Texas Wildlife - November 2018 - Fair Chase Part 1: Whitetails

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Fair Chase Part I


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ur cover story this month is the first installment of a two-part series on the topic of “fair chase” hunting. The term can spur strong opinions from all directions and perspectives of which there are many. Texas is blessed with a lot of hunters, a lot of wild game, and a deep hunting culture. Our hunting culture has many facets, shaped by region, habitat types, available game species and individual hunter ethics. To characterize the topic of “fair chase” in Texas as complicated is an understatement. Ask a public-lands, western state hunter what they consider “fair chase,” and the odds are good that high fences and corn feeders don’t fit the bill. I personally know many veteran hunters who consider trail cameras to be unsavory. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers a broad catalog of game management tools, especially for white-tailed deer, from captive breeding to high-volume population level management, further complicating the equation. While science and technology march forward, it can be challenging to harmonize them with something as tradition-laden as hunting. As the old saying goes, “Change is certain; progress is not.” The idea of “fair chase” in North America was popularized by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt while on a black bear hunt in Mississippi in 1902. After days without success, the desperate guides bayed a bear with dogs and tied it to a tree for the President to come shoot. Of course, he refused and the story was spread far and wide by newspapers. As hunters we must all ask ourselves what we consider ethical and hold ourselves to that personal yardstick. It is easy to drift into self-serious sanctimony or careless nihilism when it comes to hunting ethics if you lose perspective. One does not have to look much further than the familiar touchstone of Aldo Leopold for a dose of perspective. Leopold wrote, “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.” All ethics are intensely personal and hunting is no different. With characteristic wry wit, Mark Twain observed “It’s my opinion that everyone I know has morals. I know I have. But I’d rather teach them than practice them any day. ‘Give them to others.’ That’s my motto.” Twain lays bare the premise of judging one another. I humbly suggest that we all endeavor to make hunting as challenging and enjoyable as we can for ourselves and those with us. We hunt for many different reasons. I certainly approach a dove hunt with my children much different than the serious business of pursuing a mature buck on the high plains. How we conduct ourselves in the field is important. It affects how the non-hunting public views hunting, how friends and family view us individually, and most of all what we each see in the mirror.

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

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

PROFESSIONAL STAFF/CONTRACT ASSOCIATES Administration & Operation David Yeates, Chief Executive Officer Quita Hill, Director of Finance and Operations Shannon Hasan, Office Administrator

Outreach & Member Services David Brimager, CWB®, Director of Public Relations Luke Sammons, Communications Consultant Kristin Parma, Membership Coordinator Mimi Sams, Engagement Coordinator

Conservation Legacy and Hunting Heritage Programs Kassi Scheffer, Director of Education – L.A.N.D.S. Outreach Program Elanor Dean, Education Program Specialist Gwen Eishen, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Adrienne Paquette, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Jo Picken, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Phil Salonek, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Elisa Velador, L.A.N.D.S. Educator Marla Wolf, Curriculum Writer Leslie Wittenburg, Director of Education – L.A.N.D.S. Intensive Program Brian Robert, Education Program Specialist Iliana Peña, Director of Conservation Programs Laura Calhoun, Women of the Land Program Coordinator Courtney Brittain, Website Consultant COL(R) Chris Mitchell, Texas Youth Hunting Program Director Bryan Jones, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Bob Barnette, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Briana Miles, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Kim Hodges, TYHP Program Coordinator Kara Starr, Texas Big Game Awards Program Coordinator

Advocacy Joey Park, Legislative Program Coordinator

Happy hunting and happy Thanksgiving,

Texas Wildlife Association 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 2018 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.



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Texas Wildlife




8 Fair Chase Part I: Whitetails




34 Borderlands News

Evaluating Translocation Strategies for Restoring Pronghorn Populations in Far West Texas

Shooting for the Big Bucks by HENRY CHAPPELL

16 Hunting Heritage


Target Hunger This Hunting Season by DAVID BRIMAGER

38 Shoot Like a Pro

18 Lessons from Leopold

Leading Lines

Out of Kilter



40 Mast for Big Game

22 Conservation Legacy


An Extraordinary Partnership by PHIL SALONEK

46 Pronghorn Basics by HENRY CHAPPELL

26 Guns and Shooting Sounds Good

54 Back at the Ranch


A Beginner's Guide to Selecting the Perfect Shotgun

30 Pond Management


New Structure Does More Than Just Shorten the Time Between Bites by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM

Photo by Wyman Meinzer

Magazine Staff



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

Fair Chase Part I


On the Cover During rut, when bucks are on the move, a combination of careful still hunting and rattling can pay off. Sure, you’re likely to see a lot of deer while sitting in a stand watching a feeder, but you’re narrowing your real hunting time to the half hour the deer need to eat all of the dumped corn. Rattling tends to be most effective just before the peak of the rut when does are coming into estrus and bucks are looking for a fight. In this photo by Wyman Meinzer, Bob Moorhouse (retired manager of the Pitchfork ranch in the Rolling Plains) enjoys the challenge of still hunting on a snowy morning. Read more by Henry Chappell in his article Shooting for the Big Bucks, pages 8-14.





FOR INFORMATION ON HUNTING SEASONS, call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112, consult the 2018-2019 Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, or visit the TPWD website at tpwd.state.tx.us.







The Future of Rural Texas: A Texas Tribune Symposium, Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, College Station. For more information, visit www.texastribune.org.

Texas Children in Nature Annual Summit and Champions Luncheon, Corpus Christi, TX. For more information, visit texaschildreninnature.org/tcinsummit.



Women of the Land, Welder Wildlife Refuge, Sinton. Registration is limited to the first 36 women. For more information and to register, visit www.texas-wildlife.org or contact Iliana Pena at ipena@texas-wildlife.org.

TWA Sporting Clays Shoot, National Shooting Sports Complex, San Antonio. To register, please visit texas-wildlife.org/resources/events/ twa-sporting-clays-shoot-sanantonio or email David Brimager at dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.



TWA Regional Round Up, Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, College Station. Visit www.texas-wildlife.org/resources/ events to learn more.


TWA Sporting Clays Shoot, Greater Houston Gun Club, Houston. To register, please visit www.texaswildlife.org/resources/events/ twa-sporting-clays-shoot-houston or email David Brimager at dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.


Kids Gone WILD Event, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. For more information, visit www.fwssr.com.


Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. For more information, visit www.fwssr.com.


San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, featuring the Texas Wildlife Expo. For more information, visit www.sarodeo.com.





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During the rut, bucks abandon their daily routine and sometimes even their normal home range.






tupid bucks rarely reach their full potential. Successful hunting of mature whitetails requires far more energy and patience than is required to take an average deer. Big bucks are largely nocturnal and rarely leave heavy cover. Camera studies have shown that some of these exceptional deer live out their days without ever being seen by hunters during legal shooting hours. These deer can be nearly impossible to hunt except during the rut. A whitetail buck gains 80 percent of his skeletal growth in his first 18 months. To grow a trophy-size rack, he must have access to plentiful nutritious, highly digestible food, water and escape

cover. In general, he must reach four and a half years of age. Exceptional bucks are most often associated with moderate or low deer population densities and deep soil sites or lowland areas such as river and creek bottoms which harbor an abundance of mast producing trees, succulents and forbs. Like all deer, big bucks feed and travel along or just inside “edges,” where two types of habitat meet—where a pine plantation meets mature hardwood forest, for instance, or where a riparian corridor transitions to upland habitat. Deer are also drawn to edges of mottes and openings amid dense cover. Successful big buck hunters do some of their most effective




scouting after the start of hunting season. Yes, pre-season scouting is important, but keep in mind that trophy deer aren’t going to be in the same places in December that they were in October. Although deer live within home ranges, those ranges shift with changes in food availability, breeding activity, hunting pressure and other factors. Telemetry studies in South Texas have shown that although a buck’s home range at any given time is typically 1,500 acres or less, seasonal shifts in living area effectively create year-round home ranges of as much as 7,000 acres. Scrapes, oval areas pawed by bucks and marked by urine and scent from intertarsal glands to mark territory and advertise to does in estrus, are sure indicators of the presence of breeding age bucks and the onset of the rut. Look for scrapes in openings in dense brush, along the edges of mottes and at game trail intersections. Scrapes usually lie beneath low, overhanging limbs which the buck licks, chews and mangles with his antlers. Understandably fresh scrapes excite hunters, but they’re overrated as spots for ambushing trophy bucks. Studies show that mature bucks rarely check scrapes during daylight hours. Late winter and early spring are excellent times for scouting next season’s big bucks. Shed antlers, which indicate the presence and size of area bucks, are more easily found before the grass and forbs begin their spring growth. Look for sheds along

creeks and smaller drainages, along game trails and in openings amid dense brush. Mature bucks avoid heavily used game trails, preferring instead parallel paths 50 to 100 yards on either side. Look for these corridors at road and firebreak crossings and other places where tracks will be apparent. Although seasoned hunters employ a variety of methods— rattling, still hunting, stand hunting and sometimes combine methods during the day—most hunters nowadays rely on wellplaced stands. Inexperienced hunters tend to place stands where they can see a lot of country—a potentially effective strategy during the rut, when bucks can be anywhere. The rest of the season, however, the big boys will stick to heavy cover, or the edges, and rarely step into the open during shooting light. Mature bucks are intimately familiar with their home range and will notice something foreign such as a new elevated stand. Where possible, stands are best erected before hunting season and left in place. With multiple stands, hunters can adjust to changes in wind direction and deer movement and avoid over using a stand. Once you’re committed to this approach, avoid moving stands during the season. However, if you plan to erect a lightweight portable stand, it’s

Careful glassing with binoculars or a spotting scope can work as well for open country whitetails as for mule deer.

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This hunter is using the trees to break up his outline. Note the rattling horns at his side.

best to do it at the start of each day’s hunt. At the end of the day, it can be moved or laid on its side until time for the next hunt. If it’s properly positioned, you’ll see the buck before he notices your stand and heads for cover. Portable, self-climbing stands can work beautifully in areas with suitable trees. Take care not to crowd feeding and watering sites. Place stands downwind of likely approaches 100 yards to a quarter mile from water hole or food pot. The odds for a daytime encounter improve dramatically. Stand hunting may be the most efficient method for the average hunter to take a deer, but experienced big buck hunters often choose to enter their quarry’s world by building ground blinds, waiting in ambush concealed by naturally occurring cover or by still hunting—moving slowly and alertly downwind of likely haunts and stopping frequently to listen and assess. During rut, when bucks are on the move, a combination of careful still hunting and rattling can pay off. Sure, you’re likely to see a lot of deer while sitting in a stand watching a feeder, but you’re narrowing your real hunting time to the half hour the deer need to eat all of the dumped corn. Rattling tends to be most effective just before the rut’s peak when does are coming into estrus and bucks are looking for a fight. At the actual peak of the rut, the big boys are likely to be with does and can be impossible to call away. In 1978, at Randado in South Texas, ranch manager Al Brothers introduced a young, little-known outdoor photographer named Wyman Meinzer to the art of rattling in rut-crazed bucks that might otherwise never be seen by a hunter.

Since then, Meinzer has probably rattled in as many bucks to camera and rifle as anyone in Texas. I’ve sat with him several times in South Texas Brush Country and wondered if the huge buck or, in a couple cases multiple bucks, were going to run over us before the click and buzz of the camera’s shutter release spooked them. Like all masters, Meinzer makes it look easy. He doesn’t bother with camo or scent masks. He simply dresses in earth tones and minds the wind and his outline.

After coming in at a trot to Wyman Meinzer’s rattling, this South Texas buck turns tail at the sound of the shutter release. A smaller 10-pointer is mauling the brush to the left, just out of the photo.




Before and after the rut, bucks follow a fairly predictable pattern of bedding, feeding, and watering. Mature bucks are often nocturnal. This might be the only look you’ll get during shooting hours. (Photo by Donnie Draeger)

“I try to pick a spot with enough openings to allow a good look at the deer and a good shot,” Meinzer said. “During heavy rut, wind doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue with bucks up to four years old or so. They’ll come right on in from downwind. Now, some of the big old bucks will spook when they catch your scent.” Meinzer will back up against a tree, preferably with bushes on either side to break up his outline. Like an old buck spoiling for a fight, he’ll rake the brush with his rattling antlers. He said, “In real heavy cover, I might start kind of quiet, tickling the brush, because the deer might be only 50 or 60 yards away. But if it’s in oak motte country with a lot of openings, I’ll usually start out pretty loud. I’ll keep it up for maybe a minute and then I’ll stop, take a good 180-degree look, back and forth maybe four or five times, and then I’ll rattle again.”

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Some hunters rattle once and wait 15 minutes before rattling again. “I don’t do that because a lot of deer will stop and listen when the rattling stops,” Meinzer said. “Keep it up at a steady rate, rattling every two or three minutes, and you’ll keep an old buck moving. He may come in slow, walking, or come in ripping, tearing up the brush and looking wild-eyed and slobbery.” Meinzer recommends placing a hunting partner downwind of the rattler. “A lot of big old bucks will circle around downwind,” he said. “He may leave quietly; he may snort and run off; or he might stand there and look at you.” Over a long career, Meinzer has found that damp, foggy conditions are best for rattling because bucks feel more secure and can move quietly. Wind makes deer jumpy.


How much time does Meinzer give a rattling spot? “Like coyote calling, if they don’t come in 10 minutes or so, I’ll get up and move,” he said. Understandably, most hunters consider the rut deer season’s most exciting part. Bucks are constantly moving and less wary than during the rest of the year. But rut may not be the best time to hunt a particular big buck. TWA member Greg Simons, a wildlife biologist, founder and owner of San Angelo-based Wildlife Systems, Inc., considers bow season and early general season the best time to take a particular trophy. “Bucks are more predictable then,” he said. “If you’re going to get down to hunting microscopically, there’s a huge advantage to focusing on times when bucks have a routine rather than during the rut when they’re willy-nilly.” Early in his career, Simons spent most of deer season guiding clients in West-central Texas. “Out here, it’s a bit hilly, with scattered openings, so you can get up on a high point and glass, find a deer and go after it like mule deer hunting,” he said. “You look out over a bottom or at the opposing slope, not just with

binoculars, but with a spotting scope. Once you locate your buck, it’s a matter of using cover and topography to slip into shooting range. A lot of hunters will spot a deer half a mile away and start thinking about putting up a tripod and feeder over there so they can kill that buck later in the season instead of trying to figure out how to take him today.” Given a clear shot at a reasonable range, Simons coached his clients to use the spotting scope as a rifle rest. “In those days before everyone used shooting sticks, I’d just turn the scope sideways and have my hunter steady his rifle on it,” he said. Simons is quick to admit that his “mule deer” approach won’t work with whitetails in flat, brushy, South Texas or much of East Texas. TWA member Robert Sanders knows about hunting in cover. Raised in the Pineywoods and educated at Stephen F. Austin State University, he spent 18 years managing wildlife and habitat on a Duval County ranch for the Temple family. Nowadays he’s back home managing wildlife and timber at T.L.L Temple

Waterholes are usually good bets, especially in dry country.




Foundation’s 20,000-acre Boggy Slough Conservation Area west of Lufkin. Bowhunting for whitetails is one of his passions. “These East Texas bucks are different than South Texas bucks,” Sanders said. “They have larger home ranges. When he’s in velvet hanging out with his buddies, that’s one scenario. But when that velvet comes off, he’s a different animal. You’ll see a bunch of bucks on game cameras, but then that velvet starts to come off, and it’s almost like they move their home range a half a mile or more. It’s really frustrating.” Sanders takes his shed hunting seriously. He said, “I’ve taken a lot of bucks within half a mile of where I found their sheds.” Like Simons, Sanders prefers the pre-rut period for taking a specific buck. “I rely a lot on scouting and sheds and then I really concentrate on those weeks before the bucks go crazy,” he said. Sanders has taken some of his best bucks in transition zones where pine plantations meet streamside management zones, or creeks. Bucks often use firebreaks along the edges of pine plantations. “Even though our bucks move around more here in East Texas, they’re still an edge species like they are all over the state,” he said. Sanders focuses on food sources. “There are times here in East Texas when there are acorns everywhere. That’s great. It pulls these bucks through the rut,”

Quick but careful. Still hunting for big bucks may be the ultimate challenge.

he said “But when the white oaks and the water oaks and the red oaks all have acorns, it’s tough. The years I like are when one species is producing, and you can find a string of white oaks and it’s deadly. White oaks are great for tree stands.” If he doesn’t take a buck pre-rut, he will hunt the rut. “Sometimes I’ll spot a buck I’ve never seen before,” Sanders said. “That’s rare in South Texas, but here in East Texas a buck caught on camera on one property will show up three miles away.” Don’t forget the post-rut period when most hunters have quit for the season. “Post-rut is beginning to be one of my favorite time to hunt,” Sanders said. “Bucks really start getting back together and going to food plots and other sources.” Be aware that in East Texas, some bucks started shedding antlers as early as mid-December. Sanders said, “Last year a buck I was hunting had been totally nocturnal and when he finally started stepping out into the light, guess what? One antler was missing. Total bummer.” A bummer indeed. Just one more challenge to focusing on big bucks. But, isn’t that why we’re obsessed with them? In-season scouting can be just as important as pre-season scouting.

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Target Hunger This Hunting Season Article by DAVID BRIMAGER


s more than 600,000 hunters take to the fields across Texas hunting white-tailed deer this season, one thing is for sure—there will be plenty of venison harvested for the freezer and plate. With nearly 4 million white-tailed deer in Texas, a recent survey by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) showed more than 900,000 whitetails were harvested last year. With that many deer being harvested annually, one way hunters can help the hungry of Texas is to donate their harvests to the Hunters for the Hungry program. According to the Wildlife Management Institute, more than 750 million pounds of wild meat are consumed by humans each year in America. With less fat and a higher nutrient content than other meats, more people are seeing the benefits of wild game. With the increase in urbanization and human populations, habitat/population management of our wildlife is critical to survival of those species. Therefore, hunters can do their part in supporting Hunters for the Hungry, along with other organizations, to help feed those in need. Here in Texas, hunters can also support the program when they buy their hunting license by making voluntary donations to “Feeding Texas/Hunters for the Hungry” program. Donations to the Hunters for the Hungry program provides hunters with a way to donate legally harvested deer to participating processors, and this processed meat goes to local food banks to feed Texas families in need. Last year, hunters and anglers generously donated $106,913 through the TPWD licensing system, which helped offset a percentage of the processing fees for food banks and made it possible for more Texas families in need to enjoy this quality protein source. According to the San Antonio Food Bank, who was an exhibitor at TWA’s annual convention this year, Hunters for the Hungry provides venison to Texans in need. Through the program, hunters can drop off legally tagged, field-dressed deer at participating meat processors. The partner processors prepare the venison for distribution through local food banks. • •

HUNTERS, HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP: Bring your legally tagged, field-dressed deer to a participating meat processor. There is no cost to you! When you purchase your Texas hunting license, choose the option to donate to Hunters for the Hungry. Your donation underwrites meat processing fees.

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With more than 600,000 hunters hunting all over the state this year, consider donating your harvested deer to Hunters for the Hungry.

PROCESSORS, HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP: Once registered as a participating processor with the food bank in your area, you will be listed on its website and in promotional materials. Prior to each hunting season, partner processors will receive donation receipts, 2-pound chub packs for donated venison and promotional materials. Processors are reimbursed at a market rate that is negotiated in an annual Hunters for the Hungry agreement with the food bank.

This season please consider helping feed the hungry. For more information about donating venison or becoming a participating processor, please visit www.feedingtexas.org/get-involved/hunt/.




Out of Kilter BY STEVE NELLE

Every woodsman knows that deer in many places are exterminating the plants on which they depend for food. Something is out of kilter. ~Aldo Leopold


woodsman is one who spends enough time in the woods, hills, pastures and river bottoms to see what is happening. A woodsman notices subtle things not seen by others. Not content to view the world through the windshield, woodsmen walk the pastures, pausing frequently to observe, ponder and study. In Leopold’s 1939 essay, “The Farmer as a Conservationist,” the woodsmen could tell that the overabundance of deer was having a detrimental effect on plant life. It is an important ecological skill to know when something is out of kilter. Even more helpful is the ability to discern when something is starting to get out of kilter. This is why ranch managers and biologists conduct browse and forb surveys to document how heavily key deer food plants are being grazed. Overpopulation and excessive browsing are the mortal sins of deer management. The biological effects of overpopulation are well known in agriculture and wildlife management. Farmers know what happens when they plant their crops too densely in the field— all of the plants become stunted due to overcrowding. Foresters know that they must match the number of trees per acre with the soil’s productivity. If they allow too many trees to grow, they become spindly with poor growth rate and none will ever become a large tree. Fishpond managers know they cannot allow too many bass or catfish in a stock tank, or else they outstrip their food supply, and you end up with a pond full of stunted, hungry fish. Ranchers understand that if too many head of livestock are placed in a pasture, they will be unhealthy and unproductive and will damage the plants. For these reasons, the proper thinning of crops, timber, fish, livestock and game is an essential part of responsible management. Leopold described the damage he saw on the Kaibab Plateau caused by an overpopulation of mule deer following the eradication of wolves: “I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anemic desuetude, and then to death. I have

seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddle horn.” Something was out of kilter. When seedlings are browsed to death the reproductive cycle ceases. If this happens long enough, those species are exterminated. This is what we are seeing in the Hill Country with such species as Spanish oak, lacey oak, black cherry, wild plum, bigtooth maple, hawthorn, cottonwood, Texas mulberry, white honeysuckle, Carolina buckthorn and dozens of other palatable species. As the old trees die of natural causes, there are no young ones to take their place. In the 1930s, Leopold visited Germany to study their forestry and game management practices. The Germans had noticed a decline in forest productivity and soil health after growing conifer monocultures. With a lack of browse and mast, high populations of roe deer had to be maintained by artificial feeding. The logical solution was to re-establish normal forest diversity. But Leopold noted, “The German foresters now wish to restore a natural mixture of hardwoods, but the deer won’t let them; the hardwoods must be fenced to survive the hungry animals.” Something was out of kilter and not easily fixed. A number of biologists, landowners and ranch managers believe that the overpopulation of deer, across vast areas of the Edwards Plateau is perhaps the most serious ecological problem of the region; worse than feral pigs, worse than invasive grasses, and worse than cedar. The damage is not obvious to the casual observer. But to the one who knows what the native diversity of shrubs and trees should be, the damage is easy to observe. Hillsides that once supported 30 to 50 different kinds of woody plants and possibly 100 species of forbs, now support only onethird or one-half that many. The better species are in decline or already gone; the less desirable species have filled in. Something is out of kilter. The solution is not easy, but the combination of stewardship and woodsmanship is the place to start.

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.

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An Extraordinary Partnership Noble Energy and Texas Wildlife Association Article by PHIL SALONEK Photos courtesy of CONSERVATION LEGACY

This image shows the 33 school districts within Region 18 and the communities receiving L.A.N.D.S. Outreach programs during the 20172018 school year.


oble Energy energizes the world by safely and responsibly delivering oil and natural gas to the marketplace with a focus on positively effecting communities within its footprint. In January 2017, Noble Energy acquired 71,000 net acres in the core of the Southern Delaware Basin in Reeves and Ward counties. With converging missions and a desire to combine and leverage resources for maximum impact, Texas Wildlife Association and Noble Energy have partnered to expand natural resource education opportunities in West Texas. The Texas Wildlife Association has educators around the state, deploying the Conservation Legacy lineup of programs

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to empower and educate Texans with knowledge of fundamental, science-based ecological principles. For youths, the Learning Across New Dimensions in Science (L.A.N.D.S.) program brings conservation education curricula directly to Texas teachers and students through a variety of methods. Whether using handson Discovery Trunks, going outdoors for a Field Investigation Day, or integrating engaging lab experiences focused on native Texas species, L.A.N.D.S. is sequentially designed to improve students’ essential knowledge and skills related to wildlife, habitat and land stewardship. I am a native Texan who grew up exploring the playas and arroyos on the Chihuahuan Desert outskirts and in August 2017, was hired as a L.A.N.D.S. Educator, tasked with bringing L.A.N.D.S. programming to the uncharted wilds of West Texas. The partnership with Noble Energy stipulates that I deliver Wildlife by Design presentations to classrooms, promote Discovery Trunks and implement L.A.N.D.S. Intensive programs. The West Texas conquest began immediately as I started building relationships and promoting L.A.N.D.S. Outreach to all school districts within Texas Education Agency (TEA) Region 18, using a combination of inperson visits, electronic correspondence and telephone calls. The West Texas deployment of the L.A.N.D.S. Program aligns with TEA Region 18. Although not formally associated, I maintain a cooperative relationship with Region 18 Education Service Center. Region 18 is comprised of: • 37,553 square miles • 19 counties • 33 school districts • 169 schools • 7 charter schools • 5 institutes of higher education • 6,300+ educators • 88,000+ students Although TEA Region 18 is considerable in size, 85 percent of the region’s students lie in the 18 school districts on the southern edge of the Llano Estacado. As the terrain drops off into the Pecos River Valley to the southwest, so does the population. This area is known as the Trans-Pecos region of Texas and is encompassed by the Chihuahuan Desert, which is the largest desert in North


TWA L.A.N.D.S. Educator Phil Salonek presents “Skins and Skulls” to third graders at GE “Buddy” West Elementary in Ector County.

America and one of the most biologically diverse deserts in the world. This area is a well-known hotspot for nature lovers with its rugged mountain ranges and sky islands, the Pecos and Rio Grande Rivers, the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, an abundance of unique plants and multiple endangered species. These marvels highlight the importance of residents learning about the natural resources found in their own backyard. The Wildlife by Design program allows teachers to bring a L.A.N.D.S. Educator into the classroom to present interactive, hands-on, wildlife-based lessons, activities and demonstrations to students. The bulk of my time and energy is spent presenting Wildlife by Design programs in classrooms throughout the region with the goal of seeing students' eyes light up in ‘Aha!’ moments. During these presentations, students investigate adaptations of animal skins and skulls, explore soil composition, experiment with aquifer models, observe bird biofacts and compete in life cycle game shows. In the 2017-2018 school year, there were 84 days of Wildlife by Design programming totaling 480 presentations engaging 12,153 students and 357 teachers within 45 schools. One teacher said, “I’m thoroughly impressed with the services TWA provides to our students. It was eye opening for them to hear how everything we depend on is derived from natural resources. I’m hoping it will make stewards of them.” Discovery Trunks are stand-alone resources that are mailed directly to teachers for two-week periods. These are filled with hands-on materials focusing on a variety of natural resource topics relevant to Texas wildlife and conservation. Each Discovery Trunk contains materials specific to its topic such as multimedia, books, puzzles, animal skulls, feathers and labs. Although already available to teachers of West Texas, I

continually promoted this resource and increased demand for Discovery Trunks in the region. Compared to the previous school year 2016-2017, there was a 242 percent increase in requested Discovery Trunks, which reached 410 percent more students. During the 2017-2018 school year, 48 Discovery Trunks were shipped to 30 different schools in West Texas, allowing 140 classes, 121 teachers and 5,587 students to utilize these resources. Conservation Legacy staff also broadcasts Distance Learning programming from an in-office studio, offering students the opportunity to learn about, understand and enjoy Texas wildlife, habitat, management and conservation via live videoconferencing and On-Demand Webinars. Twelve West Texas schools beamed 26 Distance Learning programs into their classrooms reaching 902 students. Similarly, Distance Learning was already available but my promotion resulted in a 116 percent increase in utilization, reaching 126 percent more students than the previous 2016-2017 school year. I also enjoy educating the public about the efforts of Texas Wildlife Association and Noble Energy. It is rewarding to see the amazed faces of parents and children alike when they learn about our native Texas wildlife at these events. TWA programs were promoted at six public events across the region and reached 157 individuals, from Big Spring to Pecos. Many are happy to learn about the abundance of educational resources offered to West Texas youth and applaud both TWA and Noble Energy for these efforts. Beginning in the summer of 2018, West Texas’ formal and informal educators had access to five L.A.N.D.S. Outreach Teacher Workshops to learn how to use the Conservation Legacy’s collection of lessons and activities. In total, 66 teachers attended a L.A.N.D.S. Outreach Teacher Workshop in West Texas. These teachers are




West Texas Impact August 2017 - August 2018 Wildlife by Design

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66 / 11,974


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estimated to impact 11,974 students in the coming school year. Nineteen schools have utilized some combination of Discovery Trunks, Distance Learning and Wildlife by Design. Eleven schools used two different programs and eight schools used all three programs. TWA encourages the use of all available resources and these schools are the embodiment of TWA’s vision for all Texas schools. The impact of the Texas Wildlife Association and Noble Energy Partnership has been strongly felt throughout West Texas in the past year. Programming was ultimately delivered to 19 school districts, which contain 88 percent of the student population. Through the utilization of programs such as Wildlife by Design, Discovery Trunks, Distance Learning and Teacher Workshops, thousands of students and hundreds of teachers are learning the fundamentals of land stewardship and natural resource conservation as well as how to appreciate our native Texas wildlife. New relationships have been formed with nature centers, wildlife preserves, state parks, museums and other organizations that are dedicated to conservation, which will no doubt help the efforts to create and educate the next generation of Texas land stewards. In the first year, I established a presence and built the momentum to thrive and expand in the second year. Per the partnership, a concerted effort has been made to bring L.A.N.D.S. programming to Reeves County. Although Reeves County contains only 2.9 percent of the students in TEA Region 18, they received 4.8 percent of the Wildlife by Design presentations, 8.5 percent of the Discovery Trunks and 20 percent of the L.A.N.D.S. Outreach Teacher Workshops. To date, 1,054 students and 29 teachers have been reached within Reeves County. Every school in the city of Pecos has implemented at least one L.A.N.D.S. program into their curriculum. Additionally, 23 Wildlife by Design presentations in Reeves County engaged 657 students from first, second and fifth grades, while four Discovery Trunks captivated 397 students from kindergarten, first and fifth grades. In Reeves County, 25 educators from elementary, middle school and high school levels attended a L.A.N.D.S. Outreach Teacher Workshop. The L.A.N.D.S. Intensive Educator Training Teaser also reached four teachers from elementary, middle school and high school levels. These workshop attendees are estimated to impact over 2,500 Reeves County students in the coming school year.

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TWA L.A.N.D.S. Educator Phil Salonek presents “Skins and Skulls” to third graders at GE “Buddy” West Elementary in Ector County.

Our vision is to continue offering these resources to all teachers and youth of West Texas. I am expanding into new schools and further implementing the L.A.N.D.S. program by building upon the successes of the previous year. In the fall, I plan to attend the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), a L.A.N.D.S. Intensive Field Investigation Day and a Trinity River Field Day, all of which will be instrumental in TWA’s efforts to bring L.A.N.D.S. Intensive programming to West Texas. Children have an innate curiosity about the natural world and connecting them to nature is an important element of successful conservation education. TWA’s efforts promote awareness of conservation issues and provide opportunities to acquire knowledge and skill, which can deepen commitment and create new patterns of behavior. I am excited to share my passion for youth education and the stewardship of our natural world while bringing this valuable and impactful program to the communities of West Texas. With partnerships such as this one between the Texas Wildlife Association and Noble Energy, an increased bandwidth is available to broadcast eco-centric messaging and cultivate future caretakers of our natural resources.


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Sounds Good

Suppressors Offer Hunters Less Noise, More Accuracy Article and Photos by RALPH WININGHAM


Jim Berne of San Antonio was among the early suppressor enthusiasts and found that the device he is installing on his .308 caliber rifle did reduce recoil and muzzle blast but not to a level that was silent as displayed in movies and on television.

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f real life were like the movies, feral hogs might just be extinct by now. Hunters using suppressors would have been able to knock off entire sounders every time the damaging and prolific pests— although they do make fine table fare—rolled into an area. The animals would never hear silent shot after silent shot as shooters found their mark time after time. Unfortunately, real life is not like the movies. Jim Berne of San Antonio is one of the area hunters who put suppressors into play early on when the devices first became available to the average shooter. “Like many people, I had a misunderstanding about how silent they would be—they are not,” he said. “I thought I would be able to shoot a hog and the others would just stand there—they won’t.” However, Berne was pleasantly surprised at the reduction in both the noise level and recoil when he applied the suppressors to both his .308 rifle and his Model 1911 .45 ACP. “Animals can still hear the shot and the other ones in a group will run off (from the suppressed blast),” he said. “The real benefit is the suppressor lets you fire a shot without the use of hearing protection and there is less recoil.” Hunters and landowners have been using suppressers on rifles to shoot feral hogs for quite some time, and their use on all game animals was authorized by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regulations in 2012. Suppressors, often incorrectly called silencers by those people who watch too many movies or crime shows on television, cut down the noise level of a fired shot and help cut back on recoil. Unlike the movies where secret agents and bad guys can fire a suppressor-equipped firearm completely undetected—even revolvers and shotguns make no noise on the screen which defies the law of physics—there is always some sound when exploding gases send a projectile down range. According to the American Suppressor Association, there is a common misconception from people who have seen “silencers” used in movies and television shows that suppressors completely eliminate the muzzle blast of a firearm. “Despite common Hollywood-based misconceptions, the laws of physics dictate that no suppressor will ever be able to render gunfire silent,” the ASA officials point out on their web site. “Suppressors are simply mufflers for firearms, which function by trapping the expanding gasses at the muzzle, allowing them to


Feral hogs flocking into a feeder offer popular targets for shooters using suppressors on their firearms, although the devices are not the silent killers depicted on television and in the movies—the noise level is reduced, but not eliminated.

slowly cool in a controlled environment. On average, suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by 20–35 decibels, roughly the same sound reduction as earplugs or earmuffs.” In addition, suppressors have been federally regulated since the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934. The NFA regulates the transfer and possession of certain types of firearms and devices, including suppressors. Currently, prospective buyers must send in a Form 4 application to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; pay a $200 transfer tax per suppressor; undergo the same background check that is required to purchase a machine gun; and wait six to 10 months or longer for the ATF to process and approve the paperwork. This is in stark contrast to many countries in Europe where there are no regulations or restrictions on law-abiding hunters who wish to purchase, possess or use suppressors. There is legislation before the U.S. Congress, both the Hearing Protection Act (H.R. 367/S. 59), as well as Title XV of H.R. 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act that will remove suppressors from the requirements of the NFA. The legislation will instead require purchasers to pass a National Instant Criminal Background Check System review—the same

background check that is used during the sale of long guns. If enacted, law-abiding citizens will remain free to purchase suppressors, while prohibited persons will continue to be barred from purchasing or possessing these accessories. Currently, there are 41 states where private suppressor ownership is legal and 37 states where hunting with a suppressor is permitted. David Dury, gunsmith at Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, said the popularity of suppressors has remained high and constant, pointing out that innovations to the devices have made them easier to install and maintain. “We have been working pretty steady threading barrels on a lot of different kinds of rifles,” Dury said. “They can be fit to about anything.” He explained that a single suppressor can be used on several rifles as long as the caliber is no larger than the opening in the suppressor. “It is okay to use a .308 suppressor on a rifle that is a .30-06 or even a .243,” he said. Among the most popular firearms being fitted with suppressors are .22-calibers such as the .223 because those devices will also work with any .22 caliber long rifle. “Because of the added length of the suppressor, which is about




Two rifles with threaded barrels ready for the application of suppressors are displayed by David Dury of Dury's Gun Shop, where the demand for the devices and gunsmith work on firearms to accept the noise suppression devices remains steady.

eight inches, we are cutting a lot of rifle barrels down to 18-20 inches and threading them so a shooter doesn’t end up with a rifle barrel that can be up to 28 inches long. That can be a little unwieldy. “A suppressor makes about the best muzzle break in the world and you don’t have to wear ear plugs when you are shooting,” he added. Dury explained that a suppressor, unlike a muzzle break that increases the noise level by more quickly dispelling gases from the fired round, dispels and then traps the gases inside the device. Rather than rapidly dispelling the gases into the atmosphere, a suppressor causes the sound waves inside the device to actually move the firearm slightly forward as they push into the internal mechanism, reducing recoil. “It reduces the recoil of a .308 down to something like a .22250,” he said.

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Suppressors on smaller caliber firearms virtually eliminate recoil and reduce noise levels to that of a typical air rifle. The price of the suppressors has remained relatively stable, with devices for .22-calibers running about $350 to $400 and larger caliber firearm suppressors selling for up to $1,500 or more. That is in addition to the cost of having the firearm barrel threaded. Popular calibers are .223, .308 and particularly .22 caliber rifles and pistols. “Accuracy with standard loads is actually slightly better in some cases because of the reduced recoil and additional weight,” Dury said, adding that the point of impact does change just the same as different ammunition will produce a different point of impact in each rifle. “They are particularly good for kids learning how to shoot,” he said.

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New Structure Does More Than Just Shorten the Time Between Bites The Positive Effects from Adding Artificial and/or Coarse Woody Cover to Reservoirs

Article by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM, Professor Emeritus, The Texas A&M University System


uring my 37-year career with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, I relied a lot on research findings to assist landowners addressing wildlife and fisheries management issues on their farms and ranches. However, on most occasions, we as Extension faculty had to fund, design and conduct a research project ourselves, with landowners often partnering with us to find the needed answers to questions. In a few cases, we have been able to borrow from the research conducted by others. The topic of this article is one of those instances. Mr. Chance Kirkeeng earned his Masters of Science degree from South Dakota State University in 2017, with the field work conducted from 2012 to 2014. Dr. Brian Graeb, Associate Professor at SDSU directed the research project. The original research portion of his graduate degree was entitled “Effects of a Large-Scale Habitat Enhancement Project on Largemouth Bass Behavior, Feeding, and Growth in Grand Lake, Texas.” Grand Lake is a 115-acre club lake built in the 1950s in East Texas. Grand Lake was already being managed at the time of his study. Ten supplemental feeders (one per 10 surface acres) were established to promote bluegill populations, threadfin shad were

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routinely stocked and even tilapia had been used to supplement the native forage base for largemouth bass. East Texas is chocked full of aging club lakes like Grand Lake, many of which are closing in on the century mark. Maintaining productivity in these aging reservoirs is truly the art and science of fisheries management. The same trends and management issues arise in aging public waters as well. However, because private lakes are generally smaller than their public counterparts, many management practices may be possible on private reservoirs that are not economically feasible on the larger public waters. It is well known that the addition of artificial and/or coarse woody cover in reservoirs lacking in structure results in a concentration of several sport and forage fish species, including highly soughtafter largemouth bass and crappie. Tire reefs and Christmas trees were often used to create new structure in numerous public waters across Texas. This is why so many anglers take the time to establish “brush piles” in their favorite fishing waters. However, beyond that, the impacts of the new structure have been poorly understood. Enhancing habitat by adding coarse structure was the foundation


Diagram of a fish city established in Grand Lake, Texas. From Chance Kirkeeng’s South Dakota State University 2017 Master thesis titled “Effects of a Large Scale Habitat Enhancement Project on Largemouth Bass Behavior, Feeding and Growth in Grand Lake, Texas.” (Photo by Dr. Billy Higginbotham)

of Kirkeeng’s study. The hypothesis was that adding this structure in an aging reservoir that had lost most of its original cover would have several positive benefits on the largemouth bass population present. These benefits could include: 1) largemouth bass selection for these habitat types in an aging reservoir where this structure was lacking; 2) bass seasonal movements could decrease due to the enhanced habitat quality and quantity; 3) bass might shift to a diet of more energetic prey items that were also attracted to the new structure; and 4) largemouth bass growth rates could increase following the addition of the structure because fish could ingest more forage and therefore more energy in less time while expending less energy seeking that forage. A largemouth bass population needs all sizes of forages available for all sizes of bass present. However, if you are in the trophy bass producing business, you want those big females to expend as little energy as possible chasing prey, and when they do catch dinner, you want it to be a large prey item that calorically speaking, provides the most bang for the buck. Adding structural habitat to aquatic systems may improve growth of top-level sportfish because of increased encounters with prey attracted to these habitat sites and/or increased capture rates because of cover that facilitates a “bushwacking” foraging strategy. In other words, providing the structure necessary for largemouth bass to use an “ambush” strategy rather than an “actively seeking” strategy could help improve their growth rates. Although not addressed in this study, concentrating bass

around the structure as they sought prey also has the fringe benefit of making them more accessible to anglers. So, before you break out the chain saw and start felling trees or purchasing artificial habitat, let’s take a closer look at the method of structural enhancement used in this research endeavor. A total of 21 “fish cities” were constructed in the reservoir. The total shoreline length was measured and the structures were established along 13 percent of the available Grand Lake shoreline. An example would be a reservoir that has a total shoreline length of, let’s say 1,000 yards. Thirteen percent of that total length would be 130 yards or 390 feet. If a fish city is designed to be 50 feet wide, then approximately eight fish cities would be established in that body of water to meet the 13% benchmark. The artificial habitat used in the Grand Lake study consisted of 21 Mossback Fish Habitat© (MFH) “fish cities” (www.mossbackfishhabitat.com). Each city was placed as previously described along the lake shoreline and extended out into waters averaging 10 to 12 feet in depth. Each fish city contained two SH-5832 horizontal Safe Haven units (MFH) that were placed perpendicular to the shoreline to connect the shallow littoral zone to deep water habitat (See diagram). At the ends of the horizontal safe havens, three vertical Safe Haven Kits (MFH) were placed to provide additional high density structural habitat. Then, three Trophy Tree Kits (MFH) were placed on each side of the high density habitat features and four Trophy Tree XL Kits (MFH) were placed in deep water at the end of all features described above.




Each “fish city” as described consisted of 15 “clumps” or pieces of structure. A reasonable size estimate would be about 50 feet wide and extend out toward open water anywhere from 50 to 75 feet to reach the desired depths previously described. A combination of high density and low density structure components (roughly 5 feet in diameter each) were arranged with space between clumps. This spacing is key—it afforded the largemouth bass with plenty of ambush points while attracting forage fish. An additional advantage of providing that 5 or 6 feet of space between the habitat clumps is that it makes the total structure entirely fishable—and resulting in that “shorten the time between bites” thing that I am so fond of talking about! The use of commercially available artificial structure provided the consistency between each of the 21 locations that was necessary for comparative purposes in this research project. When I questioned Graeb about the efficacy of substituting both coarse and dense woody structure if a supply was already available on the property, his response was that it should also work just fine. However, even if a ready supply of coarse woody structure is available, it will not provide the longevity compared to the artificial structure types. Think of using a combination of low density structure (mesquite, oak or other hardwoods with large limbs pruned to hold the main trunk off the bottom) and high density structure (juniper, cedar, Christmas trees). All clumps should be anchored in place using concrete blocks or rocks. If you lose track as where the various cover types are “planted,” simply tie a light string to a small styrofoam block to one end

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and a small limb on each clump to the other. Once the spacing is established between the components, simply go back and pull the strings loose from the twigs. The study clearly showed that the largemouth bass population responded positively to the artificial structure in Grand Lake. All sizes of bass experienced an increase in growth rates as a result of the “fish city” project. Graeb noted that anecdotal data suggested that the bluegill population also doubled with the presence of the additional habitat--perhaps due to increased cover for larval/young of the year bluegill and/or the increase in the food supply associated with the structures. He also noted that follow-up projects have shown promise when using combinations of natural brush with artificial structures. He also found that increasing the total amount of shoreline length “occupied” by structures from 13 percent to 20 percent had a beneficial effect. Lastly, recent research findings suggest that halving the size of each fish city used in the Grand Lake study but doubling the total number established in a reservoir might be even more effective. The takeaway message here for lake owners with aging bodies of water or otherwise lacking in structure is that the addition of this habitat feature can positively impact largemouth bass and other sportfish species present. Although this research project utilized commercially available structure, habitat enhancement effects can also be gained by using coarse, woody vegetation as well—or perhaps a combination of the two for maximum impact. Good Fishing!

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Evaluating Translocation Strategies for Restoring Pronghorn Populations in Far West Texas Article and Photos by PHILIP BOYD, PATRICIA MOODY HARVESON, LOUIS HARVESON, WHITNEY GANN, Borderlands Research Institute, and SHAWN GRAY, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department


When pronghorn give birth, it is usually to twins. Here, a pronghorn doe leads her twin fawns across their desert home.



ronghorn (Antilocapra americana) are an endemic North American species and are the sole surviving member of the family Antilocapridae. Historical records describe populations in the millions across their range, which spread through two-thirds of Texas. As western expansion entered this historical range, populations began to decline. Within Texas, populations decreased due to unregulated hunting, drought, parasites and the degradation, fragmentation and loss of native grasslands. Throughout the 20th century, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) used translocations in an effort to restore pronghorn populations. By the time those efforts stopped in the late 1980s, Trans-Pecos populations were more than 17,000. By 2011, these populations had once again fallen to below 4,000, leading TPWD to reinitiate translocations into the Trans-Pecos from surplus populations in the Texas Panhandle. There have been six translocations since 2011, with the focus being on relocating females into the Trans-Pecos population. On

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average, TPWD has moved roughly 100 females per translocation year. Pronghorn are harem breeders, needing only one buck to mate with several does, and does have a high instance of giving birth to twins (about 97 percent). Moving females into the Trans-Pecos increases the reproductive impact on the population. During each translocation, researchers from the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI), at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, fitted about 40 percent of captured individuals with trackable collars in order to study survival and movement.

Some published research has predicted extinction for Trans-Pecos populations within the next 50 years. Our research objective was to use data we have on resident Trans-Pecos population dynamics, combined with survival rates of translocated pronghorn, to evaluate translocation as an effective tool in restoring Trans-Pecos pronghorn populations. We also wanted to compare different translocation strategies to determine if there are any regional pronghorn management units that would be the strongest as candidate release sites. In

order to do this, we built a model that simulates the Trans-Pecos pronghorn population. The model was a femaleonly model and simulated 20 years into the future in order to obtain estimated population projections. Within the Trans-Pecos, TPWD has defined 11 large-scale pronghorn management units, each of which are composed of smaller, annually surveyed “core� management units. There are extensive survey records that account for the number of observed bucks, does and fawns in these core units. This survey data gives a glimpse into not only population

Researchers from the Borderlands Research Institute attach trackable collars to a captured pronghorn in preparation for translocation.




Resident pronghorn and translocated pronghorn (with red ear tags) on the West Texas landscape.

estimates for the region, but also into fawn production estimates. Our model featured 11 sub-models, each designed to replicate the performance of the surveyed units over a 20-year period. The survival of resident pronghorn in the model was based on the limited research that exists into this component of TransPecos pronghorn population dynamics and was compared to other research within their range. The model also accounted for the potential introduction of translocated individuals into any of the 11 management units. Translocated individuals were held separately from the resident population in each of these 11 sub-models, in order to account for the unique stressors that captured individuals experience that affect mortality. By examining data trends, we were able to rank and identify units that have displayed above average survival and fawn production of this historical 20year period. We also established target

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populations for each 11 management units by using historical averages and by calculating the area of grasslands contained within each unit. We simulated the model 20 years into the future and tested 13 different translocation scenarios. These scenarios used different criteria to determine which of the 11 management units would receive a translocation. The model only translocated for the first 10 years of the 20-year simulation. Six of the 13 models translocated 50 pronghorn per year, six translocated 100 per year, and one version of the model featured no translocations in order to establish a baseline against which we could compare the impacts of all translocation scenarios. Of all 13 translocation scenarios that we tested, all scenarios showed growth in the regional population. There were three scenarios, in which we allowed the model to translocate 50 female pronghorn per year, that ultimately showed no difference


in growth compared to the scenario in which no translocations occurred. There was one scenario that produced population projections which were significantly higher than the rest. In this scenario, 100 females per year were translocated for 10 years into only the management units that have shown long-term success, and which were closest to their target population. This research was not intended to predict exact outcomes, but instead evaluated relative differences to different techniques. The model suggests Trans-Pecos pronghorn population declines can be reversed if we focus continued translocation efforts on management units that have historically performed better on average than other management units in the region. By translocating pronghorn into these units, they have the best chance at surviving, reproducing and ultimately contributing to the persistence of an encumbered species that is truly a unique part of the identity of the American west.


NEW BIG GAME SPECIALIST TAKES THE REINS AT BRI Article by LYDIA SALDANA The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) has hired Carlos “Lalo” Gonzalez as its new Big Game Specialist. Gonzalez will be the point person for the pronghorn restoration effort in the Trans-Pecos, along with research projects related to bighorn sheep and mule deer. It’s full circle for Gonzalez, whose first experience with wildlife research was as a volunteer for a Sul Ross State University project when he was just 15 years old. “That experience opened my eyes to what research could do for wildlife conservation,” Gonzalez said. He earned a range and wildlife management degree from Texas A&M-Kingsville in 2011, returning to Sul Ross State University and BRI to earn his Master of Science degree. He gained experience as a wildlife research technician for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville, and then as a field coordinator for the Desert Quail Program at BRI. He will earn his doctorate from Texas A&M in College Station in December 2018. His dissertation is focused on bighorn sheep restoration, and Dr. Louis Harveson is a co-chair of the project. “Lalo is a perfect example of a ‘grow your own’ employee,” said Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross. “He knows BRI very well and understands what we’re trying to accomplish with our many partners from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to landowners across the Trans-Pecos.” A primary focus for Gonzalez will be the Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Restoration Project, a multi-year, public-private partnership with TPWD and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. The objective of the Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Restoration Project is to bolster declining pronghorn populations through wildlife management practices including:

BRI researcher Lalo Gonzalez works with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff to affix a GPS tracking collar on a bighorn sheep at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

translocations, habitat improvements and landowner education. “We’ll also be engaging with TPWD to be sure that our students are working

on projects that will provide research findings that will enhance sciencebased management of pronghorn,” Gonzalez said.





Leading Lines Article and photos by WADE GRASSEDONIO


ost people think of a camera as nothing more than a visual tape recorder, but it is much more than that. It is a tool that can convey feelings and meanings if used properly. In order to communicate emotion and ideas through the medium of photography, the photographer has to understand human nature. Human nature has an almost infinite number of points, but as photographers, we are only concerned with a few. For the purposes of this column, we will only concern ourselves with one—the tendency for humans, especially the eye, to follow lines. To illustrate my point, think about a few examples: Children naturally try to balance on the straight and narrow lines of curbs as they walk, they also try to walk on top of

38 T E X A S W I L D L I F E

the stripes in parking lots, when we look at the slides in a water park, our eyes naturally start at the top and follow the slide down to the bottom, when we look at trees and buildings our eyes naturally travel from bottom to top or top to bottom. If you start noticing this tendency in yourself, you will realize there are countless examples of this in everyday life. In short, people naturally seek out lines and follow them to their conclusions. As a photographer you can use this to steer the viewer’s eyes to the photograph’s subject. The lines used to steer the viewer’s eyes are called leading lines. There are a few “rules” to using leading lines. First, they almost always start from the outside of the image and work inward toward the subject. Second, to be most effective, they should be at an angle as opposed to


being horizontal or vertical. One curious thing to think about leading lines is that upwardly sloping leading lines tend to leave the viewer in a positive frame of mind whereas downwardly sloping lines tend to have a depressing effect. It is not obvious, but more of a subconscious or emotional effect. Notice the differing types of lines used in the images above. The turtle has yellow and black lines on his face that slope up toward his eyes, which are the subject. In the lake image, both of the shorelines lead to the tree and sunset. Use your imagination and play with it. Yes, your assignment is to play. Seeking out leading lines can be really enjoyable. Have fun, practice and you will perfect it. Enjoy nature and shoot it when you can.

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Photo by Timothy Fulbright

Photo by Butch Ramirez



ast is defined as the nuts, fruit, seed and berries of woody plants, and it is a vital part of the big game diet in many places. Hard mast includes acorns and the nuts of hickory, beech, walnut, pecan and pine. Soft mast includes fleshy fruit such as persimmon, pricklypear, grapes, dewberry, plum, mulberry and others. Other types of mast incudes mesquite beans and the small berries and fruits of sumac, hackberry, juniper, elm and maple. Mast can also include the flowers or flower stalks of plants such as cactus and yucca. There are more than 500 species of woody plants in Texas and most of them produce a fruit that is eaten by big game or other wildlife. Mast may be the most

40 T E X A S W I L D L I F E

overlooked and underappreciated type of big game food. SEASONS OF USE We often think of mast as being most important in fall, when acorns and other hard mast drops. In some areas, the deer diet can be 75 percent to 90 percent acorns during fall in good acorn years. Nearly every deer hunter in East Texas and the Hill Country has noted the difficulty of hunting when there is a good acorn crop since deer do not come to corn feeders. In some places, hunters scout the woods for prime mast producing areas and hunt these locations early in the season. Other forms of mast are especially important in spring. In arid regions when


plants such as yucca, lechuguilla and sotol begin to form flowering stalks, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and deer seek them out and obtain a big nutritional spike. These flowering stalks which resemble large asparagus spears are tender, palatable and contain excellent protein and energy. Jim Alcorn, a Hudspeth County ranch manager with many years of pronghorn experience, notes that “yucca blooms are critical for a good antelope fawn crop.” Likewise, the spring flowers of ocotillo are relished by bighorn sheep and mule deer in the Trans-Pecos. Wildlife ecologist Bonnie McKinney with years of experience on both sides of the Rio Grande has often watched bighorns “straddle ocotillo plants, riding down the spiny branches to reach

Photo by Rita Mae Frey


the bright red flowers.” Pricklypear flowers are also an important food for big game in any region where pricklypear is abundant. Big game do not always wait for fruits to ripen before consuming them. This provides a longer period of availability and allows big game to get the fruit before birds and small mammals get it. In late spring of this year, Roy Leslie from Kendall County reported that deer rumens were full of green persimmons, green cherries and green grapes. These deer were collected with a special permit for research and

IMPORTANT MAST PLANTS OF THE PANHANDLE / ROLLING PLAINS Sand shinnery oak Mesquite Pricklypear Cholla Tasajillo

Yucca Wild plum Soapberry Sumac Hackberry

education. Others have noted that deer in spring have gorged on green sumac berries, long before they were ripe. A recent study by Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in South Texas revealed that mast, primarily mesquite beans and pricklypear fruit, was particularly important during summer when it made up about 50 percent of the deer diet. This heavy use of mast occurred in both dry and wet years and in pastures with and without supplemental feed. Several generations of ranchers and wildlife managers have noted the importance of highly nutritious mesquite beans when antlers are developing and during peak lactation. Greg Simons, TWA Past President, who manages the hunting on about 800,000 acres in Texas and beyond, said, “Mesquites are the unsung hero when it comes to brushy plants in Texas, providing a critical summer food source in some years.” Pricklypear fruit, also known as tunas or pear apples are one of the most ubiquitous kinds of summer mast across much of

Texas. They are consumed by all species of big game as well as small mammals. Jose Etchart, TPWD Biologist recently noted the bright purple lips of desert bighorn that had been eating “pear apples.” Dr. Wallace Klussmann, TWA Director and owner of Longbranch Ranch and Hunting Lodge near Fredericksburg noted the value of Texas persimmon mast for his deer herd. He said, “Our deer cease consuming protein pellets as soon as the persimmons get ripe in mid-summer. A well-worn trail is evident around each bush as the deer try to get each and every one of the sweet black persimmons.” Pronghorn, bighorn sheep and mule deer make heavy use of cholla fruit. Veteran retired TPWD Biologist, Tommy Hailey, discovered that cholla fruit was the second most heavily used pronghorn food in the Trans-Pecos and was the only plant to receive heavy use during all four seasons. Cholla fruit has the unusual characteristic of staying on the plant for over a year, so the fruits are continuously available all




(Photos on pages 42 and 43 by Steve Nelle, except where noted)

Black Hickory (Photo by Ricky Linex) Blueberry Juniper Acacia Seedpods Mesquite Beans

Texas Persimmon



Eastern Persimmon (Photo by Ricky Linex)

Flowering Dogwood

Cholla Bumelia


Ocotillo Flower

42 T E X A S W I L D L I F E



Yucca Flowers (Photo by Ricky Linex)

Littleleaf Sumac


Shumard Oak Red Berry Juniper

Honey Locust (Photo by Ricky Linex)

Pricklypear Fruit

Mesquite Seed Hawthorn

Pinyon Pine

Vasey Oak

Skunkbush Sumac

Sand Shinnery (Photo by Ricky Linex)

Live Oak

Mexican Plum (Photo by Ricky Linex)

Smooth Sumac

Lechuguilla Stalk

Pricklypear Flowers

Yucca Stalk




COMMON SPECIES OF WHITE OAK AND RED OAK IN TEXAS White Oaks Live Oak Post Oak Sand Shinnery Oak Plateau Shin Oak Lacey Oak Bur Oak Chinquapin Oak Overcup Oak White Oak Swamp Chestnut Oak Mohr's Oak Gray Oak Emory Oak

Red Oaks Spanish Oak Shumard Oak Southern Red Oak Blackjack Oak Black Oak Water Oak Cherrybark Oak Willow Oak Chisos Red Oak

year long. Hailey said that cholla was a very important plant for pronghorn and helped reduce die-offs during drought. THE ENERGY FACTOR Every big game manager knows the importance of adequate protein in the diet, but new studies indicate the critical need for adequate energy. Research being conducted at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area in cooperation with Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute is showing that energy is often more limiting than protein in the deer diet. Preliminary results indicate that bucks with adequate energy were 25 to 30 pounds heavier and with antlers 20 inches larger than bucks on a low-energy diet. Females likewise showed significantly increased body weights when their diets contain adequate energy. This points to the importance of mast since it is the highest energy food naturally available to deer. Other research indicates that higher fawn birth weight and higher fawn crops are positively correlated to a good acorn crop and higher energy intake. THE KING OF MAST Oaks are the most important single group of mast producing trees in Texas.

44 T E X A S W I L D L I F E

East Texas and the Edwards Plateau each have about 18 species of oak, while the Trans-Pecos has 22 species. Other regions of Texas have two to five species while some locations in the Panhandle have no naturally occurring oaks. There are two broad groups of oaks with different kinds of acorns and different chronology of acorn production. The white oak group usually has larger, sweeter acorns and are preferred when available. White oak acorns are often consumed as soon as they hit the ground in fall. The red oak group has bitter acorns due to high tannin content. Since red oak acorns are not as palatable, they are often not eaten until later in winter, thus providing a food source when little else may be available. Some of the tannins may naturally leach out with rainfall reducing the bitterness over time. Red oak acorns are somewhat higher in fat and protein than white oak acorns. White oaks produce acorns in the same year as flowering and pollination, while red oaks produce acorns the second year after flowering. For this reason, there will be two different sizes of acorns on red oaks. Because of this delayed timing, red oaks sometimes produce a bumper crop of acorns in years when white oaks fail to produce. Acorn production varies tremendously from year to year and from tree to tree. A bumper crop may produce a hundred times more acorns than a poor year. From one tree to another of the same species in the same year, acorn production can vary by a factor of 30, indicating strong genetic differences. MAST MANAGEMENT Deer managers in East Texas sometimes apply specific management to increase mast production. Managers will thin out trees such as pine and sweet gum to favor high value oaks. If the hardwood canopy is still too thick, selective thinning of oaks will help the remaining oaks produce more acorns. Experts say that a 60 percent canopy closure is ideal for good acorn production and that acorn production is increased when oaks get more sunlight. Some serious managers will scout


IMPORTANT MAST PLANTS OF THE EDWARDS PLATEAU Oak Mesquite Pricklypear Tasajillo Texas Persimmon Sumac

Juniper Grape Soapberry Bumelia Pecan

woodlands and mark individual trees with high acorn production and remove adjacent low producing trees. Studies from Tennessee indicate that 80 percent of the acorns are produced by 25 percent of the trees, so it is important to identify and protect the high producing trees. Thinning of oak trees to create more favorable light conditions for high producing trees doubled acorn production in West Virginia from 75 to 150 pounds per acre. In a similar study in Massachusetts, acorn production was increased from 200 to 300 pounds per acre with a program of selective thinning. In other regions, mast management involves the common sense practice of maintaining good shrub and tree diversity and appreciating species as mesquite, cholla, pricklypear, persimmon, cedar and other valuable mast plants. Retaining a moderate density of these species when conducting brush control is an important part of good habitat management across

IMPORTANT MAST PLANTS OF EAST TEXAS Oak Hickory Pecan Beech Eastern persimmon Dewberry Honey locust Pawpaw Maple

Farkelberry American beautyberry Flowering dogwood Hawthorn Mexican plum Yaupon Sassafras

Photo by Steve Nelle


IMPORTANT MAST PLANTS OF THE TRANS PECOS Cholla Pricklypear Lechuguilla Yucca Sotol Oak

Pinyon pine Juniper Mesquite Acacia Ocotillo Sumac

much of Texas. Overly aggressive fire and brush control will reduce mast production, whereas selective brush thinning and careful use of prescribed burning can maintain mast. NOT JUST BIG GAME Big game are not the only animals that use mast heavily. One of the most soughtafter delicacies in the world is acornfattened pork from the oak forests of southern Spain known as Jamon Iberico de Bellota. A cured ham from one of these

naturally fattened pigs sells for $300 to $1000. At least one ambitious entrepreneur is now trying to raise these pigs on Texas acorns. Duck hunters in East Texas know the value of bottomlands full of oaks, which draw ducks by the thousands. When these river bottoms flood in the winter, duck hunting can be unbelievable. Turkeys also depend heavily on mast as the single most important part of their diet. Black bears, making a comeback in Texas likewise rely on mast as an important diet component. Squirrels are perhaps the species that depend most heavily on mast, eating it in the fall and storing it in the ground for later use. This burial of nuts is one of the ways that squirrels help plant the next generation of trees, since they do not eat all of the nuts they bury. Songbirds of many kinds benefit from mast including the fruit of hackberry, granjeno, juniper, coma, elderberry, hawthorn, dogwood, yaupon, mulberry, grape, beautyberry, brasil, wolfberry and many others.

IMPORTANT MAST PLANTS OF THE RIO GRANDE PLAINS Mesquite Huisache Blackbrush acacia Guajillo Pricklypear Tasajillo

Texas persimmon Coma Guayacan Anaqua Texas wild olive Yucca

Whether you are a big game hunter, a serious birder, or a person who simply enjoys wildlife, the fruit of woody plants plays an important part in the ecology and well-being of many species. Knowledge of food habits and management of habitat are two of the skills needed by genuine land stewards. When landowners carefully manage and sustain the lands they are entrusted with, habitats will be more diverse and more productive and wildlife populations will be healthy and plentiful.




A band of does in the Trans-Pecos. When pronghorns are alarmed, their erect rump hairs, or flares, can be seen at long distances.

46 T E X A S W I L D L I F E

NOVEMBER 2018 2018





rive the emptier parts of West Texas—the High Plains and the Trans-Pecos—and you’ll probably see pronghorns casually feeding in winter wheat fields or browsing just beyond the roadside fence. The uninitiated might assume pronghorns are naïve or easily conditioned to humans and, therefore, easy prey. But to know pronghorns, you’ll need to venture out into their native habitat, shortgrass and sage or Chihuahuan Desert, where unaided eyes can miss a dozen sets of black horns and

47 T E X A S W I L D L I F E

white bellies cut cleanly from tan sides, still as the mesas or mountains in the distance. They’ll be looking at you. Little wonder, then, serious pronghorn hunters tend to prefer solitude. Moaning wind and the concentration needed for hours of glassing aren’t conducive to conversation. Aloneness is a luxury made possible by modern rifles. Before rifles came to the Southern Plains, the Quahada or “Antelope” Comanche band resorted to “surrounds,” two-mile-wide circles of hunters and women that gradually closed in on their


quarry because their Spanish mustangs couldn’t bring them within bow range of pronghorns, the fastest land animals in North America. Although the Quahada sometimes took several pronghorns in a single surround, they had little impact on a population that may have numbered in the millions. The all-to-familiar combination of commercial hunting, unregulated sport hunting, fencing and wanton killing brought pronghorns to the brink as surely as the hide men cleared the plains of bison. The pronghorn evolved under




Pronghorn doe (l) and buck. The doe’s horns rarely exceed 4 inches in length.

48 T E X A S W I L D L I F E


pressure by wolves and coyotes and other fleet-footed predators. Its sense of safe distance couldn’t account for the killing range of big-bore Sharps, Remingtons and Ballards that, in the hands of commercial hunters and hardened frontiersmen, drastically altered the ecology of the Great Plains in only two decades. In Texas, prior to the bison slaughter, settlement and establishment of largescale cattle ranching, pronghorns thrived west of the 97th meridian and just eastward in the northern half of the state. According to Del Weniger in The Explorers’ Texas, Volume 2: The Animals They Found, pronghorns inhabited what would now be 109 of the Texas’s 254 counties from Brewster County in the western Trans-Pecos, eastward, beyond the Hill Country into present-day Lampasas and Mills Counties, then south into Victoria County, and from Bexar, Medina, Zavala and Jim Hogg Counties to the Rio Grande. As late as the U.S. war with Mexico in 1846, Lt. John James Peck reported “droves” of pronghorns in present day Nueces and Kleberg counties. In northcentral Texas, pronghorns were reported abundant in the Cross Timbers region, including Cooke, Denton and Tarrant counties and likely inhabited the western portions of the Blackland Prairie. In 1854, Captain R.B. Marcy reported, “… [On the Llano Estacado] there are vast fields of fine grazing lands, where [pronghorn] antelope, deer and other game are seldom out of sight.” Yet, by the time Vernon Bailey, chief naturalist of the U.S. Biological Survey, began his Biological Survey of Texas, 18891905, hearsay and firsthand accounts led him to write, “In 1902, a few [pronghorns] were said to be still found on the open plains north of Rock Springs, and a few on the plains between Valentine and Fort Davis. At Van Horn, within a few years, they had disappeared from the valley near the station, but a few were still found in the region further back from the railroad.” On the High Plains, Bailey found only small bunches near Hereford and Canyon City. The legendary Texas Ranger and cowman Charlie Goodnight told Bailey


that he’d long protected a band of about 30 pronghorns on his J.A. Ranch before they escaped onto other ranches. In 1924, the Texas State Legislature closed the pronghorn hunting season after a comprehensive survey showed a statewide population of only 2,407 pronghorns, 692 of which inhabited the Trans-Pecos. Most of the rest were restricted to the High Plains. A small, isolated population persisted in South Texas, in Jim Hogg County, into the late 1980s. Although continued illegal hunting and habitat loss slowed pronghorn recovery, they gradually rebounded. A very limited hunting season was reopened in 1944. Between 1977 and 1990, the statewide population averaged 18,500 with a range

of 12,500 to about 27,000, depending on precipitation. Today annual hunting permits are issued based on aerial population surveys. Since the extirpation of wolves from Texas, coyotes have been the pronghorn’s primary predator, preying mostly on fawns, but also adults stressed by drought. Forbs make up about 60 percent of pronghorns’ diet, while browse make up most of the rest. Although gazing makes up less than five percent of their diet, pronghorns will take advantage of oats and winter wheat, as High Plains farmers well know. Mature bucks stand only about three feet at the shoulder and weigh 90-100 pounds. A 110-pound buck is exceptional. Females average 84 pounds. Field-dressed weights

run 25 percent less. The pronged “horns,” shed in late October or early November, are actually fused hairs formed over a bony core. Doe horns rarely exceed four inches in length. On bucks, horns exceeding 15 inches are exceptional. Texas pronghorns breed mid-August through October. Peak fawning occurs mid-May to early June, after an eightmonth gestation period. Twin fawns are common during years of adequate rainfall allowing does to come into breeding season in prime condition. Big, open country calls for speed and keen eyesight. Pronghorns have both in abundance. Their protruding eyes, the largest of any North American ungulate

The pronghorn is the fastest land animal in North America. Despite their athleticism, pronghorns prefer to go under rather than over fences. Net fences and close strands of barbwire can isolate and ultimately wipe out substantial populations.




Although pronghorns do graze, forbs and browse make up the bulk of their diet.

50 T E X A S W I L D L I F E



relative to body size, can detect movement up to four miles away and provide a 300-degree field of vision with no head movement. Pronghorns cruise at 40 miles per hour and can hold peak speeds of 57 miles per hour for miles. When alarmed, pronghorns display a white “flash” of erect rump hair visible at long distances. Despite their incredible athleticism, pronghorns prefer to go through or under fences rather than jump over. (However, I once saw a small band hop over a sagging fence in southwestern New Mexico.) Closely-stranded barbwire or net fencing, even when enclosing huge pastures, can isolate and doom a population within a few years. Although Texans have long called pronghorns “antelope,” or “pronghorn antelope,” and explorers and early settlers called them “wild goats,” they’re neither. Rather, the pronghorn is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae, which included about 11 other species during the Pleistocene period. Its closest relatives are giraffes and okapi. Ernie Davis, a retired TPWD biologist and rancher based in Cotulla, shot his first trophy pronghorn buck in 1980. Since then, he has taken a dozen Boone & Crocket record book bucks and another dozen or so that would have made the record book had he applied. Although he has taken pronghorns in New Mexico and Wyoming, most of his trophies have come from Hudspeth County in the Trans Pecos and Hartley County in the Panhandle. “I hunt strictly for trophy pronghorns,” he said. “You have to glass and pass up a lot of nice antelope if you’re shooting for the record book.” Although Davis occasionally hunts with custom rifles chambered for flat-shooting wildcat loads, he has long favored the venerable .270 shooting a 130-grain bullet. He may spend days glassing open country to spot the buck he wants. From there, he’ll stalk, often on his belly. Even then, long shots are the rule. Davis, an exacting reloader, sights in his .270 to hit three inches high at 100 yards. That puts his handloads a maximum of about four inches high at mid-range, then dead

on at 275 yards. With a 3 x 9 scope and a shooting stick for steadiness, he won’t hesitate to take a 300-yard shot. Pronghorn hunter success usually runs above 90 percent. Unlike serious record book hunters like Davis, most hunters are happy with a nice buck. Given modern optics and flat-shooting rifles, a healthy pronghorn population and access to excellent habitat, the most uncertain part of the hunt can be drawing a permit. To make things more challenging and to aim at a pronghorn with open sights like the old buffalo hunters, King County rancher Mike Gibson took his best pronghorn with a Sharps 50-90. Fittingly, he got within a hundred yards of the buck after a long crawl through the buffalo grass in the Panhandle’s northern reaches. “I hunted him for several days,” Gibson said. “He was running in this one drainage and didn’t run with many does. He was kind of a lone antelope. I slipped down that draw and got close and held right on him.” Gibson reloads, and even casts his 500 grain bullets like the ones he used to take brown bear, mule deer, whitetails and other big game. “I haven’t hunted with anything else for the past 25 years,” he said. “It’ll hit about three feet low at 200 yards, so I carried it with me in the pickup and spent a lot of time estimating range and practicing.” Although he didn’t use them when he shot his trophy pronghorn, Gibson recommends shooting sticks for steadying big buffalo guns. His Sharps weighs 13 pounds; the heavy barrel accounts for much of that weight, so forget about offhanded shooting. Traditionally, pronghorn season opens on the Saturday closest to October 1 and runs for nine days. In an average year, TPWD issues about 900 permits for the Panhandle and 200 or so for the Trans-Pecos. “This year is going to be a down year because of a dry winter and spring,” said Shawn Gray, TPWD’s pronghorn program leader. “Horn development may be less than average.” Gray estimates the statewide pronghorn population at 15,000 to 20,000, with about 70 percent on the High Plains and the

remaining 30 percent in the Trans-Pecos. Those percentages reflect a population flip due to the historic 2008-2012 drought in the Trans-Pecos. Gray remains optimistic. Drought comes and goes. Wildlife managers and landowners continue to learn and improve pronghorn habitat. Since 2011, the struggling Trans-Pecos population has been bolstered by some 800 pronghorns captured in the Panhandle. Prior to translocation, biologists work with landowners to identify and replace restrictive fencing—net wire or close strands of barbwire—with “pronghorn friendly fencing,” with the barbed or smooth lower strand at least 18 inches above ground. Recent pronghorn work in Texas has been funded through the Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Restoration Project, a multiyear public-private partnership involving TPWD, Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University, Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Working Group, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and USDAWildlife Services, with additional funding through the Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson). Texans will find the best pronghorn hunting on private land. Landowners and land managers can apply for free permits by requesting an application from their local wildlife biologist. TPWD maintains a Pronghorn Lease List with contact information on landowners with available permits. Updated lists are usually available by mid-August. See TPWD’s website for details. TPWD also offers an annual drawing for pronghorn hunts on 77,000-acre Rita Blanca National Grassland in the northwest corner of the Panhandle. Although the great bison herds are long gone, we can still look out over the plains and desert and see much of what the Comanche and buffalo hunters saw, thanks to enlightened wildlife management. We are responsible for ensuring that future generations can see just as much and hopefully more.






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A Beginner's Guide to Selecting the Perfect Shotgun Article by WHITNEY KLENZENDORF to ensure you point in a safe direction when open. I’ve shot with an over-under for years and had great luck. That being said, I still take my semi-automatic shotgun out bird hunting regularly and it never lets me down. PRICE Don’t feel like you need an expensive gun to be a good shot; instead, invest that money in a few shooting lessons with a good instructor and some time on the practice field. Look to spend between $800 and $1,200 for a mid-priced semi-automatic gun. Over-under break action shotguns are slightly more, at $1,200 plus, but many people—myself included—think they are worth it. You can always upgrade later once you discover what you really like. Novice shooters Erin McCracken (l) and Becky Holmes (r) with TWA Member Whitney Klenzendorf, a Texas Wildlife columnist, at a Ladies Shotgun 101 Class in Austin. (Photo by Brandon Klenzendorf)


very so often, I’ll host a group of friends and blog readers at the skeet range for an introductory shooting lesson. Each time, a guest or two show up with a gun from home, usually borrowed from either their fathers or husbands. The guns they bring are rarely right for them—inevitably the stock is too long, the gun is too heavy, the gauge has too much recoil, or the action is difficult to operate. These new shooters are surprised to learn that not every gun is created equal and that having the right gun can greatly affect your performance. So how do you know what gun is right for you? Here are a few factors you should consider when investing in a shotgun:

FIT When I first took up shooting, I was surprised how much my own game improved just by having a gun that fit correctly. To fit your gun, you can add a pad to the top of the stock where your cheek hits, add a recoil pad to the end if you need it to be longer, or you can have the end sanded down if the stock is too long. Take your gun to a local shooting instructor for help fitting it properly. You should be able to comfortably pull the gun up to your torso without having to scrunch your shoulder up or lay your head over too far onto the stock. You should be able to see over the gun when you have your head pressed down into the stock, and the thumb of your trigger hand should be about an inch from your nose.

GAUGE I recommend a 20 gauge, which has less kick than a 12 gauge. While a 12 gauge produces a larger spread, the recoil can quickly become uncomfortable and distracting. When you’re distracted or physically exhausted you are less likely to be a good shot. Any smaller than 20 gauge and you limit yourself in terms of versatility for hunting; however, if you only plan to hunt dove and target shoot and you have good aim, then 28 gauge could be a good choice.

WEIGHT A heavier gun will absorb more recoil, but it may also wear you out. On the flip side, I don’t care for uber-lightweight guns because I find it harder to have a smooth follow-through on shots. I recommend something that has mass to it, feels balanced when you put it up to your shoulder and that you can comfortably carry for an hour or two. There are some beautiful guns out there. Have fun looking, and be sure to practice with it once you take it home! A good gun will be worth the investment and something you can pass down from generation to generation—just like your love of shooting and hunting.

ACTION I recommend a semi-automatic or break action over-under shotgun for starters, with the latter being my personal favorite. Over-unders are great for several reasons: it’s easy to tell when it’s unloaded, comfortable to carry over your shoulder and easier

Whitney is a 6th generation Texan and TWA member. She blogs about camping, hiking, hunting and other outdoor adventures on her website Whit’s Wilderness (www.whitswilderness.com). She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, baby boy and corgi. Be sure to follow her on social media @whitswilderness!

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