude of black-capped vireos, armadillos, possums, horned lizards and the rare spot-tailed earless lizards. “By nature, I’m a trusting person,” Taylor said. “I have to trust that these rare species we have on our land will be considered an asset in the future and not a liability, creating the opportunity for government interference in what we’re doing or what the next generation of landowners on this property is doing.” The Future As Taylor and Paris have moved steadily toward their stated goal, they have created a second goal for themselves. In addition to diversifying species and putting water in the aquifer, the duo now is working to “grow” soil and influence others. Their interest in soil was piqued when at the Sand County Foundation’s Innovations on the Land Symposium, a speaker noted there was only one inch of soil covering the entire earth. Because soil is as foundational to environmental health as water, Taylor and Paris are now exploring the possibility of a rotational grazing program to help speed up soil creation. “Understanding the role that livestock can play in rangeland health, particularly as a substitute for bison, has caused us to consider grazing from another perspective,” Taylor said. They also realize their contribution is limited by their fence lines unless they engage others, so the pair opens their ranch whenever possible to school groups, youth groups such as the local Youth Range Workshop and special interest groups as diverse as the local book club and the San Antonio Rolls Royce Club. (Taylor is a vintage car collector as well, so

Richard Taylor, owner of Blue Mountain Peak Ranch, 25 miles southwest of Mason, and his partner Suzie Paris were honored with the 2016 Leopold Conservation Award for Texas. This award goes to the overall statewide winner of the Lone Star Land Steward Awards Recognition Program. © CHASE A. FOUNTAIN, TPWD

the connection is more logical and direct than it appears.) “People don’t necessarily understand what we’re doing if we just tell them, but they really get it when we show them,” Taylor said. His favorite example is a neighboring rancher who thought prescribed burning was foolhardy until he witnessed the process and the results. He began managing his ranch in a similar manner. Because of that, the two operations now provide three square miles of grasslands in a critical Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. “The mean average rainfall in Mason County is 26 to 28 inches annually,” Taylor said. “By my calculation that means the combined stewardship on our ranches provides somewhere between 800 million and 1 billion additional gallons of water for the Edwards Aquifer annually.” While he appreciates the conservation incentive provided by wildlife tax valuation, he also recognizes the incentivizing power of environmental services. “People in Austin and San Antonio should send us a thank you note,” he said

laughing. “Or maybe a check.” While Taylor and Paris are pleased with the pro-property rights mentality that pervades Texas, he is quick to cite eminent domain abuse and the EPA’s efforts under the Clean Water Act as a reason that private landowners can’t become complacent. “Despite Texas’s long-standing support of private property rights, this state is not immune to environmental idiocy,” Taylor said. As an example, he cited finding on the internet “an Austin-based group called, ‘Save the Ashe Juniper Society’ or some such name.” No one responded to his repeated requests for more information about the organization’s purpose and goals. “The more people who move here from other places, the greater the roar of the crowd who doesn’t understand or value private property rights,” he said. “Unfortunately, government listens to those who yell the loudest whether or not they make sense. It’s crucial that landowners find their collective voice and speak up about the things that matter.”






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Light Caliber Fans Favor Low Recoil, Better Accuracy Article and photos by RALPH WININGHAM


he days of big bore blasters reigning as the most popular knock-down tools for Texas game animals appear to be fading into history with greenhorn and veteran hunters alike finding that going light can be the right move. While there are still a lot of the “just give me my old 30.06 and I can really show you something” members of the hunting community, a growing contingent of shooters are turning to calibers with less shoulder punch to effectively reach out and touch targets. Sales of hunting rifles in lighter calibers like .204 Ruger, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington and others are big business for sporting goods and firearm retailers in today’s market. Although there are a variety of reasons for the high demand of light loads, topping the list are less recoil, greater accuracy and a ready supply of relatively inexpensive ammunition. Hunters going through a quick review of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Annual of Hunting and Fishing Regulations will find that any caliber rifle other than a rimfire may be used on game animals like white-tailed deer. This requirement is based on the theory that, unlike centerfire cartridges that generally produce greater muzzle velocity, rimfire ammunition does not possess enough velocity at longer ranges for clean kill shots on Texas big game. In addition, TPWD officials suggest that hunters limit their big game shooting tools to calibers of at least .243 Winchester. As a side note, since feral



hogs are classified as non-game animals, there are no restrictions on the types of firearms that can be used to eliminate the destructive pests. With all due respect to the state recommendations, there are a multitude of hunters who have decided that being able to accurately send a high-velocity, smallcaliber bullet into a live target can produce a clean, effective kill shot particularly on hogs and smaller deer such as does and cull bucks being harvested for their meat. Most of these animals headed for

the meat locker and being taken out of the gene pool weigh in at less than 100 pounds—they are not the big bruiser, corn-fed white-tailed deer from cooler climates that can tip the scales at 200-300 pounds or more. “I have been using a .223 for about eight or nine years. What sold me on the rifle was cheap ammo and low recoil,” said Walter Priestly of Robstown. “I use a 55- or 64-grain bullet and prefer a 64-grain soft point. I have used it on does and cull deer. It is really good for

Light-caliber fan Walter Priestly checks out a thermal image from a camera on the top of his truck as he prepares to put his .223 Remington bolt action rifle into play during an early evening hunt at his ranch.



If a hunter decides to go light for better accuracy and less recoil, spending a little more time on the range making sure the firearm is on target is recommended by those who use the lighter caliber rifles as effective shooting tools.

Smaller calibers that are finding favor with today’s shooters are bracketed by a .22-caliber Magnum, far right, and a .270 Winchester, far left.. From left the other calibers are a .204 Ruger; a .222 Remington; a .223 Remington; a .22-250 Remington; and a .243 Winchester.

youngsters who don’t need to experience a lot of recoil. “If you put it at the point of the shoulder or in the ear, that animal will drop in its tracks,” he added. The farmer and rancher said he normally fires about 1,500 to 2,000 rounds a year through his two .223 Remington caliber rifles to make sure he is confident in his bullet placement with every shot. Priestly said he particularly likes the light calibers—he has one on an AR-15 style platform and another that is a boltaction—because of their accuracy and adaptability for use in night shooting of hogs. The rifles are equipped with suppressors and the AR-15 features night vision optics that help him control the destructive hogs on his property. “Anytime you can put a shot in a hog’s head or neck it goes down,’’ Priestly said. “The .223 might be a little light for a big trophy buck, but they are great for kids and adults when we are after does, cull bucks and hogs.” As an historical note, the AR-15 style rifle (AR-15 signifies Armalite Rifle, Design 15) was made available to the public in 1963 as the Colt AR-15 semiautomatic in 5.56X45 mm NATO. The equivalent civilian caliber is the .223 Remington. For the past 50 years, the semiautomatic AR-15,often incorrectly identified as an assault rifle, has been manufactured, modified and sporterized by a multitude of firearm enthusiasts. It has been treated much like other former military-style weapons transformed by the public in the past. Sporterized versions of the U.S. military’s 1903 Springfield, the German Mauser, the British Enfield and other retooled former weapons of war have long been held in high regard by hunters across the county. That same attitude and popularity carries over to the AR-15. Part of the reason for that popularity is familiarity. Any shooters, including former military members, who are familiar or comfortable with a caliber or rifle model will be more accurate and therefore more effective with that smokepole. The reduced recoil of the .223




Dan Moseley sets up his equipment before sending some .223 Remington rounds down range as he practices with his AR 15-style sporterized rifle he has fine tuned into an effective hunting firearm capable of downing does, cull bucks and hogs.

Remington and similar smaller calibers is a big part of this comfort factor, along with the increased possibility of the shooter being able to fine-tune accuracy easier than with a big bore rifle. Granted, there is a down side to using light loads in the form of decreased knockdown power, particularly at ranges beyond 100 yards. However, the majority of Texas deer, hogs and other similar animals shot by hunters are rarely taken at ranges beyond the length of a football field. Dan Moseley, a San Antonio-based hunter and shooting instructor, said he believes that small caliber rifles are a good fit for shooters who are proficient and practice on a regular basis. “These are not firearms for the ‘one shot and done’ kind of hunters. You need to spend some time on the range to make sure you are proficient,” he said. “Those hunters who go out and shoot only one shot a year to kill a deer probably should stick to larger calibers. The ones using smaller calibers who practice a lot and can shoot a three-shot group at 100 yards that you can cover with a quarter



won’t have any problem putting down a doe or hog,” he said. Many shooters have probably run across someone who thinks that practice for the deer season entails tacking an 8-inch paper plate on a hay bale 100 yards down range and seeing if three shots with his big bore will stay on the plate. These big bore fans are under the assumption that a large caliber rifle Cartridge

Bullet Muzzle

producing an 8inch group at 100 yards will still put down an animal no matter where it is hit. Don’t fall into that trap. “Accuracy is the key,” Moseley said. “I guarantee that if you put a .204 bullet into a hog’s ear at 100 yards, it won’t move out of its tracks.” Concerning knock-down power, it is true that the smaller caliber rifles lack the massive punch of their big bore cousins. However, as noted by Moseley, it is generally more important where a shooter hits an animal than how much energy the bullet delivers into the animal. For example, a 50-grain .223 Remington bullet leaves the muzzle at 3,410 feet per second, producing 2,607 foot-pounds of energy. That velocity drops to 2,989 at 100 yards striking the target with 992 foot-pounds of energy. That is more than enough for a kill shot if the bullet is put in the right spot. Ballistics for other popular small calibers (velocity is in feet per second and energy is in foot-pounds) can be seen below in Figure 1. The first listing is for a .22 caliber Winchester Magnum that cannot be used for Texas big game. Also included is the .270 Winchester, considered by legendary outdoor writer and rifle authority Jack O’Connor as the perfect caliber for white-tailed deer. The bottom line is that when a shooter is focused on the fun factor of sending lead down range, whether at targets or animals, less recoil and better accuracy can tip the scales to light over big knock-down power and excessive shoulder punch.


100 Yard






.22 Mag.

40 grains






32 gains






50 grains






50 grains






95 grains






140 grains





Figure 1






Cool Weather Considerations Article and photos by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM, Professor and Extension Wildlife and Fisheries Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


ool fall mornings are characterized by steam coming off our private waters as the water temperatures begin to drop. Many landowners are about the business of chasing ducks, quail and deer, but it’s not time to forget about those fish populations in our farm and ranch ponds quite yet. There are several other key considerations that should be addressed during the fall/early winter months. For one, simply go fishing. As waters cool, fall fishing in our managed private impoundments can be outstanding. There is still time to collect lengths and weights of key species such as largemouth bass before the year’s end in order to calculate relative weights (Wr). (See the September Pond Management column: Become an Enabler.) These data will help chart the course for next spring’s management strategy if good fishing is the goal. Organize and evaluate those catch records that you required of everyone who had permission to fish. You say you kept no catch records? How do you know your management plan is working if you have no way to gauge fish response to applicable practices? Plan on keeping catch records in order to start the New Year off right. Were you plagued with aquatic weed issues in your impoundments this summer? If so, those pesky weeds are sure to return next year, so make a plan to control them in the spring by using the appropriate biological, mechanical and/or chemical means. The best place to start is Aquaplant—Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s aquatic weed website found at http://aquaplant.tamu.edu. If biological control of aquatic weeds is planned via grass carp, now is the time



to get your TPWD permit processed. Once your permit has been approved, late winter/early spring is the ideal time to stock these finned herbivores so they can get a jump on the weeds at the beginning of their growth cycle. Was your pond low in pH and/or total alkalinity during 2016? This is an issue confined to the acidic soil counties of east and northeast Texas. If so, have a water sample tested by your local county extension agent, and, if agricultural lime applications are needed, plan on making applications sometime between January and early March. Fall’s cooler temperatures also signal the time when fish farmers have supplies of various species of fish for re-stocking or stocking new or renovated ponds with the appropriate species based on pond size, water clarity and landowner goals.



For those lakes primarily managed for largemouth bass, supplemental stocking of advanced (8-inch or larger) channel catfish fingerlings will be needed to maintain a population over time. Catfish have a difficult time reproducing successfully in the presence of a bass and bluegill population in smaller lakes and ponds; therefore, the addition of 50 or so fingerlings per surface acre every three to five years is the only way to maintain a population for “ffff” (family, friends, fish and fries). For smaller ponds stocked and managed strictly for catfish, take stock of the total standing crop of fish present and make sure your pond will be well below 1,000 pounds of catfish per surface acre going into next summer. For those populations that have been depleted via fishing, restocking before spring arrives will ensure plenty of catfishing opportunities later next year. Barring incidences resulting in fish dieoffs (golden algae, oxygen depletions), largemouth bass and bluegill should be able to sustain their numbers through natural reproduction. The one exception involves Florida bass. If pond owners want to grow the largest bass possible but don’t already have the Florida bass gene in their existing largemouth population, they can add 20 – 50 pure Florida bass fingerlings to the pond. This should establish those genes into the existing bass population over a few years. Supplemental forage species for largemouth bass can also be stocked in the fall, most notably the threadfin shad in those private waters at least 10 acres in size. However, under no circumstances should tilapia be stocked in the fall months, as they cannot survive the winter temperatures in the northern two-thirds of the state. Did you supplement your forage fish and/or catfish with a pelleted floating ration in 2016? For the northern twothirds of the state, water temperatures are beginning to cool and fish response to the supplemental offering will slow considerably. Nevertheless, continue to offer a little feed during the winter months. However,

carefully pick your days to feed, targeting warm afternoons after several days of unseasonably warm temperatures. The fish will not feed as vigorously as they did in September, but a little feed consumption is better than none before the waters warm and feeding begins in earnest in mid- to

late spring. Fall—it’s not just a time to pursue feathered and furred quarry. Keep those finned critters in mind as well. After all, you can’t follow bird dogs or sit in a deer stand all day every day of the season—or can you?





Feral Pig Toxicants in Texas An Additional Control Technique



n contrast to public opinion, hunting alone is not able to keep the feral pig population in check. In order to maintain a stable population level, more than 70 percent removal rate is required annually. Small local populations of feral pigs have been effectively controlled with a combination of current control methods such as trapping, snares, fencing, dog hunting, precision shooting and aerial shooting. When compared to the statewide population expansion, all current control methods combined continue to fall short of the 70 percent removal threshold. AgriLife Extension estimates our current annual removal rate around 29 percent. With this in mind, exploration into alternative population control methods has become necessary. Texas is in need of additional control methods for feral pigs, especially one adapted for urban deployment in extensive damage scenarios. Unlike private lands, where a variety of control techniques can be implemented, state agencies and private organizations lack the necessary tools to control problematic feral pig populations in urban settings. A potential solution to this problem has surfaced in the southern hemisphere. In Australia, toxicants have been

used for decades to mitigate damage in cases of extreme economic loss and high pig densities. Toxicant campaigns are commonly referred to as the most cost efficient feral pig control technique in practice. Toxicants can be deployed in a large variety of environments and have shown to be 11 times less expensive than shooting and 80 times less expensive than trapping. Introducing a safe and cost-effective feral pig control measure in the U.S. will directly benefit natural resource managers by decreasing monetary expenses associated with protecting their natural resources. Although toxicants have shown potential to be an efficient, inexpensive, multi-regional management tool, there are




currently no registered feral pig toxicants in the U.S. For this reason several state, federal and international agencies have partnered to investigate alternative control techniques for feral pigs. This collaborative effort includes Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, USDA National Wildlife Research Center, Animal Control Technologies Australia, Connovation Ltd. and USDA-APHIS-Wildlife ServicesTexas. This partnership, along with help from Borderlands Research Institute, has identified a feral pig toxicant that is producing promising results. Sodium nitrite is a salt most commonly used as a food preservative in cured meats for human consumption and is found

Supplementing the Habitat www.lefeeds.com


naturally in several vegetable species. Ironically the compound that preserves bacon and sausage is the same agent that proves lethal to feral pigs. Sodium nitrite was selected as a potential ‘Achilles heel’ toxicant by exploiting a unique weakness in the blood cells of feral pigs. Simply stated, the mode of action reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen until the animal expires. This lack of oxygen transportation causes the animal to fall unconscious and ultimately perish. Sodium nitrite was selected because it is highly lethal to feral pigs and causes mortality in a humane fashion. Unlike other toxicants that can cause pain and suffering to the animal for as long as 5 – 31 days until mortality occurs, sodium nitrite is an acute toxin that produces a rapid, humane death usually within 1 – 3 hours. Sodium nitrite also exhibits a short persistence time in the soil given it naturally occurs in the nitrogen cycle and assists in plant development. Sodium nitrite is recorded for staying in soil for only 12 hours as opposed to some synthetic rat poisons that can persist in the environment for up to 24 months. To ensure environmental safety, additional testing is currently underway with collaborative research on sensitivity to sodium nitrite dosed pig carcasses on scavenging species such as coyotes and vultures to assess the potential risks to secondary consumers. Feral pig toxicology research has reached new milestones within the past decade. The Feral Swine Research Facility, located at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area in Hunt, Texas, has served as ground zero for feral pig toxicants in the Lone Star state. Since the program’s start in 2008, sodium nitrite has remained the focal toxin with the majority of research efforts concentrated on increasing bait palatability and lethality, product stability, and minimizing risks to non-target species and secondary consumers. In its raw form sodium nitrite is unstable and unpalatable to pigs. Discovering a bait matrix that masks the taste of sodium nitrite and pigs will readily consume has proven difficult and taxing. It is important to state that any attempt of private use of sodium nitrite for feral pig control

would be illegal, unethical and ineffective as sodium nitrite’s salty taste is highly aversive to pigs. After years of research and development, researchers have identified a method of stabilizing sodium nitrite in an oral bait that is highly lethal to pigs. Recently, two formulations have become eligible for registration with the Environmental Protection Agency. Both formulations recorded 90.5 percent and 96.8 percent mortality rate in pen trials, exceeding the EPA’s minimal mortality requirement of 90 percent. With these promising pen trial results, the partnership has moved forward into the EPA registration process with the best performing candidate formulation. The product is currently under review with an estimated final approval for field testing by late 2017. Researchers are optimistic about the stringent EPA registration process given that New Zealand recently registered sodium nitrite as the first new mammalian pest toxin in the world in over 30 years. Concurrently, our Australian partners are also in the stages of registry with their respective environmental agencies. Once U.S. registration is completed, toxicant deployment will primarily be used by permitted applicators after receiving proper training and certification. Application of a toxicant will only be deployed in union with a specialized delivery system that only allows feral pigs to assess the bait. Several pig-specific feeding devices have been developed by independent companies; however, the partnership continues to investigate appropriate designs. In spite of their perceived benefit as a hunting species, the presence of feral pigs comes at a high cost to Texas landowners and natural resources alike. They are one of the most ecologically destructive species in North America and are expanding across the U.S. at alarming rates. Current U.S. population estimates of feral pigs are over 5 million with approximately 2.6 million pigs residing in Texas. Feral pig populations increase rapidly because they possess the greatest reproductive potential of all free-ranging, large mammal species in North America.

Feral pigs are a highly adaptable species capable of thriving in a variety of habitats. Feral pig sightings have now been verified in 253 Texas counties. The presence of feral pigs comes at a high price as they cause an estimated at $1.5 billion in national damages annually. One-third of this damage is reported in Texas, as feral pigs account for $500 million in damages annually with over $52 million agricultural losses alone. In addition to causing agricultural and natural resource losses, the physical damage of feral pigs includes destruction to vehicles, urban and suburban landscapes, vineyards, orchards, archaeological sites, soils, fences and ranch infrastructure. AgriLife Extension has estimated feral pig damage at about $7,500/landowner in annual losses. Without proper human intervention, native ecosystems will continue to suffer if we fail to mitigate the damages associated with feral pigs. Toxicants can be a useful tool for unique scenarios when traditional control methods are not applicable, but they are not the final answer to the feral pig epidemic. Public education, use of contemporary methods and regulation remain critical. Feral pigs are well established in Texas and appear to be here for the long haul. As responsible wildlife managers, we need to use all available control techniques at our disposal to keep the population in check for the benefit of our native ecosystems and wildlife.



© Anna Nikononorova Metal roofs make the cleanest, most efficient rainwater collection surfaces.



ll water is rainwater inasmuch as every molecule in the earth’s water cycle, whether currently in the form of groundwater, surface water or sloshing around in your cooler, came from the atmosphere. Even “fossil water” now in the great Ogallala Aquifer once fell from the sky in the form of rain, sleet or snow. How we label the water we use depends on where in the cycle we use it. Any child who ever tilted back her head and opened her mouth to catch a few raindrops has, in a sense, harvested water at its source to be used for a few hours by her body before being returned to the atmosphere by evaporation and to surface and groundwater by elimination. Water collected directly from the atmosphere tends to be purer than surface or groundwater. Although rainwater can pick up bacterial and chemical pollutants as it falls through the air, it’s free of salts, minerals, fecal pollutants and industrial chemicals that leach into groundwater and surface water. Furthermore, it can be readily collected without pumps or complicated plumbing. Unlike large reservoirs, which constantly lose water to evaporation, properly stored rainwater remains almost entirely available for human use. Ancient peoples recognized these advantages, especially in arid and drought-prone regions. Archeological evidence suggests that humans have been gathering rainwater for at least 4,000 years. Anyone who checks a rain gauge knows that an effective rain harvesting system requires more than a vessel. You need a gathering surface, most often a roof, although ambitious systems sometimes employ specially built surfaces called “rain barns.” The rate at which rainwater can be gathered is proportional to the roof’s surface area. However a little area goes a long way for those users looking to augment municipal water or water from a private well. Consider the water rushing from a gutter downspout




during a heavy rain and how many square yards of garden or landscaping that flow could sustain were it stored in rain barrels or tanks instead of directed onto a splash block and onto the lawn where it will percolate into groundwater, flow back into the river drainage and return to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration. So the simplest rainwater harvesting system involves a roof, guttering and downspout directed into a vessel such as a barrel or plastic trashcan. To minimize evaporation the vessel should be tightly covered (a trashcan lid with an opening just big enough for the downspout, say) and opaque to block sunlight, which stimulates algae growth. If we’re only watering a small garden, this simple system might meet our needs. We might want to get a little fancy and add a spigot to our container, an overflow pipe near the top and perhaps a screen for your inflow. Yet, satisfying and functional as our simple system may be, we aren’t making anywhere near maximum use of our rain gathering capacity. For example, consider a 1,500 square-foot roof—a very modest size relative to the suburban average nowadays. Theoretically, we can gather .62 gallons of water per square foot of roof, per inch of rainfall. Design engineers further assume a gathering efficiency of 75 to 85 percent. Assuming adequate storage capacity and 75 percent efficiency, that nice one-inch rain we hope for every April could provide us with 697.5 gallons of clean, soft water for our plants. Given a real toad strangler, we’d better have big tanks (cisterns) and overflow lines. Further assuming our little house is in Dallas, which receives an average of 36 inches of rain per year, our upgraded harvesting system could collect 25,110 gallons in an average year. The average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day for bathing, toilet flushing, laundry, cooking and irrigation. Given a two-person household with regionappropriate lawn and landscaping that requires no more than


Cisterns are the most expensive components in a rainwater harvesting system. This beauty graces the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. (Texas Water Development Board photo/Used by permission)

Rain barrels and cisterns needn’t be unsightly. This system at the Kaufman County Garden Learning Center in Kaufman includes two 3,000-gallon tanks, three 50-gallon rain barrels and a rain garden. (Texas Water Development Board photo by Brad Ackerman/Used by permission)

30 percent of total water use, our smart little system could, in an average year, meet all of our outdoor watering needs with a few hundred gallons to spare. So far, we’ve considered only non-potable water storage for water we won’t be drinking. Collected water for drinking and cooking must be treated with UV-light sterilization and/or microfiltration. Though effective and less expensive, chlorine treatments impart unpleasant taste. The el-cheapo trashcan and gutter downspout system we began with has grown in cost as well as capacity. A state-of-theart system designed to meet all the water needs of the average family could easily run $20,000. Smaller systems designed to significantly offset municipal or well water use can usually be installed for a few thousand dollars. The cistern will be the most expensive component. The higher the capacity, the higher the price. Nevertheless, significant rainwater harvest can make sense over the long run, especially when planned into new construction projects. Commercial and agricultural complexes often have tremendous roof areas. Add in the environmental and potential health benefits of gathering water in its cleanest form and rainwater harvesting might be perfect for your home or farm. The Texas Water Development Board provides a wealth of rain harvesting information on its website: http://www.twdb.texas.gov.



Photo by Rita Mae Frey A skewed sex ratio can usually be corrected by aggressive doe harvest.

DEER MANAGEMENT It's a Numbers Game Article by STEVE NELLE


struggled with math from elementary school through college, at the time not able to see the practical benefit. But as time went on, numbers began to make more sense, especially where I could see the real-world application. Fortunately, deer management does not require advanced math skills, but it does require logical reasoning and the ability to collect, calculate and interpret numerical information. The most successful deer managers are the ones who can put numbers together and understand what they mean. How Many Deer? Knowing about how many deer you have is basic information




needed by the deer manager. While even our best efforts to count deer are not very accurate, fortunately, we do not have to have precise numbers to successfully manage a deer herd. Volumes have been written on deer survey techniques and which ones are best for a given situation. Each method has its place and each has advantages as well as disadvantages. For most ranches, the helicopter survey is still regarded as the best method, with the understanding that it usually underestimates the population. This is actually a benefit, since it provides a built-in safety hedge. Where the tree canopy is extremely dense, helicopters are not suitable.

The helicopter is an excellent deer survey method for many Texas ranches, providing a large amount of useful information in a short time.

Photo by Steve Nelle

The spotlight method can work well if the route is representative of the whole ranch. But the spotlight method frequently overestimates the population which can result in over-harvest. For smaller properties or very dense canopies, a camera survey may work well. Whatever method is used, it is important to do it consistently and not continuously switch or mix methods. Using regional population averages is not a very reliable way to manage deer on an individual ranch since deer densities often vary by a factor of 400 percent on adjacent and nearby ranches. Knowing how to conduct and interpret a deer survey is vital to successful deer management. Herd Composition & Age Structure The deer herd’s makeup is just as important as the number of deer. Herd composition is the proportion of bucks to does to fawns. It is usually expressed as buck:doe ratio and fawn crop. In general, the buck:doe ratio should be somewhere between 1:1 and 1:2. In some cases, where predation is abnormally high or in especially harsh environments where reproduction is low, it is advisable to maintain a wider ratio. Fawn crop is expressed as the number of fawns per 100 does. A fawn crop of 60 percent is 60 fawns per 100 does. Fawn crop will vary a lot from year to year based on habitat conditions, rainfall and predators. It is important to understand that the number of fawns that survive their first winter and enter the herd as yearlings is likely to be much lower than the fawn crop observed in late summer or fall surveys. A high average fawn crop usually indicates good habitat conditions. When fawn crops are high, deer managers are forced to harvest a larger number of deer each year to prevent overpopulation. The proportion of bucks of varying ages is known as age structure. When surveying a deer herd from a helicopter, observers place each buck seen into relative age classes - young, middle age, and mature. If this is done consistently from year to year, it is very useful information. For the sustained production of trophy quality bucks, mature age bucks should comprise 35 percent or more of the total pre-season buck population. An outof-balance age structure often means there is an over-harvest of bucks. However, two consecutive years of low fawn crop will also alter the age structure down the road. Ingress and Egress Understanding deer movement from ranch to ranch is a vital aspect of any management program. On smaller properties the movement of deer between adjoining ranches can undermine even the very best management. Consider that deer commonly wander at least a half mile from the center of their home range. Draw an imaginary line one-half mile in from your ranch boundary. Everything outside that line is acreage that is not really under your full control unless you are high fenced. For a square four section ranch (2,560 acres), the amount controlled is only 640 acres, or 25 percent of the ranch. For a square 16 section ranch (10,240 acres), 56 percent of the deer population is theoretically under the ranch’s control. Odd shaped ranches have an even greater problem with ingress and egress. To make matters worse, during the rut, bucks will often travel

Photo by Steve Nelle


Knowing the proportion of young, middle age and mature bucks is important information for the deer manager.



Photo by Rita Mae Frey


A good fawn crop is indicative of good habitat conditions.

several miles away from their normal range. Yearling bucks are especially prone to wander long distances from where they were born, and this can have a significant impact on future buck numbers. Even large ranches suffer a significant net loss of bucks of all ages if some of the neighboring ranches are over-harvesting. Wildlife Management Associations of several to many contiguous ranches can make a remarkable difference in the quality of a shared deer herd. There are challenges and frustrations, but the results can be rewarding. High fencing is also a good way to gain managerial control over the deer herd, but the economics can be difficult to justify unless you are planning to replace the perimeter fence anyway. Harvest & Death Loss Knowing how many bucks and does to harvest is essential for maintaining or improving a deer herd. However, there are no easy generic formulas for calculating the appropriate harvest recommendation. Since each deer herd is different and because of




the wide variation from ranch to ranch, rules of thumb are often unsatisfactory. Experienced technical assistance is often sought to help develop customized harvest recommendations. Culling bucks with less desirable antler traits has become a common part of many deer management programs. The rationale is that the lesser bucks will be removed from the gene pool and that the superior bucks will be left to do most of the breeding, thus improving antler size in future generations. Although this approach sounds logical, culling has not proven to give the results hoped for. In fact, aggressive culling will materially reduce buck numbers, especially the number of bucks reaching maturity. In addition to legal harvest, every deer herd is subject to natural death loss, wounding loss and poaching. Predators, disease, accidents, fighting and old age all contribute to the annual loss of deer on top of legal harvest. Severe prolonged drought or disease can remove over half of a deer population. Loss of water supply can nearly eliminate a deer population or force their evacuation

is to reduce the number of animals on the range.” The available food supply can also be greatly increased by aggressive habitat management. Increasing the natural food supply is almost always cheaper in the long run than providing supplemental feed. Record Keeping As important as numbers are in the management of a deer herd, trends and comparisons over time are even more important and can tell a great deal about the direction of your management. For example, if the number or proportion of yearling spikes is increasing, that is a bad trend, indicating habitat or nutrition problems. If field dressed weights of deer segregated by sex and age are increasing (without the benefit of supplemental feed), this is a good trend because it tells you that your management is paying off with improving habitat and healthier deer. Remember though, not all trends are due to management; some are due to weather extremes, disease or things out of the manager’s control. Many hunters and managers emphasize numerical score for antlers. Some managers and hunters now admit that an over-emphasis on antler score has hurt some aspects of deer hunting. However, if basic age, weight and antler data is properly used, it is a useful way to measure management success.

A distinct browse line on hackberry indicates an excessive number of deer and/or livestock.

Photo by Rita Mae Frey

to adjacent ranches that have water. When abnormal death loss has occurred or is suspected, it can drastically affect the harvest recommendation for several years. Economics Income generated by deer hunting has kept many ranches intact and profitable. One good way to track economic return is to calculate the return per Animal Unit of deer. This allows the manager to compare returns from livestock and deer hunting. For example, a 5,000-acre ranch may receive $6 per acre for deer hunting or $30,000 gross income each year. After $6,000 of deer related expenses are subtracted, net return is $24,000. The ranch sustains a deer density of 20 acres per deer or 250 deer. It takes 7 deer to equal 1 Animal Unit, so the ranch has 36 AU of deer, or a net return of $667 per AU of deer. Carrying Capacity & Food Supply Carrying capacity is the theoretical ability of land to support a deer herd while maintaining the habitat’s longterm integrity. Biologists have developed regional averages of the carrying capacity, such as 10 acres per deer in the Hill Country, or 20 acres per deer in parts of South Texas. However, these regional averages are guesswork at best and are often misleading. Some ranches have twice or three times the carrying capacity as their neighbor due to better habitat or better management. Carrying capacity is a valuable concept, but it should usually not be stated as a fixed number. Examining the habitat and keeping track of field dressed weights is the best way to evaluate if deer numbers are in balance. A deer consumes about 3.5 percent of its body weight in forage each day. If the average weight in a mixed herd is 100 pounds, each deer is consuming nearly 1,300 pounds of forage each year. When deer numbers outstrip the food supply, habitat damage occurs; deer become malnourished and deer quality suffers. The manager must be able to notice hedging and browse lines when they are just barely beginning so that deer numbers can be reduced before damage is incurred. Al Brothers has said that “the best way to increase the deer food supply

Photo by Steve Nelle


Balancing deer numbers with habitat will help prevent over-population.



BIGGEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK Processing Your Harvest Yourself Article by JOHN GOODSPEED

Photo by Jody Horton


Griffiths’ book includes a recipe for Stuffed Venison Flank, a cut often discarded by hunters that was stuffed with ground pork and spices and cooked in a Dutch oven with onions, carrots and garlic.




ulling the trigger on game is far from the end of the hunt. Next comes processing the animal to get the meat ready for meals for family and friends. For most hunters of large game such as white-tailed, mule and axis deer, elk and feral hog, that means field dressing and a trip to a meat processor for the butchering. But changing your game plan will provide the most culinary bang for your buck: Do it yourself. Not only will you get exactly what you want and save some money, but you will end up with a more tender and flavorful meat – and more of it, says Austin hunter, butcher, chef, author and sustainable food advocate Jesse Griffiths, who teamed up with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for a video series with recipes demonstrating how to prepare wild game to perfection. There are many advantages of doing it yourself. “First off, there is a tangible sense of pride you should take in dealing with that animal from start to finish. Secondly, you are getting your own animal back. Third, you can define how to cut it and what you want out of it,” Griffiths said. “You can make any kind of sausage and cut roasts as big or as small as you want. “And you can keep a lot of things that processors usually throw away such as ribs, neck and shank and get a lot more meat. Also, you can make stock out of the bones.” The whole process, though, takes time, said Griffiths, who owns and operates Dai Due Supper Club and Butcher Shop in Austin with his wife, Tamara Mayfield, and has been featured in Bon Appétit, GQ, Texas Monthly, The Wall Street Journal,

While this hunter already field dressed the buck before beginning to skin it, Griffiths prefers to hang them and skin them first to make it easier and cleaner.

The New York Times and “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Travel Channel. Dai Due’s menu includes a variety of venison and feral hog dishes and fish from Central Texas rivers and the coast. Griffiths’ preferred method for a deer-type animal is to hang it from the hind legs, skin it, cut off the head, gut it and then remove the front feet. “I find that to work the animal properly you can pay it a good deal of attention when hanging. Skinning it before gutting also helps keep hair and dirt from getting into the cavity,” he said. Getting the carcass chilled as quickly as possible is imperative. If the temperature is below 40 degrees, it can hang outside. If not, move it to a walk-in refrigerator or take it to a game processor; some will hang it for a small fee if there is room. The second-best method is to quarter the animal and place the pieces in a cooler, but not directly on ice. Water from the melted ice will seep into meat. Instead, wrap the pieces tightly in plastic or place in a garbage bag before adding ice. Another method is to use jugs that have been filled with water and frozen and place pieces of butcher

Photo by Jody Horton

Photo by John Goodspeed


This image shows all the pieces of a feral hog after butchering and ready for further processing or cooking.

paper between the jugs and the meat. Letting the deer age for seven or eight days will make the meat more tender and a little milder, Griffiths said. The muscles of an animal go into rigor mortis, a chemical process that stiffens them. As that goes away, natural tenderizing begins when enzymes in the flesh begin breaking down the muscle tissue. “A deer can go up to a couple of weeks if it’s cold and dry,” he said. “A feral hog shouldn’t age, though. The fat will go rancid.” Then decide what you want before butchering. “Look at what you eat. Is it mostly ground meat for burgers, do you like sausage, jerky or a big mix of things?” he said. “Also think about how many people you will be feeding because when it comes to packaging efficiently, you want each to feed the appropriate amount for your family. “It also helps to get a lot of work space, allow a lot of time and maybe have some help. Two or three people working on two or three animals really speeds up the process and makes it more efficient.” While a kitchen countertop will work fine, alternatives include



using a folding table with butcher paper taped to the top in a garage or on a patio. Use proper sanitation methods for knives and other tools and the table tops. Griffiths shows how to turn wild game into straightforward, popular and tasty dishes in four videos in TPWD’s YouTube series, “Eat Local: Cooking Texas Style”: Feral Hog Tacos, Wild Duck Yakitori, Grilled Venison and Redfish Fried Three Ways. The recipes come from his book, Afield: A Chef ’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, which includes 85 recipes and explains traditional methods of hunting, butchering and preparing game and fish. “You generally want to cook venison back straps and tenderloins medium rare,” he said. “Any piece that has a bone in it, a lot of connective tissue or fat needs to be cooked low for a long time.” Separating the leg muscles provides roasts, stew meat and steaks as thick as desired that always can be pounded out and chicken fried. For fowl, aging depends on the type of meat they have: age darker meat such as doves and waterfowl with feathers on and guts in, but don’t age those with whiter meat, such as quail and turkey. For aging, he cools down the birds on ice in the field but keeps them from getting wet by using resealable bags and then puts them in the fridge. Doves get one to five days while waterfowl age about seven days. “Breasting a dove out in the field is OK, but I like to keep skin on the bird as an insulator against dryness,” Griffiths said, suggesting that hearts, livers and gizzards should be kept. He prefers to age, pluck and then gut doves. “I love marinating doves in yogurt, which acts as a tenderizer, and hot sauce and then split them and grill them with the skin on until about medium and add salt and pepper,” Griffiths said. He dry plucks or wax plucks waterfowl by submerging them in a pot of hot water with melted paraffin on top. “When you pull the bird out of the water and the paraffin cools, then the feathers come off in big sheets,” Griffiths said. “It doesn’t take long, and it looks like it came



Photo by Jody Horton


Plucking a duck after a hunt, Jesse Griffiths, an Austin-based hunter, butcher, chef and author, says to do everything yourself to get the most from the harvest.


Photo by John Goodspeed


Fish immediately immersed in iced water cool quickly and should be filleted as soon as possible such as this redfish, which has a bloodline that can be trimmed out to reduce the fishy taste.

from the grocery store.” He likes to brine ducks, soaking them for four to six hours in a gallon of water with a cup of salt and half a cup of sugar. “It makes them a little more tender, and I feel like it really mellows the gamey flavor of a snow goose or a shoveler,” he said. The breasts can be ground into sausage, grilled whole medium rare or skinned and pounded like a cutlet and pan fried. Legs should be slow cooked, such as in a crock pot. The same goes for turkey legs, which need to cook six to eight hours. “You need a long time to break them down. Turkeys are on their legs all the time, and the more a muscle works, the longer it needs to cook,” Griffiths said. Turkeys can be skinned out, but pluck and keep the skin on for smoked turkey breasts. The breasts also can be sliced, pounded, breaded, pan fried and served with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on top. “A big turkey can yield so much breast

meat that it can be great for sausage, and turkey makes fantastic sausage,” Griffiths said. “Adding pork fat or bacon as the fat in a 20 percent ratio makes a really cool turkey sausage.” Quail are more difficult to pluck without damaging the skin. “I still try to do it. I love a whole quail with the skin on, cooked whole or halved and grilled,” he said. “One of my favorites is to cut them in half down the breastbone, cut out the breastbone, marinate them in buttermilk and hot sauce and fry them in hot sauce and butter.” Fish can be kept on ice for a day or two.

“Optimally, you take a fish off the hook and put it into ice water, but mostly ice, so it is cooled down instantly,” Griffiths said. “I like to filet as soon as possible when I get back, or scale them if I’m going to cook them whole. Keep the filets cold and dry.” The blood line in filets, which can be a source of a fishy taste especially in such species as white bass and Spanish mackerel, can be trimmed out. For packaging fish and game, Griffiths recommends using a vacuum sealer, which removes most of the air and avoids freezer burn. While consumer products can work well, semi-professional or professional models—though more expensive—are best for bigger jobs and faster packaging. Griffiths also offers day classes in butchery through his New School of Traditional Cookery at Dai Due’s demonstration kitchen or for private groups at their properties. Intensive, three- to five-day public schools take place along the Gulf Coast for fish and at ranches for hunting. They include butchering, processing, cooking, packaging and a feast. One for hunting white-tailed deer and feral hogs is scheduled for Nov. 11-13 on a ranch on the banks of Lake Corpus Christi. “People usually are very surprised after going through one of these classes,” Griffiths said. “They can get stuck in a rut in processing and cooking. It’s nice to be able to show people how to get more out of it. “If we can enable them to enjoy their game more, then we’ve been successful.” While hunting and fishing can be a blast, processing the harvest yourself makes the most out of those resources— and makes them tastier to boot.

ON THE WEB Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wild game video series, including some from Jesse Griffiths: www.youtube.com and search for “Eat local: Cooking Texas-style.” Wild game recipes on TPWD website, including some from Jesse Griffiths’ Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish: (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/exptexas/programs/wildgame) Dai Due restaurant, including recipes and fishing and hunting schools with butchering and cooking classes: www.daidue.com.



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by Major Wallace Hidalgo County 4-H member Major Wallace photographed this hen and poult on the Santa Clara Ranch during ICF’s Santa Clara Ranch 4-H Photography Workshop.

TWA and Vantage Bank are proud to partner with the Images for Conservation Fund in an effort to present some of the outstanding images captured during its nature photography competitions held on private lands in Texas. ICF is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization created for the purpose of conserving wildlife habitat through photography. The Save Camp Lula Sams conservation campaign was completed June 29 through the purchase of the camp by IDEA Public Schools and the donation of a conservation easement to Valley Land Fund. All campaign donations will be invested in an endowment to be used for monitoring the easement and protecting the habitat.




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