"Texas Wildlife" - November 2013

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Big Bucks of the Brush


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

White-tailed Deer A Texas Icon Across the U.S., no other game animal has stirred the hunter’s imagination as much as the ubiquitous white-tailed deer. In fact, for many decades, whitetails have not only been considered the most popular game animal in North America, but they have long been considered the most economically important wildlife species to grace the landscape. Economies and markets associated with whitetails and whitetail hunting should not be under-estimated in terms of reach, ripple effect, and diverse nature that these whitetail-related industries have benefitted our society, both in rural locales, as well as in metro areas. Further, when you consider that funds from hunting have been the chief financier for conservation and management of all terrestrial wildlife in the U.S. for over 100 years, and combine this with the cornerstone role that whitetails have played in this funding equation, the gravity of the impact that whitetails have on our economies and on wildlife sustainability becomes apparent. For several decades, thanks to our legacy of private lands stewardship, Texas has reigned king in the circles of deer hunters around the globe. Big spaces, mystical places, cactus, Mexican cuisine, and Texas drawls make Texas a big draw for whitetail aficionados. Whitetails are part of our Texas culture and heritage, and it is my estimation that no other species of wildlife has shaped our Texas hunting and wildlife cultures more so than white-tailed deer. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say that if ever there was a wildlife species that could potentially represent a change agent for our hunting and wildlife cultures, it would have to be this iconic game animal. So, with all this said, do we owe greater duty to protect the intrinsic and extrinsic values of this deer species, more so than any other wildlife species? The answer to this question is certainly debatable, but I do feel that we should have a heightened awareness of what’s at stake when we begin tinkering with this charismatic, cornerstone species. Through an endless amount of applied management and research, we have gained a great deal of knowledge of the whitetail, its environment, and how to care for this species through this knowledge. Is there more to the sustainable health of a species than simply concerning one’s self with the biological and ecological components of the system in which that species exists? In Steve Nelle’s article in this issue of Texas Wildlife, titled “Professors and Poets,” while addressing practices associated with “genuine land stewardship,” Nelle references “….using all of the senses to interpret the poetry and the music of the land.” There is more to land than the plants, soils, stones, water, and any other single physical trait of the land. It is the whole complex of the land organism that yields “poetry and music.” And with deer, are there more to deer than hooves, ears, and antlers? What about certain characteristics that generate mystique, wildness, mystery, and majesty? Are deer really deer without these latter qualities, or are they something else? Without these latter qualities, do the intrinsic and esoteric values of wildlife diminish? Does land and wildlife stewardship carry a responsibility that goes beyond the singular and physical aspects that simply make up the biotic community, or are there other duties associated with stewardship, including duties that cannot be measured with a yardstick or dollar bill? Does our future success in advancing conservation value in the minds of our discerning and scrutinizing public partially hinge on our ability to advocate on behalf of stewardship philosophies that are wholesome and palatable? Though that’s some pretty heady stuff in the previous paragraph, some of which is subject to debate, truth is that whitetails have delivered for us in spades, and we have a duty to ensure that values, all values, of whitetails are conserved for the benefit of future Texans. I look forward to TWA celebrating our amazing white-tailed deer, and I hope you’ll enjoy this issue of Texas Wildlife, featuring multiple articles on this Texas iconic wildlife species.


Mission Statement of the Texas Wildlife Association

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



november 2013

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

PROFESSIONAL STAFF/CONTRACT ASSOCIATES Administration & Operation Gary Joiner, Chief Executive Officer Quita Hill, Director of Finance and Operations Samantha Smith, Office Administrator

Outreach & Member Services David Brimager, Director of Marketing and Partner Relations Kendra Roller, Director of Member Relations Kathy Dalgleish, Membership Coordinator

Programs Helen Holdsworth, Conservation Legacy Program Director Koy Coffer, Education Program Specialist Kassi Scheffer, Education Program Specialist Clint Faas, Conservation Program Coordinator Courtney Brittain, Web Program Consultant Mary Pearl Meuth, Education Program Contractor Lynnsey Dohmen, Education Program Contractor Leslie Wittenburg, Education Program Contractor Elanor Dean, Education Program Contractor Toni Purnell, Education Program Contractor Amanda Crouch, Education Program Contractor Justin Dreibelbis, Hunting Heritage Program Director COL(R) Jerry B. Warden, Texas Youth Hunting Program Director COL(R) Chris Mitchell, TYHP Field Operations Coordinator Barbara Scheib, TYHP Administrative Assistant Kara Starr, Hunting Heritage Program Assistant

Advocacy Joey Park, Legislative Program Coordinator

MAGAZINE CORPS Gary Joiner, Executive Editor Kim Rothe, Consulting Publications Coordinator/Editor David Brimager, Consulting Editor Lorie Woodward Cantu, Special Projects Editor Cross Timbers Marketing.com, Design & Layout Publication Printers Corp., Printing, Denver, CO

COLUMNISTS/CONTRIBUTORS Ralph Winingham Henry Chappell Lorie Woodward Cantu Dale Rollins, Ph. D. Billy Higginbotham, Ph. D. Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource Management, Sul Ross State University-Alpine Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University-Nacogdoches Texas Wildlife is published monthly by Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. E-mail address: twa@texas-wildlife.org POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas Wildlife Association, 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, Texas 78247. 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 2013 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. Members who move should send new address and current membership classification to headquarters. TWA reserves the right to refuse advertising.

For advertising information, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 3660 Thousand Oaks Dr., Suite 126, San Antonio, TX 78247 or e-mail dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.

Mission Impacts The Wait

by Wyatt Wood


NOVEMBER Volume 29 H Number 7 H 2013

8 Big Bucks of the Brush by John Jefferson

14 Lessons from Leopold: Professors and Poets by STEVE NELLE

16 Young Guns


18 Onward, Thanks, and a Final Bit of Advice


20 Is Well Water "Well" for your Fish Pond?

by Billy Higginbotham, Ph.d.

24 Using Telemetry to Understand The sticks crack and snap As I walk through the dirt I can see my breath As I shiver in the cold November air Layers and layers of Clothes on my body To keep my pounding Excited heart warm My dad laughs and Shivers as we Climb in the blind 6:00 am Nothing 6:30 Nothing About 7 o'clock A beautiful buck Walks up to the feeder Immediately "Can I shoot it?" Wait

Ten minutes pass "Can I shoot it now?!" I whisper Wait The buck turns broadside I pick up my rifle My heart pounding out Of my chest with excitement "Dad can I..." Now I smile as I am looking Down the sight Take a deep breath Breathe Relax I try to gasp for air But I am breathing too fast Amazed by its Beauty I hold my breath 3...2...1 Kaboom

Editor’s Note: Thank you, Wyatt, for sharing your excellent writing with us, and congratulations on your work being published in your school’s literary magazine. We are gratified that your experience and hunt with the Texas Youth Hunting Program in November 2012 in Edwards County was so memorable. Your hunt is also the subject of a very nice article by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith in the October 2013 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine. Smith and his family hosted the TYHP hunt at their Dobbs Run Ranch. The article and photos can be enjoyed at http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2013/oct/ed_1_deerhunt/.

Learn More About TWA

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

Pronghorn Fawn Production and Survival by LOUIS HARVESON, PH.D.

26 Counting on my Fingers by Billy higginbotham, ph.d.

30 Historic Win for Landowners in Groundwater Takings Case by Gary joiner

34 Aging White-tailed Deer on the Hoof by Ruth hoyt

44 True Education Passed Down from Generation to Generation by koy coffer

48 East Texas Divers — Waterfowl on the Big Reservoirs by Warren conway, Ph.D.

50 Understanding Carrying Capacity by Steve nelle

On the Cover

This photo of a buck covered in cactus spines was taken in Duval County by Grady Allen. “I'm always looking for big bucks,” says Grady. “The cactus spines were incidental but not unusual. Deer survive by flight; often, the brush they jump over or run through hides cactus on the other side, and it cannot be avoided.” In this issue, read more about South Texas deer in John Jefferson’s article, Big Bucks of the Brush, on page 8.



Big Bucks of the Brush




M e e t i n gs a n d e v e n ts

For information on hunting seasons, call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112, consult the 2013-2014 Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, or visit the TPWD website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.




november 7-9 Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching, Houston. To volunteer, or for more information, contact Koy Coffer at kcoffer@texas-wildlife.org.

december 7 L.A.N.D.S. Volunteer Workshop, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Buck Creek Ranch, Marquez, TX. To register, or for more information, contact Koy Coffer at kcoffer@texas-wildlife.org.

january 24 Land Stewardship Workshop for Central Texas Contractors, Llano. Open to anyone involved with brush management. For more information, contact Clint Faas at cfaas@ texas-wildlife.org.

december november 23 Project Wild Workshop, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. To register, or for more information, contact Koy Coffer at kcoffer@texas-wildlife.org.

december 20 Texas Children in Nature Meeting, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m., Texas Wildlife Association Office, San Antonio. For more information, contact Koy Coffer at kcoffer@texaswildlife.org.

january 26 Kids Gone Wild, Ft. Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, Ft. Worth. Any organization interested in participating or anyone willing to volunteer, please contact Helen Holdsworth at hholdsworth@texas-wildlife.org.

Michael McCulloch D.V.M. wins Hoffpauir Polaris raffle! TWA Director Michael McCulloch D.V.M. of Midland was the lucky winner of the Hoffpauir Polaris raffle at WildLife 2013 in San Antonio. Dr. McCulloch has taken delivery of the nice Polaris unit, courtesy of Hoffpauir Outdoor Superstore in Goldthwaite. Two hundred raffle tickets were sold in the raffle. “The week of the convention was interesting, to say the least. The first of the week, Kathleen and I were in New Mexico looking at a ranch. The realtor took us around in a Polaris. Kathleen had no experience with the Polaris, and I only knew about them through advertisements,” explained Dr. McCulloch. “I received several phone calls telling me that I needed to be present at the TWA convention, so Kathleen and I drove from Santa Rosa, New Mexico, to San Antonio. On the way to San Antonio, Kathleen was on her iPad learning about the Polaris. Before the Director’s meeting, I bought a raffle ticket, and the rest is history. “The Hoffpauir group, via Ryan Wright, in Goldthwaite, was great to work with. They seemed as excited as I was about winning the Polaris. I wanted to upgrade the unit offered at the raffle. They were very agreeable in helping me put together the unit I wanted. Ryan had the unit ready and delivered to my place in Midland in a surprisingly short time. In case you did not catch it, my Lab’s name is Tejas (Friendly).” A very special “Thank You” to TWA Director Lee Hoffpauir and to the entire Hoffpauir Outdoor Superstore team for their support in sponsoring the Polaris raffle at convention. Look for the Hoffpauir Polaris raffle again at WildLife 2014, July 10-13, in San Antonio, and purchase your chance to win!



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Photo by Grady Allen


Photo by Grady Allen

Photo by John Jefferson


ften, while sipping coffee in an elevated blind in the dark during that quiet time of morning, the solitude is broken by what I’ve come to call “first bird.” You never see it, but its rapid wing beats tell you it’s time to put down the coffee, and get serious. Shortly after, as if on cue, the coyotes burst into song. J. Frank Dobie, in The Voice of the Coyote, referred to it as the “authentic tidings of invisible things.” Those yet invisible things in the brush before daylight make South Texas unique. The first bird and the yaps of the song dogs seem to be the wake-up call in the brush for hunters and the abundant wildlife. A former wildlife director at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) told me one morning on the way back to camp during a hunt in Starr County that South Texas is the most diverse wildlife area in America, possibly rivaled only by Yellowstone. I believe that. Sitting there in the pre-dawn stillness, you hear things. A coyote, perhaps, or maybe even a mountain lion or bobcat. Possibly javelinas. It could be an owl, a hawk, or a cara cara. But, it just might be that seemingly phantom buck that several had glimpsed for only an instant at the edge of a sendero before it silently slipped back into a brushy oblivion. You peer into the darkness, hoping to get a look at the sound maker; hoping it was that buck or one of its progeny. The big bucks of the Brush Country are the intrigue; they’re what draw hunters to this land of horns, thorns and fangs; but, many also savor the other experiences in the brush at dawn. Hunters have been coming to South Texas for years. But, December around Dilley a century ago didn’t look like it will this year, in several significant ways. There were no Ram 4WD pickups. Hunters came by train and hired a local with a wagon to get them, their tents and gear to a likely campsite near good hunting. The land near the Nueces River was popular. Historical accounts tell that hunters were primarily after meat in the early 1900s. Interest in trophy antlers came gradually. Hunting was usually by landowner permission. Some just trespassed, hoping they wouldn’t get caught. www.texas-wildlife.org


Photo by John Jefferson



on record. And, so did an insidious little insect – the screw worm fly – that laid eggs in any open sore and whose maggots literally ate the host to death. Photos of a doe with half of its face eaten off seeking temporary relief from pain in a stock tank were haunting. Those two plagues took their toll, leading observers to say Texas deer herds would never recover. But, the resilient whitetail did recover. That should give hope to the current situation(s). WWII had just ended. As America flourished, more people became interested in hunting. Hunting leases became the norm; changes in equipment, practices, and vehicles were rampant. For years, Texas deer hunters evaluated their deer based on field dressed weight, width of antler spread, and by the number of antler points. It wasn’t until the 70s that the Boone & Crockett (B&C) scoring system became the standard in Texas. Deer contests spurred interest in South Texas deer hunting, too. The Muy Grande contest in Freer was one of the first, in 1965. The San Antonio Express-News contest also did a lot to promote interest in hunting. It was the most widely read newspaper in the southern half of Texas. "Cazadores" soon followed and was joined by the Cola Blanca Contest sponsored by Laredo Chamber of

november 2013

Photo by John Jefferson

Considerable land was more or less open to hunting, though much of it was inaccessible. The concept of deer leases was yet unheard of. There were game laws but not much enforcement, if any, according to an account by Alfred Gardner, a warden in the Laredo area. This was reported in Producing Quality Whitetails, by Al Brothers and Texas Wildlife Association Co-Founder Murphy Ray, two South Texas game biologists. Game wardens, as we know them today, were nonexistent. Beginning in 1895, there were game officers known as “commissioners,” but Gardner wrote that the first “game wardens” hired by the state were appointed by Game, Fish, and Oyster Commissioner Jack Jefferson in 1919. Gardner was one of the first six, and said from that time on, white-tailed deer increased in numbers, as enforcement began in earnest. The first deer leases occurred around 1939. But, it wasn’t until Farm-to-Market and Ranch Roads were funded and greatly expanded by legislation sponsored by State Rep. Dolph Briscoe in 1949 that provided access to the back country and opened up an entire nation to hunters. Then two great impediments to successful hunting collided. The drought of the 50s struck – the one held up today as the worst

Commerce, Los Cuernos De Tejas (The Horns of Texas) in Carrizo Springs, and El Monstruo del Monte - The monster of the mountains, or woods – named in honor of “the Dilley Monster,” a non-typical shot in Frio County in 1966. That deer had 30 antler points and scored 247-7/8 Boone & Crockett points. Needless to say, it took first place in contests and coffee shop conversations wherever Texas hunters congregated. Then in 1991, the Texas Wildlife Association and TPWD initiated what has become the most notable statewide recognition program, the Texas Big Game Awards (TBGA). It began humbly in a small hotel meeting room in Austin and now dominates the largest hotel in San Antonio for several days each summer. It’s the only program that doesn’t require an entry fee or give monetary or merchandise prizes – just bragging rights! It also recognizes the land stewards upon whose ranch an animal was taken. TBGA adopted the B&C scoring system, which is used in contests today. The TBGA did several things for deer devotees. In addition to recognizing landowners, it showed people what quality and number of deer were taken in each region. Shockwaves swept through the deer camps in 1991, the first year of the TBGA, when both the top typical and non-typical bucks came from regions other than South Texas. The leading typical came from Cherokee County in the Pineywoods, and the best non-typical fell in Shackleford County, in the Cross Timbers. Most hunters didn’t even know where Shackleford County was, but they do now. The runners-up, however, were from the Brush. Some thought that was just an anomaly – that it couldn’t happen again. But in 1992, it did. The first three places in the non-typical category were from Stephens County (Cross Timbers), Hamilton County (Cross Timbers), and Hemphill County (Panhandle). Now, before I get strung up from an Eagle Ford derrick, let me say that South Texas bucks have dominated the TBGA records with higher scores and more of ‘em – a third more total entries last year than the Hill Country (second place) and the Cross Timbers (third place). And, that brings us to the 2013-2014 season. The parallels to the conditions in the 1950s are undeniable. The drought is severe and taking its toll. And, recent, overwhelming oil and gas activity has caused disruption on many ranches that dwarfs drilling operations

south texas white - tailed deer / bu c k s

Season 12-13 11-12 10-11 09-10

Typical 115 114 135 145

Nontypical 55 43 95 46

The figures for the 2009-2010 season through the 2012-13 season totals were 191, 230, 157, 170. Except for 2010, the harvest trend is downward, judging from the Brush Country entries. The drought was a factor, for sure. The disruption from the drilling activity appears to be part of the equation, as well, especially when talking to some ranchers on the ground. Much has been learned and done to improve South Texas habitat and the deer that inhabit it over the past 30-plus years since Brothers and Ray released their book. It opened the eyes of land stewards throughout the deer range and has even achieved international acclaim. A major innovation that started in the ‘70s was the use of helicopters to census deer. It’s now commonplace. As Brothers points out, though, helicopter counts are usually low, compared to what is actually in the brush. They do, however, provide useful information on buck/doe ratios and herd composition by age classes. It’s been said so many times it is almost a cliché, but the three factors in antler development are age, nutrition and genetics. Genetics is the most intangible of the three. The risk of introducing chronic wasting disease into Texas deer and killing the goose that laid the golden egg has made it illegal to import out-of-state deer into Texas. Violators have paid terrific fines and loss of deer. It’s


also been argued that the quality genetics of South Texas deer has long been established, and importing northern deer is unnecessary. The mystical allure of hunting Brush Country bucks existed well before invention of trucks that could haul deer to Texas from the North, and it will continue. Age and nutrition are two legs of the three-legged management stool that can be managed legally and effectively. White-tailed deer are prolific breeders. And, this activity is not always monopolized by the bucks with the largest antlers and, presumably, the best genes for developing large antlers. A study done by TPWD entitled “Who Breeds Whom,” eliminated virtually all deer within two 600-acre pastures in the Hill Country and restocked both pastures with deer whose DNA had been logged in order to later determine which bucks had done the breeding by comparing the bucks’ DNA with that of the fetuses. The results were a little surprising. In one of the pastures, breeding was equally shared by highquality and low-quality antlered bucks. Using game cameras to follow particular deer from year to year became one of the most beneficial innovations in deer management. Not everybody has the talent or time to photographically follow a deer through five or six seasons like Dave Richards did in Observing & Evaluating Whitetails, the excellent book on which he and Al Brothers collaborated. I first saw the value of game cameras watching the late Joe Finley and his Callaghan Ranch manager reviewing trail

Photo courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

camera images, in order to identify and protect several bucks that exhibited extraordinary antler growth potential they might not have noticed any other way.

Photo by Grady Allen

in the past. Some ranches have even quit leasing, since oil money has been a blessing. But the difference between Eagle Ford disruption and the parasite with the dubious name is that there was no upside to the screw worm plague. At least, with an oil boom, some make money. And, a few ranches avoid foreclosure. The lesson learned from the 50s should be that the white-tailed deer is one of the most adaptable of all God’s creations. It will rain again. And, the deer will come back. Some argue that they never left. Looking at the harvest numbers tells a different story. Justin Dreibelbis, TWA Hunting Heritage Program Director, furnished the following figures from the past four years of TBGA South Texas entries:

A big “DUH!” will be appropriate, if I say we are in a drought. But, just as Lake Austin landowners take advantage of a lowered lake to make dock improvements and eliminate unwanted vegetation, South Texans could and often take advantage of dry conditions to clear brush and build new ponds or lakes. Water is of utmost importance to wildlife, and rain is more unpredictable than football scores. Rain, at the right time in the spring, as most now know, can make the difference between a good antler year and a great one. Rain also nourishes vegetation that provides fawning cover. We can’t make it rain, but when it fails to fall in the spring and early summer, reducing livestock numbers can conserve existing fawning cover. Without seeming to encourage total elimination of predators, controlling predators on the range could also help to protect fawns in the short grass during droughts. When he was wildlife director at TPWD, Bob Cook wouldn’t approve a wildlife management plan that didn’t include provisions for water conservation. For an in-depth look at keeping what you can, see the September 2006 issue of Texas Wildlife magazine and the eight regional articles on “Where the First Raindrop Falls.”

Outstanding areas

This could get me in trouble. According to the TBGA records Driebelbis furnished, the three-county area of Dimmit, LaSalle and Webb counties is famous throughout deer hunting history and is often accompanied by Maverick County. Frio County became a legend with the taking of the “Dilley Monster” (before TBGA began) and has had a large number of bucks in the top three typical and non-typical categories. King Ranch is also a traditional producer of large-antlered deer, putting Kleberg County high in the TBGA. Big deer can occur on any good habitat, however.

Fall Outlook

According to Brothers, who consults with landowners throughout the Brush Country, most areas received enough spring rain to promote antler growth. The fruit of most South Texas brush species matures during the summer, and that was adequate this year. The acorn crop will be “spotty,” at best, due to the drought. White-tipped dove



south texas white - tailed deer / bu c k s

The fawn crop is questionable. At press time, does were still giving birth, and many surveys had not been completed. Brothers expects below normal fawn births and poor survival. Alan Cain, TPWD’s White-tailed Deer Program Leader and former South Texas District Biologist, anticipates a fawn crop of 45-60 percent, but he says some well-managed ranches have reported 80-90 percent crops. He agrees that if the drought continues, there will be fawn mortality. He points to good fawn crops in 2005, 2007, and 2010 that are coming of age, now, and are 8 1/2, 6 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old. As with history in general, the past is often a good predictor of the future. It’s certainly that way with deer. Chris Huey, on the Chaparrosa Ranch, in Zavala County, looked back at 2006. “We had a really weak fawn crop that year,” Huey said. “Consequently, we just don’t have many seven year-olds on the ground this year. There are plenty of five and six year-old bucks, though, and we’re seeing some good non-typicals. When you’re in a drought, you aren’t producing enough does and cull bucks to effectively manage. Until it rains, we taper

our culling and harvest until the population returns.” Cade Green, on Rancho Encantado, in Dimmit County, also lamented the effects of the drought on antler development. “The deer are doing fine, in general,” he said. “But our expectations are high, and I’m a little disappointed. Some bucks just didn’t finish out. We’ll pass on some that have potential this season.” Green is experimenting with getting better nutrition to fawns that are often stepchildren to older bucks at feeders. “Creep feeders are too low for older bucks to get into, so the fawns get to eat more without being run off,” he explained. “I’m trying to see what can be done at an earlier stage in life.” It works with calves, so why not experiment with starting fawns off better than ones deprived around other feeders. He admits he has no data and that it may be hard to evaluate, but it may be something to watch. Mike Hehman, on the Hixon Ranch in La Salle County, east of Cotulla, is disappointed with the top end quality, too. “That’s what happens when three of the last five years have had below-average rainfall,” he told me. But a drought can have an

AL BROTHERS HONORED BY QDMA On Sept. 5, the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) hosted the Al Brothers Tribute Dinner. The event was held in the historic, restored Sunset Depot Number One, in downtown San Antonio, a fitting venue honoring a man who changed whitetailed management history for the better. The tribute recognized Brothers for his many contributions to deer management and to QDMA, and announced creation of the “Al Brothers Pioneer Fund.” Brothers, a long-time Texas Wildlife AssociaTWA Member Al Brothers (l), co-author of the tion (TWA) member, was instrumental book, Producing Quality Whitetails, and Quality in bringing QDMA into existence. Its Deer Management Association Founder Joe Hamfounder, Joe Hamilton, and other South ilton, together at the Al Brothers Tribute Dinner on Carolina deer managers, came to Texas to Sept. 5 in San Antonio. study deer management. They visited the Kerr Wildlife Management Area with Bob Cook, Gene Fuchs and the late Donnie Harmel, and they then saw Ernie Davis at the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area. Brothers was there, and he invited them to the Zachry Ranch, where he was ranch manager. South Carolina hunters and game managers were displeased with their deer herds – overpopulation of does and an average age of harvested bucks being 1 1/2 years. After visiting with Brothers, the deer managers invited him to South Carolina to speak in 1982. QDMA was born shortly, thereafter, in 1988. Wildlife management – particularly deer management – and sharing his knowledge to help people constructively manage game, has been Brothers’ life. Practicing it in the 70s nearly ended it when a helicopter that he was in crashed during a deer census. But, you can’t keep a good man down. The book that Brothers and another wildlife biologist, TWA Co-Founder Murphy Ray Jr., authored, Producing Quality Whitetails, became a blueprint – an operator’s manual, if you will – for getting the most in antler growth and animal health out of a ranch’s habitat without adding artificial ingredients. Producing Quality Whitetails is now in its third revision, and it is available through TWA.



november 2013

unexpected benefit, at times. “In 2007, we were over-populated,” he recalled. “Over the next six years, helped by culling and the droughts, we were able to get the population under control.” So far this year, he hasn’t seen some largeantlered bucks in the six to eight year age class that were on the range last season. “They may show up later,” he said, hopefully. “They hang back in the brush. Last year, there was one we didn’t see until January 17. It scored 170 B&C.” Those fortunate enough to be able to hunt the mystical South Texas brushlands this season just might see that big one. Hopefully, if they don’t, they’ll at least appreciate being in a blind in the Brush Country at daybreak. There’s nothing like it. John Jefferson is a frequent contributor to Texas Wildlife magazine, former executive director of the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society, past president of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association, and book author. His articles and photos have appeared in Texas Monthly, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Sporting Journal, Outdoor Life, and other forums.

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Leopold Professors and Poets by Steve Nelle

There are men charged with the duty of examining the construction of the plants, animals and soils, which are the instruments of the great orchestra. These men are called professors. Each professor selects one instrument and spends his entire life taking it apart and describing its strings and sounding boards. This process of dismemberment is called research. The place for dismemberment is called a university. A professor may pluck the strings of his of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music, he must never admit it to his fellows or to his students. For all are restrained by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets.” This passage is contained in Part II of A Sand County Almanac in an essay entitled “Song of the Gavilan.” The Gavilan is a river in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Mexico, about 200 miles southwest of El Paso. Leopold made hunting trips to this area during the 1930s, and he marveled at the natural balance that still existed there. The area was yet untouched by modern scientific land management practices and techniques, yet the music he experienced there, and the harmonies he detected, influenced much of his thinking in the years ahead. Leopold seemed appreciative when he noted, “science has not yet arrived on the Gavilan.” In this short passage, Leopold vented his frustration about the over-specialization and isolation of scientists and scientific thinking. He likened the university and research system to those who skillfully study and play an instrument but are not able to

hear the music created by fellow musicians in the orchestra. Today’s research efforts often share some of the same deficiencies and frustrations as Leopold noted. In our system of academic research, we still find a great deal of isolation between disciplines. We have professors of wildlife science who cannot identify or discuss the significance of the common grasses. We have soil scientists who know little about plants, and we have botanists who know little about soil. We have plant specialists who know nothing about the animals that depend on these plants. We have professors and researchers who specialize in deer, quail, turkey, waterfowl, fish, exotics, livestock, watersheds, hydrology, fire, brush control, grazing management, grasses, trees, wildflowers, and dozens of other specialties. In most cases, these specialists are highly intelligent, and they excel in their specialty. In too many cases, these specialists have tunnel vision and are not able to see how their specialty meshes with the whole. Leopold acknowledged the incredible complexity of the land organism. He realized that no one would ever be able to fully comprehend the intricacies of nature; but the successful professor must be able to explore and discover and explain how his specialty intersects with other disciplines. Even with the plethora of specialists in our universities and agencies, there are few who are able to see the big picture. Some years after his trips to the Rio Gavilan, Leopold became a professor himself; in fact, he became the first professor of wildlife management in the United States when he accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin. Leopold remembered his frustrations with the

compartmentalization of scientific research. No doubt, he sought to teach his students and fellow professors to view and study the natural world with a wide-angle lens; to be more integrated and less of a specialist. The best natural resource research demands scientists who cooperate with and understand the context of their specialty. Effective professors must not be soloists, no matter how talented they are; they must see themselves as members of an orchestra. They must seek to interact and integrate with other specialists and the real world. Land managers and wildlife managers find themselves in a challenging position. They must base their action and plans on the best science available, but they must also be able to perceive what science is not able to explain. Successful land stewards must have the dispositions of both the poet and the professor. They must be able to understand the basic science behind their endeavors, but they must also be able to detect and appreciate and blend in with the complex harmonies of the land. Reading scientific articles and research reports is beneficial for understanding some of the components of the land; this is good, but it is not enough. Getting out of the truck, sitting alone on a ridge, a river bottom, or a brush thicket – listening, watching, using all of the senses to interpret the poetry and music of the land, is also important. Using both the logic of the mind and intuitions of the heart is the task and the joy of the genuine land steward. How do my actions and my plans harmonize and synchronize with what I know and what I perceive about the land and the health of the land? These are the great questions and the great pursuits of land stewardship.

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.



november 2013

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

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G uns & S hooting

Young Guns Picking a Youth Hunter’s First Rifle Requires Careful Thought Article and Photos by Ralph Winingham

LAREDO -- Taking two steps for every one of my strides, my 14-year-old daughter Jamie was doing her best to stay silent and ready, as she attempted to bring down her first big white-tailed buck. The late November hunt was the culmination of hours of practice with the Remington Model Seven 7mm-08 that she cradled in her arms as we stalked a very nice 10-point buck about 400 yards away in the mesquite-studded brush. The odds were against the brush buster who had already survived many South Texas hunting seasons, with a brisk southeast breeze blowing across the buck's back toward us and

the setting sun behind our backs. As the buck picked his way through waisthigh mesquite brush and scattered clumps of pear cactus, we tried to slip up on him without being spotted. Crouching and slipping from bush to bush at a steady pace, we started to close the gap between us and the buck, only to have a group of about 30 cows bust out from a nearby water tank and spook the deer into a thick stand of mesquite trees and black brush. “We might be able to cut him off at the next sendero. We've got to get there before he crosses,'' I told Jamie, trying to keep up her spirits, as she watched the buck disappear into the brush.

We quickly moved to the edge of the sendero, about 100 yards from where I expected the buck to step out into the open, trying to catch our breath and settle our nerves for a shot. Five minutes ticked off in what seemed like five hours, and the buck was a no show. “Let's go up this sendero and see if he circled back into the open,'' I told her, trying to hide my doubts that we would have any success seeing the 10-pointer again. Stepping into another road that had been bulldozed through the thick brush, I glanced in the direction where we first saw the buck, and an image popped into my view that was a heart-stopper.

Above: A youth hunter’s trophy is a trophy, even if it is a young javelina that was downed by Zane Goodspeed with a Winchester Model 70 in .308 Winchester. Zane is allowing his fledgling achievement as a young gun to be recorded by his father, John Goodspeed, during a 1999 South Texas hunt. Left: The results of a properly fit rifle in the correct caliber that produced a quality hit on a trophy animal is proudly displayed in this 1995 photo by Jamie Winingham, who used a Remington Model Seven in 7mm-08 Remington to claim her first buck at the age of 14.



november 2013

G uns & S hooting

It was a flickering ear, flashing white and brown through the thick green leaves of a mesquite bush. Above the ear was just the tiny sliver of a chocolate brown antler – the rest of the buck was completely concealed. Crouching again to stay out of his sight and moving slowly, we crept closer to him, slipping from bush to bush, whenever possible. Without warning, a doe stepped into the sendero about 75 yards in front of us. She stopped, glaring at the two unfamiliar objects in her territory. We froze and tried to become invisible. Without taking my eyes off the doe, I whispered back to Jamie: “Now, we're in trouble. No matter what we do, if that doe runs off, she will take the buck with her.'' It was a gamble, but I decided our only option was for me to shoot the doe and hope the buck didn't run too far after the shot. “I'm going to drop her,'' I said, carefully taking the rifle from Jamie as she whispered, “Okay.'' Settling the crosshairs on the doe’s shoulder, I squeezed the trigger, and the doe dropped in her tracks without a sound or quiver. As the blast of the shot rolled off into the distance, we eased forward about another 30 yards, and I spotted that same flickering ear I had seen earlier, but this time, the buck was behind a thick mesquite bush about 200 yards to our left. Quickly, quietly and steadily, we picked our way along a course that brought us closer and closer to the buck. Slowly, almost tauntingly, he started drifting toward another mesquite thicket. “You shoot him if he starts to run,'' Jamie whispered as we closed the gap, apparently still a little concerned about her shooting skills. As we stalked within about 150 yards of the buck, we froze in our tracks when he turned broadside to us and glanced back in our direction. Jamie was tired, winded and excited, all at the same time, but she was ready to take the shot. “Take a breath, relax, and put the crosshairs right where you want to hit. Squeeze that trigger,'' I whispered. Watching the buck through my binoculars and holding my breath, I waited for her to get on target and squeeze the trigger. The big buck hit the ground before the

sound of the shot from Jamie's 7mm-08 Remington reached his ears. He died instantly. A perfect neck shot. Jamie's first buck was a fine 10-pointer, with an 18-inch inside spread and the longest tine reaching up 11 inches. The chocolate brown horns had main beams that were four inches around at the base and measured 24 inches in length. The buck’s rack scored 148 6/8 in the Boone & Crockett rankings and was big enough to take top honors in the juvenile division of Laredo's annual Cola Blanco Big Buck Contest that year. An excellent trophy that now adorns a wall in her house, the big buck was brought down as the result of good preparation and practice that is required for any youth hunter who wants to become proficient with a centerfire rifle. A variety of factors should be considered when selecting the first big rifle that a youth hunter will put into play in what should be a life-long pursuit of outdoor entertainment. The young shooter’s body size; upper body strength; ability to make accurate shots; and other considerations should be taken into ac-

count, but above all else, the recoil and punch delivered down range are the keys to developing a successful shooting career. Grandad’s old .30-06 that kicks like a mule might be fine for a shooter built like a Dallas Cowboys linebacker but not so much for a petite drill team member who wants to take down her first deer. In my case, the Model Seven in 7mm-08 Remington fit my daughter well. The rifle was lightweight and easy to handle, plus with handloads that I worked up specifically for that rifle, it produced excellent knock-down power with little recoil. Not meaning to ruffle anyone’s feathers, but I believe the necked down .308 Winchester just does its job better than its smaller cousin – the .243 Winchester. While the .243 has been used by youth hunters and veterans alike to kill thousands of Texas deer, the caliber has less stopping power, and it often does not exit the animal. Nothing is more discouraging to a shooter of any age to hit an animal and not be able to retrieve it, when the bullet did not do enough damage or did not provide a good blood trail to follow. In the words of famed outdoor writer Jack O’Connor about his favorite caliber: "If the hunter does his part, the .270 will not let him down,” emphasizing his great respect for the .270 Winchester cartridge. That same sentiment can be applied to the 7mm-08 Remington. For those parents or grandparents attempting to develop a life-long hunting companion, my advice is to drop by your nearest firearms’ dealer, and check out some lightweight boltaction youth rifles. See which one is the best fit for your youth hunter; then pick one that sends a 7mm-08 Remington bullet down range. I think you won’t be disappointed in the results. Above left: Lighter caliber cartridges, such as, (l-r), .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .308 Winchester and .270 Winchester, can all be good selections for beginning shooters, if they are matched with a well-fitting rifle, and the youth hunter spends some quality practice time with the firearm. Left: The variety of firearms available for beginning shooters is quite extensive, and utilizing the assistance of knowledgeable sources such as Luis Acosta of Dury's Gun Shop in southwest San Antonio to help pick the right one for your youth hunter is a good idea.




S porting D ogs

Onward, Thanks, and a Final Bit of Advice Article by HENRY CHAPPELL


cannot remember a time before the scent of puppy breath, a Llewellyn setter named Toby, the smell of kibble, the feel of the fleece lining in Dad’s leather gun case, blue Peter’s shot shells, and the rear of a Ford station wagon full of whipping tails, lemon and liver ears, lolling tongues, kindly eyes, and spotted and ticked hide stretched tight over muscle and sinew. Nor can I imagine life without hunting dogs. Nowadays, when I have to travel without Maggie and Cate, I miss them like family – as I did others before them. Alone on the road, I instinctively watch for rest stops, roadside picnic areas, and other spots where the dogs could get a drink and relieve themselves. Late into long, solitary trips, the sight of a rancher’s cow dog or a pensioner’s little mongrel in the cab of a pickup makes me heartsick. I’m a dog man – not an expert, not even a hardcore hunter. I’ll hunt with dogs or not at all. Trophy whitetails? No thanks. Take me someplace in the Deep South where I can listen to hounds running a doe or a spike buck, if such a place still exists. Keep your traps and calls; I want my fur treed. For the past seven years, I’ve written this column with kindred spirits in mind – those who’ve lived their lives with dogs and enjoy hearing from a fellow dog fanatic, and dog-loving newcomers who need encouragement and simple guidance. True experts have no need of my advice, and many, especially those who train and hunt for a living, might roll their eyes at what



I’ve written. They own kennels full of dogs and lack time for my patient, hands-on approach. I respect their expertise and appreciate the innovation that trickles down to amateurs like me. I’m a better dog trainer than my father was, not because I’m more talented, but because canine psychology and training have advanced since the rough, check cord and leather strap methods of my boyhood. Though I don’t believe modern hunting dogs outshine their distant ancestors at putting game in the bag, I’m sure Dad would be amazed and delighted by the precocious, biddable pups available today. Nowadays, top breeders produce talented, trainable dogs with amazing consistency. To avoid lapsing into pure self-indulgence in this last dog column, I’ll pass along some advice that I picked up decades ago in a motel parking lot in Rotan, Texas, on opening morning of quail season.

november 2013

Henry Chappell with his dogs Maggie (l) and Cate. Photo by Jane Chappell

sporting dogs

hunts a half dozen weekends a year and a nondescript dropper owned by questionably employed boss (a writer, say) who hunts him several days a week in-season and hauls him around in the cab of the truck year-round, and my money is on the latter, when it comes to consistently putting birds in the bag. If no amount of love and training can make a hunting dog out of one that lacks heart and drive, no amount of great breeding can make a competent dog out of one that lacks experience. Good intentions aside, the average hunter with a full-time job and growing family does well to bring along one dog or two dogs, unless he can afford professional training, and even then, expensively trained dogs lapse without work. The weekend hunter with an ever-changing kennel full of high-powered dogs rarely has a good one, because he’s always too busy looking for the next best thing, instead of loving and developing the dogs he already owns. His dogs are mere possessions, extensions of his ego. He’ll get bored and sell them when bird numbers drop, and move on to his monomaniacal motorcycle or horse or fly fishing phase. He may be a good guy, but he’s no dog man. Let me end by boiling down the past seven years of advice to a few paragraphs. Choose the breed and bloodline that best matches the type of hunting you love most. If possible, start with a just-weaned puppy, and raise it as a member of the family. Disciplined house dogs make fine hunting dogs. Although formal training sessions will be necessary, school the pup as you go about your daily life. By insisting on good manners at home, you’re laying the groundwork for good manners in the field. An electronic collar cannot make up for a Photo by Russell Graves

While I loaded the pickup, my 10-year-old daughter Jamie made her morning round, loving on as many dogs as she could get to. Along the way, she struck up a conversation with a 60-ish, fit-looking couple who’d stood three Brittanys on the tailgate for petting. I walked over to say good morning and to get in on the ear-scratching, while my German shorthair whined in her box. The lady explained that they’d been retired for a few years and now spent most of every fall and winter bird hunting around Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Both wore Russell Bird Shooters and high-end brush pants. I mentioned that the trailers full of pointers made me feel a bit under-dogged. The man laughed and said, “Whenever I’ve owned just one dog, he’s always been a good one.” What he meant, I believe, is that in our rapidly urbanizing world, even the most talented dogs rarely reach their potential. Show me a blue-blooded prodigy that

lack of basic training. Don’t buy one until you can train a dog with nothing but a stout collar, six-foot lead, twenty-foot check cord, and a few tennis balls or training dummies. Hunt your dog as much as possible, within responsible bounds of family and professional responsibilities. It will nearly always be too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. Go anyway. If you must spend winter Sundays watching football on television, do a pup a favor, and choose another pastime. Love and accept your dog, in spite of her shortcomings. Learn to work with her quirks. You can bet she’ll learn to compensate for yours. Relax, and leave the quest for perfection to field trailers. She’s your beloved friend, not a tool. Wait until your dog is well into middleage before bringing a new pup into the family. Puppies require attention that could otherwise be lavished on the veteran. Although the pup will learn from the mature dog, and the two will eventually form a healthy bond, I sympathize with the hunter who chooses to forgo a pup until her old-timer passes on. You never replace a dog; you make room in your heart for another. I’ve had my say on dogs – for now. I’ll go away for a few years to learn from other hunters and, of course, from my most important mentors, the dogs – my own and others I meet. Who knows? Maybe I’ll pop up again somewhere, with something new to say. My thanks to David Baxter, who invited me aboard back in 2006, to Gary Joiner, the ever-patient Kim Rothe, and all my friends at TWA for opportunity to share thoughts on one of my great loves. You aren’t quite rid of me yet, however. I’ll be back in 2014 with a quarterly column on water issues, and, hopefully, occasional feature articles in the coming years. As I write, the forecast calls for highs in the mid-90s, but nights are noticeably cooler. The dogs are beginning to shake off their summer torpor, if only for the first couple hours after sunrise. Toward the end of the month, I’ll wrestle the two-hole dog box into the bed of the truck. By the time you read this, hunting season will be underway. Make sure your retired veteran doesn’t feel left out. Our dogs’ lives are so brief, and our own time too short to waste. Good hunting.




fish & fishing

In Your Pond’s Watershed? IsWhat’s Well Water “Well” for your Fish Pond? Article and Photos by DR. BILLY HIGGINBOTHAM, Professor and Extension Wildlife and Fisheries Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


ell…is your well water well? That is a question to ask yourself, if you have drilled or plan to drill a well to add water to a pond. Or, you may simply wonder, why someone would choose to drill a well for this purpose. In a perfect world, Texas ponds would stay full all year, thanks to timely and adequate precipitation. But, the world has proven to be far from a perfect place! The droughts of the last few years have resulted in record numbers of water wells drilled across the great state of Texas. Many wells were drilled to support ponds that provide a critical source of water for livestock or to irrigate crops. Otherwise, wells are used to supplement fish ponds when the watershed is too small to provide the run-off needed or if insufficient clay causes a pond to leak and fail to hold water. Surprisingly enough, more pond owners contacted me about using well water in East Texas over the last five years than any time in my more than three decades as an Extension Wildlife and Fisheries Specialist. Even East Texas (yep, that’s “rainfall rich” East Texas) had ponds reach record low levels or completely dry up in the 2010-2011 drought episode. It is, indeed, tough to keep fish alive when they are susceptible to tick infestations! The well drillers stayed plenty busy. However, many landowners were/are shocked to learn that water good for drinking purposes may or may not be good for fish production. Water is water, right? Wrong! The first characteristic of all well water (a.k.a. groundwater) to consider is that it contains no oxygen when it comes out of the ground. Therefore, landowners should not pipe well water directly into a pond without taking some action to first aerate the water.



Aeration can be as simple as allowing the water to run over rocks to break up the droplet size and expose more of the water to the atmosphere. Some have even allowed the water to run through a roll of poultry netting or hardware cloth suspended above the pond to break up the water. Anything that accomplishes this purpose is a good practice. Aeration also accomplishes some other things, such as reducing carbon dioxide levels. In wells with iron content, aeration causes iron to flocculate out, often leaving a harmless red residue on the pond bottom in the vicinity of the flow into the pond. Next, we need to discuss the scale of well water use. If the well water is strictly used to supplement run-off into a farm pond and represents a very small percentage of the total water volume present, the impacts of that well water on pond water chemistry are going to be negligible. However, if it is a high-volume well pumping into a pond that you can cast a lure

november 2013

across or if the well provides the majority of the water present, then that well water’s chemistry will definitely impact the water chemistry of the pond. Regardless, a well’s water chemistry is important to consider before using it to supplement or fill a fish pond. There are literally hundreds of chemical tests that can be run on a water sample, which may cause you to run out of both money and water before all the tests are conducted. Therefore, concentrate only on the most basic and important tests, unless a specific problem or condition is noted. High on that list is pH, which is defined as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration and is measured on a scale of 0 to 14 (7.0 being neutral). In other words, pH is a measure of the acidity (below a pH of 7.0) or basicity (above a pH of 7.0) of your water. That logarithmic scale thing means that a pH of 6.0 is 10 times more acid than a pH of continued on page 22

fish & fishing

7.0, while a pH of 5.0 is 100 times more acid than a pH of 7.0. So, you get the idea of the potential impacts of rapid pH shifts and the stress it can cause to your fish population. I prefer a pH that runs somewhere between 6.5 and 9.0 for fish ponds and, therefore, the same for well water. Certainly, in East Texas, our acid soils dictate that we often have to apply agricultural limestone to both our pastures and our ponds to increase the pH. Wells that provide water that is

on the acidic side may require the same adjustment to be made in recipient ponds. Once pH drops below 5.0 or above 11.0, then it may begin to start entering the zones of the acid or alkaline death point, respectively, for fish. How quickly that pH shifts can also be a factor in stressing your farm pond fish population. The next two metrics include total hardness (the measure of divalent metal ions) and the total alkalinity (the measure of total bases expressed as carbonates). I am less concerned about the levels of these two attributes than I am about the relationship between the two. In other words, when total hardness and alkalinity are similar in value, then the pond water is well-buffered against radical shifts in pH that may rise or fall a couple of units within the course of a 24hour period. However, some of the deeper water wells from the Carrizo and/or Wilcox strata are notorious for having very high total alkalinity values and very low total hardness values and, therefore, are capable of contributing to wild pH shifts. When this happens, I want to document the levels of hardness and alkalinity from



the well itself. But, I also want a water sample from the opposite end of the pond from where the well water enters, so we can determine what influence the well water has had on the overall water chemistry after mixing with the existing pond water present. If needed, applications of gypsum (calcium sulfate) can be made, based on several mathematical calculations that will increase the total hardness to the level of total alkalinity and result in a buffering effect. This prevents the pond’s pH from fluctuating to dangerously high levels. Salinity (total dissolved ions) is another issue that can be a negative factor for most freshwater fish. Quite honestly, I don’t worry too much about salinity, as long as the level does not exceed four to five parts per thousand (that’s 4,000 to 5,000 parts per million). By contrast, seawater’s salinity level is typically about 35 parts per thousand (35,000 ppm). As salinity increases above these levels, some freshwater fish species may experience impaired growth and reproduction. However, it is important to note that many fish species are what fisheries biologists refer to as “euryhaline” – able to thrive in various levels of salinity, with some freshwater species capable of living in waters as saline as seawater! Unfortunately, blooms of golden alga that may cause fish kills are more likely to occur in ponds with salinity levels above the norm. In East Texas ponds, salinity seldom reaches that threshold, therefore, golden alga, although often present, has been a non-issue in that region of the state. However, for the rest of the state, golden alga can be a real issue in fish ponds, so please refer to the Texas Wildlife article (“All That’s Golden Does Not Glitter”) that appeared in the May 2010 issue that addresses golden alga issues, specifically. There are many, many other water quality parameters that can be tested, as I have only scratched the surface here. So, let me give you my practical take-home message on well water usage in farm ponds: Point 1. If you have been using well • water for years, and your fish have suffered no ill effects, it is probably just fine – no harm, no foul! Point 2. Before you actually drill • your own well, check with your neighbors, and determine if anyone has already

november 2013

tapped into that particular stratum. That information will give you a clue to the volume (gallons per minute) of water that can be expected. Your neighbor may also allow you to submit a sample from their well for analyses – all before you spend the money to drill a well of your own! At the very least, check with several water well drillers, as they should be a fountain (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) of knowledge on the volume and chemistry of the groundwater in your area. • Point 3. If your well water comprises a majority of the total water volume in your pond, the chemistry of that well water will influence the pond’s water chemistry. But, the reality is if you have a well capable of supplying 25 gallons per minute into a 10-acre lake that may contain 15-20 million gallons of water total, the well will likely have a negligible impact on the pond’s overall water chemistry. • Point 4. All well water contains zero oxygen coming out of the ground. Aerate it before it enters the pond. • Point 5. Water samples can be

tested at a number of private labs located across the state. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Soil, Water and Forage Testing Lab in College Station (http:// soiltesting.tamu.edu) can also test well water. Like anything else, do your research before using well water to supplement or fill your farm pond. Don’t automatically assume that it will be good for fish production. What you don’t know won’t kill you, but it could kill your fish!




Owning land provides endless planting opportunities. Whether you plant nourishing food plots, sheltering grasses, environmentally friendly trees or nutritious crops, you are also sowing the seeds of an investment that will grow over time. You are rooting the foundation where a lifetime of memories with family and friends can be harvested. From the beginning, you can count on Whitetail Properties to cultivate your land ownership goals. At Whitetail Properties, we know land, we understand our customers and most of all, we grow dreams.


DAVID E. CULVER dec@landtx.com

(C) 210.422.4676 (O) 830.997.8616 www.landtx.com

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B orderlands news Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource Management

Using Telemetry to Understand Pronghorn Fawn Production and Survival Article by Daniel Tidwell (McNair Fellow), James Weaver (Graduate Assistant), Louis A. Harveson (Director), and Shawn Gray (TPWD) Photos by Daniel Tidwell Throughout their distribution, twinning is the rule for pronghorns. In fact, twinning occurs in over 94 percent of pronghorn births, with few observations of singlet and even fewer observations of triplets.


ronghorn populations in the TransPecos region of Texas have been in a precipitous decline since the 1980s, where their numbers have declined from over 17,000 individuals to current lows of less than 3,000 individuals. Many factors play into the population dynamics of pronghorns, including drought, predation, habitat quality, fragmentation, land-use, and diseases. Working with the Texas Parks



and Wildlife Department (TPWD), private landowners, and many other organizations, the Borderlands Research Institute initiated a series of investigations designed to identify limiting factors for pronghorn populations. Fawn production and survival is one of the most crucial indicators of population viability. Previous studies indicate that pronghorn populations will decline if fawn production is less than 25 percent. Because


pronghorn population dynamics are so dependent on fawn production and survival, we studied pronghorn fawn production and survival using radio telemetry in the Marfa Plateau and Marathon Basin of the TransPecos. Our monitoring consisted of two phases: (1) assessing birth synchrony, fawn production, and natal bed characteristics, using vaginal-implant-transmitters (VITs),

borderlands news

Researchers with the Borderlands Research Institute take every precaution when handling pronghorn fawns, including masking scent, using rubber gloves and processing fawns in less than three minutes. To date, no fawns have been abandoned during this study.

and (2) monitoring neonate survival, movements, and causes of mortality, using expandable radio collars. During the 2013 translocation, we inserted 20 VITs into radio-collared females using an Eazi-Breed CIDR gun. VITs were recovered using aerial and ground telemetry. VITs were generally dispelled at the parturition site so that researchers could document fawn production (still born, singlet, twin, and predation) of translocated does. Since 2011, we have been capturing and monitoring fawns using small, expandable radio collars. Fawns were captured at night


using spotlights and 3-foot diameter hoop nets equipped with a 10-foot telescoping handle. Once captured, fawns were weighed, gender was determined, and age was estimated by measuring new hoof growth. Fawns were monitored daily from afar, in order to determine movements and survival. We recovered 18 (90 percent) of the VITs. Two of the VITs were discharged prematurely, five provided exact parturition sites, and the reminder provided incomplete data regarding parturition sites. Of the VITs that provided parturition sites, we were able to document twinning in each instance.

In 2011, 2012, and 2013, we have captured 26, 34 and 40 fawns, respectively, for a total of 100 fawns for the three-year study. During the droughty years of 2011 and 2012, 14-week fawn survival was less than 5 percent. The survival of radio-collared fawns mimicked fawn production documented by TPWD in the region (approximately 5-15 percent). Although predation (bobcat and coyote) was the primary causes of mortality in 2011 and 2012, several other factors were at play during these droughty years. Specifically, capture weights of fawns were abnormally low (as much as 50 percent of normal) in 2011 and 2012, indicating that the nutritional plane of the dam (mother) was also low. In ungulate studies across North America, birth weight is a great predictor of survival. Thus, most fawns born in 2011 and 2012 were predisposed to predation and other causes of mortality (disease, parasites, malnutrition) because of the drought. In 2013, 14-week fawn survival was much improved and averaged 42 percent. These higher survival rates were corroborated by TPWD fawn estimates (50 percent) and higher birthing weights (8 pounds for 1-week-olds). Coyotes and bobcats were still the primary cause of mortality, but fewer fawns were being predated in 2013. The drastic difference documented in our study can be attributed to nutritional condition, which is a function of forage quality and quantity (habitat), which is an end product of timely precipitation. Beginning in fall of 2012, our 2013 study site has had consistent precipitation events ranging from snowfall to downpours. The timely precipitation resulted in a very good and consistent crop of forbs – the primary food source for pronghorn. Our findings provide insight into pronghorn fawn production and survival and a much thorough understanding of their population dynamics. This information will be used as we continue to recover pronghorn population in the Trans-Pecos.

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Counting On My Fingers

Article and Photos by | Billy Higginbotham, ph.d. Megan with one of the bucks she recently harvested on one of our hunts together.


y daughter Megan has been going to “deer camp” every fall since she was 18 months old. She spent her diaper years at the comfortable cabin my wife and I shared with two other couples in the beautiful Texas Hill Country during each hunting season. I often joked that Megan was several years old before she realized that deer did not naturally hang upside down from a tree limb – a reference to her careful observations of skinning and quartering activities that were a common theme at the camp.



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As she grew a little older, I would take her out for walks near the cabin among the granite outcroppings, live oaks and cactus that dominate the Hill Country landscape. By the time she became a first grader, we began to go out and sit in deer stands on those seasonably warm afternoons for a half hour at a time. Since her mother was a serious deer hunter, I would volunteer to carry Megan out with me. Several years passed before I killed a deer in front of her, as I wanted to make sure she had a clear understanding of what was happening.

father/daughter hunt

Most of those hunts were short, and I can admit to you now that I had more than my fair share of tea parties and yes, even had to play with a few Barbie dolls on those afternoons we shared in a deer stand. She eventually expressed an interest in becoming a hunter, and like any hunter/parent, one of my proudest moments came when she was able to cleanly take a 7-point buck – all without disturbing the dishes and tea pots set up across the blind’s floor. As a teenager, she eventually hunted by herself, if for no other reason than to begin expressing the growing desire for independence that is all too common among young teenagers. Regardless, she often slept in and skipped the morning hunts, but she was always ready to go shopping with her mom and enjoy lunch in nearby Fredericksburg, before hunting in the afternoon. Even then, she often wanted me to share the stand on at least one hunt with her. At about the time she entered her freshman year in high school, I had a realization, revelation, epiphany or whatever one might want to call it. It occurred to me that as with most high schoolers, priorities would soon change, and more of her time would be allocated to friends and school-related activities and less with family – a natural order of things. I sat down and began counting on my fingers that day. I started adding up the number of deer seasons there were to come before and during her college years. I was down to less than a full complement of fingers. I admit that I panicked just a little. In another few years, I would be able to count on one hand the number of individual deer hunts that probably remained for us to share before her life on her own changed our annual tradition forever. But, it was not just hunting. How many more opportunities to take her to shoot clay birds might there be? Or how many more trips to do anything one-on-one that were her ideas?


When you reach the point where you can begin to count any shared experience with someone special on a few fingers, it gives you pause. I committed to not let those opportunities, whenever they arose, slip by, without action. Sometimes work got in the way, and I fell short, but at least I had a goal to strive for as a parent. High school came and went…and so did college. I relished each opportunity we had to go outdoors to shoot or hunt. And, then, I began to be able to count (much too quickly) the potential number of days we might spend afield, before work or marriage or whatever her future held that might prevent our hunting together. Another opportunity arose during the Christmas holidays as we made and smoked elk sausage together. She proudly documented and posted the process on her Facebook page. Megan told me, while making sausage, that she wanted to go elk hunting someday. That item on her wish list immediately rose to the top of my bucket list. Admittedly, that did not require much finger counting on my part. Time. It’s what our kids want most from us, and it costs us absolutely nothing to give. It may be hunting, fishing, playing catch, shooting hoops or reading a book together. Listen to their requests, and begin counting on your fingers – you will never regret it, for a minute. Billy Higginbotham is a Regent’s Fellow, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist with the Texas A&M University System. He is a proud member of the National Rifle Association, Outdoor Writers Association of America, Texas Outdoor Writers Association and columnist for TWA’s Texas Wildlife magazine. He has authored over 125 magazine articles on wildlife and fish management-related topics.

Travel in style. Get a TWA Membership Decal for your ride. Call the TWA Office at 800-839-9453



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Historic Win for Landowners in Groundwater Takings Case Article by GARY JOINER

TWA Protecting

The Texas Wildlife Association is hailing a recent decision by the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio as a huge victory for property rights and Texas landowners. In Edwards Aquifer Authority, et al. v. Glenn and Jolynn Bragg, the appeals court ruled in late August that groundwater regulation, specifically the Edwards Aquifer Authority Act, caused a taking of the Braggs’ private property, their groundwater. It is the first time in the history of Texas jurisprudence where an appellate court has made such a ruling. TWA participated in a legal brief in the case, alongside the Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Forestry Association, Texas Association of Dairymen, and Texas Cattle Feeders Association. The brief urged the Court to find that the EAA had committed a regulatory and/or physical taking



of the Braggs’ groundwater and to measure their damages based on the market value of groundwater rights, based on comparable sales data of that resource. TWA believes the EAA took actions that denied the Braggs their alienable, severable rights to produce the groundwater beneath their land. The Braggs bought their two properties for the purpose of operating pecan orchards; they bought their land in reliance upon the groundwater beneath it, and invested their time, energy, and life savings into making that dream a reality. TWA recognizes the necessity for a regulatory scheme that protects property rights, as well as the invaluable water resources of our state. However, as is the case in EAA’s denials of the Braggs’ applications, TWA believes a regulatory action that results in the taking of a property right for a public purpose must be compensated using a fair methodology. As a vested property right,

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photo by Russell Graves

YOUR Property Rights landowners deserve compensation when a groundwater district has taken action to deny the right to the beneficial use of that property. Russell Johnson of Austin, an attorney who provides counsel for TWA on land use, property rights, and water issues, said the most important thing in this case for landowners is that the court went to great lengths to analyze the Braggs’ claim under the Penn Central regulatory takings analysis and found that a taking had occurred. He said under this analysis, three factors are considered — investment-backed expectations, the impact on the expectations, and the purpose the government is trying to achieve as the other side of the balancing equation. “The EAA thought they had a slam dunk in that balancing test argument — that the governmental purpose outweighed the slight economic disadvantage to the landowner,” Johnson told TWA. “The court

groundwater takings


“The EAA thought they had a slam dunk in that balancing test argument — that the governmental purpose outweighed the slight economic disadvantage to the landowner,” Johnson told TWA. “The court brushed that argument aside, and instead, the court said those laudable goals did not outweigh the economic impact suffered by the landowner, which is very significant. That is huge for every landowner in the state of Texas.” - Russell Johnson

Attorney Russell Johnson of Austin

brushed that argument aside, and instead, the court said those laudable goals did not outweigh the economic impact suffered by the landowner, which is very significant. That is huge for every landowner in the state of Texas.” The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling last year in EAA vs. Day made it clear that groundwater rights were protected under the Constitution’s prohibition against a taking of private property, but because Day had not been permitted to present evidence of a taking in the lower courts, the court could not rule that a taking had occurred — only that Day should be allowed to make his case. Johnson said that the appellate court decision puts all other groundwater districts in the state on notice. No longer can they simply brush aside the potentially negative economic impact to landowners when establishing goals and issuing permits. “I will say that a willing ally in the governmental effort to regulate property owners has been knocked down a substantial peg,” Johnson stated. “I think the

Braggs hit a home run when the court said compensation should be based on the value of a mature orchard with sufficient water. The value of a mature orchard with no water is the dirt.” Writing for the Court, Justice Sandee Bryan Marion, citing EAA vs. Day, observed that: “The Authority’s argument — that the Act gave the Braggs something they did not previously own (permits) and, therefore, there is no taking — ignores this holding. The issue here is not whether the Braggs’ ability to sell or lease water has been interfered with. The issue is whether the Act goes so far in restricting the Braggs’ use of their water beneath their land … In this case, the ‘use’ of water is not the ability to sell or lease water under a permit. Rather, the ‘use’ of water is the Braggs’ ability to operate and irrigate a pecan orchard, which the trial court found to be the highest and best use of the properties, for the purpose of producing a sustainable commercial pecan crop in Medina County.”

The Braggs own property that sits above the Edwards Aquifer on which they have two pecan orchards: The Home Place orchard and the D’Hanis orchard. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Braggs irrigated the Home Place orchard from a well drawing from the Edwards Aquifer. The D’Hanis Orchard was irrigated through other means. In 1993, the Texas Legislature passed the Edwards Aquifer Act (“the Act”) that created the Edwards Aquifer Authority (“EAA”). The Act charged the EAA with permitting and regulation groundwater withdrawals in the area where the Bragg orchards are located. The Act creating the EAA requires that the EAA create a permitting system for groundwater use that gives preference to historic and existing users. Generally, the Act allows a historic user to withdraw the maximum amount of water that was previously put to beneficial use during any one-year period. The Braggs applied for water permits for both of their orchards. The EAA denied the permit for the D’Hanis orchard because there was no evidence of historical use of water, and it granted a permit of only 120 acre feet/year for the Home Place orchard (about half of the amount sought by their permit application) based on historic water use. The Braggs filed a takings claim. The trial court found that the permit denials constituted regulatory takings for both orchards. Both parties appealed to the San Antonio Court of Appeals.




golf tournament

TWA Golf Tournament Scores for Issues and Advocacy The 2nd Annual TWA Capital Classic Golf Tournament on September 19 welcomed 60 players to the Hills of Lakeway Golf Club, Flintrock Falls Course, in Austin, for a day of golf and financial support for TWA Issues and Advocacy program efforts. A big “Thank You” to all event sponsors, team sponsors, and participants who made the golf tournament such a success! Your active support of TWA and its Issues and Advocacy efforts are very much appreciated! Closest-to-the-Pin Winners: Don Holcomb and Dale Daughtery Long Drive Winners: Brad Knolle and Scott Vidrine Putting Contest Winner: Scott Vidrine 3rd Place Team Net: Hunter Brown, David Blackbird, Patrick Smith, and Lance Lackey 2nd Place Team Net: David Garza, Louis Garza, Greg Ledbetter, and Michael Roberts 1st Place Team Net: Ryan Joyce, Kevin O’Leary, Justin Humphries, and David Carothers 1st Place Team Gross: Greg Simons, Jimmy Tidwell, Jack Graves and John Snugg

Team Barrett Brothers Oil & Gas, Inc. with partners Scott Vidrine and Monty Martin.

1st Place Team Gross Winner was Team Wildlife Systems, Inc. – (left to right) Greg Simons (TWA President), Jack Graves, Jimmy Tidwell, and Dr. John Snuggs.

Team Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser.

1st Place Team Net Winner was Team Capital Pumping, LP – Ryan Joyce, Kevin O’Leary, Justin Humphries, and David Carothers (pictured with TWA President Greg Simons).

Players enjoying a catered meal following the round of play.



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Event and Team Sponsors: Brown Distributing Budweiser Capital Pumping, LP Dynamic Systems, Inc. TAB Technologies Willie's T's Wildlife Systems, Inc. Hallmark College Million Air San Antonio Crockett National Bank Barrett Brothers Oil & Gas, Inc. Republic Ranches, LLC Knolle, Holcomb, Kothmann, & Callahan


corporate partners program


TWA has partnered with these quality companies to offer our members quality products and/or discounts, with a portion of the proceeds to support TWA’s mission efforts!


TWA members receive 5 percent off any new Exmark mower. TWA receives 2 percent of each member’s purchase to support its mission. All purchases must be made through a Texas dealer, which can be found at www.exmark.com. A complete list of conditions and exclusions available by visiting www.exmark.com/partners.

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TWA’s new official merchandise supplier, Willie’s T’s is the place for all things TWA logo apparel and gift related. An annual contribution is made by Willie’s T’s on each item sold. For more information visit www.texaswildlife.gostorego.com.

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For information on how to become a TWA Corporate Partner, contact David Brimager at (800) 839-9453 or dbrimager@texas-wildlife.org.


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** Some conditions and exclusions may apply to these partnerships. ** offers valid through 01/31/14



Aging White-tailed Deer on the Hoof article by Ruth Hoyt When I took the assignment for this article, my first question was, “Why would I need to know a deer's age when I'm looking at it in the field?” Curious, I contacted my friend, Steve Scott, wildlife biologist for the Cook Ranches in deep South Texas. He expressed great enthusiasm for the topic, and he invited me to his office to provide me with an interview, quick education and some deer jaws. Scott opened our conversation with, “Aging deer on the hoof is a critical skill required for managing and improving the deer herd on a ranch, no matter the location. Deer are different everywhere – they vary from region to region, and even from one ranch to a neighboring ranch. At a minimum, learning to assess a live deer's age helps prevent hunters from harvesting one too soon.” He described general changes deer go through, and he showed me more than 100 photos of deer taken by game trail cameras. Then he compared them and explained the differences. He talked about body structure and described posture, behavior and interaction, which are more indicators of age and maturity. He explained why deer are aged with “½” after their year age: Fawns are born in the spring and deer are normally harvested in the fall, six months after springtime, hence the ½-year addition. Scott's ability to tell the deer apart amazed me. At first, the deer looked alike. Once he showed me some of the same deer from one year to the next however, I realized he had been observing them over time, knew these deer and could recognize them as individuals. Asked how accurately he could tell a deer's age, Scott said he and his team are quite good. They document the deer from when they are fawns through adulthood. Once a deer is harvested, they make a final assessment before turning to science. He told me about cementum


annuli, the process of aging a deer by viewing its teeth under a microscope. He referred me to Mary and Henry Chidgey, owners of Wildlife Analytical Laboratories in Burnet, Texas. But, hold that thought – I'll come back to that, shortly. I interviewed three deer experts, Dave Richards, Greg Simons and Alan Cain. Richards literally wrote the book on deer, Observing and Evaluating Whitetails (qdma.com, amazon.com, texas-wildlife.org). Cain, a wildlife biologist, serves as White-tailed Deer Program Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Simons, also a wildlife biologist and President of TWA, founded Wildlife Systems, Inc. (wildlifesystems.com) in 1987, right out of college. WSI provides wildlife management and hunter outfitting services. Richards started photographing big bucks for publication as a youngster. He photographed on the Hindes Ranch, a 10-squaremile ranch under high fence in Atascosa and Frio counties. He told me “Big Roy Hindes” is the first person widely known for aging deer on the hoof. Hindes wanted to determine each buck's maturity, because more inches of antler meant more dollars. He knew deer were mature at four years but that they reached their full antler potential at six years to seven years, and he didn't want to harvest them too soon. Hindes asked Richards which deer he saw, how old they were, what they would score (B&C), and how they looked. Richards began chronicling his work: “Aging deer on the hoof is not an exact science, but you can learn how; there are variables. It's most effective when the same people are aging the same deer on the same property over time. I photograph everywhere and see how deer vary from one area to another, but the principles are the same.



1. A yearling spike buck boldly feeds on corn in an open area and a companion spike buck joins him, only slightly less bold. 2. This young buck looked straight toward the photographer’s camera, giving her a head-on view, which revealed a narrow forehead set on a long, narrow face. Observing that his head looked wider than his long, thin neck that seemed disconnected from his brisket, the photographer estimated that the buck wasn't very old, possibly 2½ years. 3. This buck, as observed by the photographer, was more reserved, stately and watchful and he had more body mass. His forehead was broader and his profile revealed a more wedge-shaped head. His topline was straight and strong, and his legs were a little long yet proportionate to his body, and his rump was nearly full and rounded. Antler size was quite respectable for mid-summer when this photo was taken, and the photographer noted a little staining on his tarsal gland. She assessed him to be 4½ years old, and later, a wildlife biologist concurred with her assessment. Photos by Ruth Hoyt



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“Variables range: What is going on in his immediate month is it? Where in the surrounding area. AGE (YEARS) DESCRIPTION OF WILD BUCKS (NOT PEN-RAISED) country is the deer? Is “If a deer is standing Fawn Identify a buck as soon as you are aware he exists. the habitat high- or lowtaut and at attention, watch 1½ Skinny neck and limbs, head looks bigger than his neck, fenced? What are habitat his ears and tail,” Richards straight-on his head looks like a ball on a toothpick. Small, and nutrition sources like? added. “Another deer spindly antlers ranging from spikes to 10 points. Antlers are What has the rainfall amount may be approaching. The compact and have the circumference of your pinky finger. been? Deer-to-acre ratio? standing deer indicates if Looks like a teenager and is growing but is gangly and long2½ Buck-to-doe ratio? All this the approaching deer is a legged. No torso fat, small neck that may swell a little during goes out the window when non-threat (younger or the rut. Antlers may double in size since last year and have eight to 10 points, but the spread between the ears is narrow and these aspects alter. Anything same age) or a threat (a more antlers are not very tall. that affects body size can mature buck). If it’s a young influence their appearance. deer watching, and he looks 3½ Everything is getting bigger, resembles an 18-year-old boy. Not A deer’s body changes nervous and about to bolt but mature but getting close to maturity in body size. Neck increases constantly throughout the then relaxes, the approaching in size and there is a gap where neck and brisket join. year, which must be taken deer will be either a doe 4½ During the rut, the brisket will join the neck of many into account.” or a younger buck.” 4 ½-year-old bucks. It becomes more and more pronounced I learned the hardest Richards' comments made with each year until post maturity. Stomach is taut and straight, time to judge age is spring sense. “If you see a mature without belly fat. Like a 23-25-year-old man in pristine shape, and summer, when a buck deer's ears roll back, head like a race horse. Rump is rounded out like a racehorse's. is in “velvet” and putting pop up and body go erect, Brisket joins at the neck, can have tremendous antlers. everything into growing get ready. He is telling you antlers. His neck may be an adversary is arriving. The 5½ Starts looking like a man 40-50 years old. Belly not taut thin and his belly big, but two become stiff-legged and anymore and starts to sag, starts resembling a 50-gallon drum that changes as soon as he sidle up to one another. Past sitting on toothpicks. Back no longer straight and rubs off the velvet and begins history and age determine sags slightly. replenishing his body. whether there will be a fight. Belly gets larger and neck gets bigger. Starts jiggling when 6½-7½ It is easier to judge age One will submit, lower his walking and dimples show. Skin under chin starts to sag, gray head and move out of the October through December, hair on face and forehead gland in fall. Back has noticeable because there are more way. Sometimes, they'll sag. indicators. For example, all get close, clash horns and Post-maturity age range, buck really starts deteriorating. Neck Older bucks rub their antlers; and, do a little battle. Then, one (post-mature) and belly shrink, starts looking like a 3½-year-old. Hip and the older and more mature will move off in another rib bones start protruding and stomach sags. the buck is, the more muscle direction.” Stiff-legged, slow gait. concluded, Richards mass he will gain in his neck saying he combines aging and chest. The size of the deer on the hoof with tarsal gland, the gland on the after-harvest methods, inside of each back leg, can taking variables into account. A deer living in sandy or rocky soil be an indicator of a deer’s maturity. After the rut, mature bucks are exhausted. They have concentrated and feeding on woody and leafy forage shows different tooth wear, on breeding and have not been eating so their bellies, chests and perhaps up to two years, than one living in soft soil and eating from necks decrease in size. Richards says interaction is another indicator. a protein feeder. “You'll definitely notice a mature deer – he's more dominant in the I contacted Alan Cain, TPWD's White-tailed Deer Program Leader. herd. When a dominant buck goes into post-maturity, you’ll start While talking about aging deer on the hoof, he echoed Richards. He seeing younger bucks that are reaching maturity react differently to also said a well-managed ranch should have an older age class buck herd, and knowing how to accurately age the live deer population aids him and become more dominant.” He continued, “Notice the position and posturing of a buck's head, the manager in knowing which ones to harvest. ears and tail when another approaches. Mature deer hold their heads “Fall hunting season is approaching, and TPWD staff will give up, ears back and make eye contact. Younger deer may look back programs on aging deer on the hoof,” Cain said. “We deal with but move and defer when they get close. If they don't, you'll have landowners, and the programs vary, depending on landowners' a fight on your hands, which typically indicates the two bucks are and hunters' goals. Some may want to simply manage older deer closer in age.” and control the population, while others are more interested in Richards said that if you sit motionless and watch a deer standing, it raising trophy bucks.” tells you everything it knows and sees through posture and movement. TPWD staff visit locker plants and gather Age Weight and Antler If the deer sees movement in the brush, it will immediately pick up on (AWA) data used for assessing information and obtaining averages. that; and, then, if it tenses, stiffens, and puts his tail straight out, it is Cain said, “There are always anomalies outside the average and indicating that a predator is approaching, such as a bobcat or coyote or variation from one region to another, and even from one ranch to javelina. By watching the buck, you will see that he will indicate all that another. However, a 2½-year-old should have an 11½-inch spread and continued on page 37 www.texas-wildlife.org


CROC0153.TWA lending AdOL.indd 1



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a 3½-year-old should have a greater-than 13-inch spread.” Cain continued, “Aging deer is an educated guess, and we should recognize our limitations. The process takes practice, and you don't get lucky overnight. Trail and game cameras provide information, and folks ought to use these.” He dispelled myths regarding aging deer on the hoof. For example, some people count antler points, but a one-year-old can have 10-12 points. Others count the wrinkles at the base of the ears – also a myth. And, some base age by antler color, saying older bucks' antlers are darker than younger bucks'. Depending on what deer rub on and how much blood was in the velvet while it was growing are factors that determine antler color. Cain provided two tables of data collected about Texas deer from 1963-2012, both sorted by ecoregion and age class. Table 1 portrays white-tailed deer average inside spread (inches) of the main Ecoregion







Blackland Prairies







Coastal Plains







Cross Timbers







Eastern Rolling Plains







Edwards Plateau







High Plains














Post Oak Savannah







South Texas Plains







Southern High Plains







Trans Pecos







Western Rolling Plains







Statewide Average













Blackland Prairies








Coastal Plains







Cross Timbers







Eastern Rolling Plains







Edwards Plateau







High Plains














Post Oak Savannah







South Texas Plains







Southern High Plains







Trans Pecos







Western Rolling Plains







Statewide Average







Table 2. White-tailed deer average number of antler points 1 inch or greater by ecoregion and age class. Data source is Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Age / Weight / Antler Surveys 1963-2012

beams, Table 2 portrays the average number of antler points one inch or greater. I asked if aging does and bucks is the same, and Cain said aging does is more difficult, but all of the pieces fit together to complete the puzzle. Their appearance, body conformation, social interaction with other deer and dominance all play a part. He described them, saying,

“Does have long heads with large ears, like a mule's. Mature does have bigger bodies, compared to other does, and they travel in social groups. Watch for social dominance. Older does don't tolerate young bucks and may swat them over the head with their front hooves. They will also act aggressively toward fawns coming to the feeder.” He continued, “A fawn up to two years is considered a young doe; at three years, it is mature. Young does typically have single fawns, not twins. As they get older (three, four and five), they often produce twins and sometimes triplets. A predator may get one, or the doe may not produce enough milk, so they don’t always survive. Old does start to have loose, saggy skin and can look thin and drawn down (from nursing), because they are trying to recover their body reserves. “Fawns are the first deer to run into a food plot – they simply don’t know any better. Mature bucks watch to see what happens. My advice to hunters is to watch for young deer running in, and wait patiently. Mature bucks are typically observing from the woods and may be there but don’t always appear, right away.” My visit with wildlife biologist Greg Simons, founder of Wildlife Systems, Inc., and President of TWA, proved just as interesting as my other interviews. He shared similar, overlapping information, but his particular perspective on aging deer is shared here to highlight the “so what” and “why” aspects of the topic, which are the goal-oriented matters of the ranch owner and/or manager. Like the others, he said that the art of aging deer requires practice, spending time in the field throughout the year, knowing what to look for, knowing differences and variances from the norm and the flexibility of using various methods to aid in coming to conclusions. One slightly different aspect he mentioned was tooth destruction. “A ruminating animal forages, then ruminates, coughing up and chewing the food. As tooth structure integrity is lost, the ability to chew up the forage is compromised, and that is often when the animal starts going downhill,” Simons said. This, of course, led us to talk about the cementum annuli process mentioned earlier. He said: “It’s important for deer managers and hunters to look inside the mouth, but this doesn’t always tell you how old he really is. Extract an incisor, send it to the lab, and they will tell you how old the deer was. This is more reliable than the tooth wear and replacement method. It requires more time, costs some money and is a more involved process, so fewer than 10 percent use the cementum annuli method.” Simons travels to locations across Texas and into other areas of the U.S., which provides him opportunities for noticing differences in deer; I asked for some. “Well, the deer in South Texas are longer and rangier and tend to be salt and pepper color. In the San Angelo area, they have shorter heads and ears, typically have stockier legs, and tend to be more reddish-brown.” He summarized by saying that aging deer on the hoof is not regionspecific and can be applied to anywhere in Texas and that some of the traits you see become familiar. I learned quite a bit about cementum annuli from Henry Chidgey, owner of Wildlife Analytical Laboratories™ (DeerAge.com). He armed me with plenty of information, including a video the lab uses for training. He said tooth replacement or eruption is an accurate method, but this only works for deer younger than 2½ years. This method requires examination of the teeth in the lower jaw. Chidgey said a white-tail's teeth come into its mouth in a very predictable way the first two years of its life. He explained: “We can tell by the number of teeth in the side of the jaw, for sure, whether the deer is about six months old,



Jawbones show the dentition of 1½, 2½ and 3½-year-old white-tailed deer from. Note that the Premolar 3 (P3) of a 1½-year-old has three cusps, but when the deer's permanent teeth come in, the new P3 has only two cusps. Jawbones provided by Mary Jo Bogatto of Cactus Creek Ranch. (Photo by Ruth Hoyt.)

Deer jawbones show dentition of two deer aged 6½ years (left two jawbones) and 7½ years (right jawbone). To age a deer, the lab requires the two center frontmost teeth from the lower jaw. In short, they take the root of a tooth, prepare a very thin stained slice and count the rings of cementum under a microscope – just like counting the rings on a tree. Jaws provided by Steve Scott of Cook Ranches. (Photo by Ruth Hoyt.)

eighteen months old or 2½ years old or older. The fastest way to tell a young deer's age is: 1) If the jaw has four or five teeth, the deer is six months of age (it was born the previous spring); and, 2) If the jaw has six teeth, we know for sure it is a least 18 months old. If the third tooth from the front has three cusps, it is for sure an 18-month-old deer. This age class is most often misjudged as being a very old deer, because the third tooth from the front is almost always heavily worn, although it is a baby or milk tooth.” He said to age a deer, the lab requires the two center, frontmost teeth from the lower jaw. In short, they take the root of a tooth, prepare a very thin stained slice and count the rings of cementum under a microscope – just like counting the rings on a tree. He said they could also age a deer if he didn't have the front two incisors but, instead, had a jawbone. One of the frequently asked questions Chidgey receives is what percentage of accuracy he can provide for white-tailed deer. He told me, “We are exactly right 85 percent of the time, off by one year 14.5 percent of the time and off by two years 0.5 percent of the time. Studies show that accuracy is higher for elk and mule deer, because the laying-down of the cementum on these animals is more regular and easier to observe.” After listening to Chidgey, I believe the most accurate method for aging a deer is by observing and evaluating the deer in the field over time and following up with confirmation of my assessment with the cementum annuli process. I hung up the phone, wondering how much information I had absorbed from my sources, and I decided to try my hand at it in the field. One evening, this summer, I visited the Cap Rock Pens, a ranch belonging to the Forshage family, long-time friends of mine. I sat in a photo blind overlooking an area where deer frequently feed. Only two young bucks appeared, and they were easy to identify as yearlings. One boldly stepped out of the brush and walked into the open to feed, confident and fearless. His companion joined him within a few seconds. “Wow, that wasn't hard,” I thought. I had learned that youngsters were bold and fearless, and this pair definitely fit that mold. Something startled them, and both heads shot upward

and turned toward the sound; within a second, they disappeared. I waited to see what could have scared them or if they would return, but darkness fell without further visits from any wildlife. My second visit to the ranch proved more interesting. A buck with a tall, narrow basket-like rack quietly appeared. His neck was thin and didn't connect smoothly into his brisket, and his forehead was narrow, set on a long, narrow face. I knew that the buck was putting all his energy into producing antlers, and that during the summer, it's harder to tell a buck's age because of this. I reserved judgment but still had the impression that the buck wasn't very old. I guessed that he was possibly 2½ years old. Another buck entered the scene, and what I had learned about behavior sprang into place. This one was more reserved, stately and watchful, and he had more body mass. His forehead was broader than the other buck's, and his profile revealed a more wedge-shaped head. Still, he looked young. His topline was straight and strong, and he had more mass to his rump than his companion's. As he approached, he laid his ears back, head held high, and the other deferred, avoiding eye contact and conflict. Again, information about behavior came blasting through my brain. I knew displays of dominance between bucks are part of what separates the “men from the boys.” And, usually, the older, more mature bucks are dominant. So should he be at least 3½ years? Or, maybe 4½? Later, I emailed several photos to my wildlife biologist friend, Steve Scott, mentioned at the beginning of this article, for comment. Guess what? According to him, I nailed each one. The two yearlings were a cinch and the 2½-year-old was right on. When he had seen a few of the photos of the older buck, Scott initially thought the buck was 3½ but once he had seen all the photos taken from various angles, he changed his assessment to 4½. When I sent a copy of this article and photos to Dave Richards for content and accuracy, he said he thought the older buck was 3½ but wanted to reserve judgement until he saw the buck again, closer to the rut. What this shows is that even the experts do not always agree and aging deer on the hoof is not an exact science. I am no expert, by any means, but I look forward to my next opportunities for observing and evaluating deer in the field!



november 2013

Order from TWA Today! Thousands of copies have been sold by TWA in the last 10 years, making this book a classic amongst whitetail enthusiasts. Observing and Evaluating Whitetails provides in-depth information on again and scoring whitetails on the hoof though physical appearance and behavior. The book features 435 stunning photographs with year-by-year documentation of more than a dozen outstanding bucks. It makes learning filed-judging skills much easier. Renowned whitetail photographer Dave Richards teams with noted wildlife biologist Al Brothers to make accurate aging and scoring possible for anyone. Through Richards’ camera lens, this new book chronicles the lives of scores of impressive bucks, allowing readers to put all the pieces of the puzzle together at once. A special chapter by one of the nation’s premiere whitetail biologists, Dr. R. Larry Marchinton, details the latest researching concerning whitetail communication and sensory capabilities. Order this remarkable book though TWA at (800) 839-9453. Net proceeds will go to support our many programs.

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You can now provide others a free, three-month trial subscription to the official publication of the Texas Wildlife Association, and introduce your family and friends to our great association. Send your friends and family a digital magazine subscription or a printed magazine subscription of the 2014 issues of January, February, and March. The digital magazine subscription is provided at no cost to the TWA member sponsor. Digital recipients receive a link to Texas Wildlife via email each of the three months. The printed magazine subscription is provided at a cost of $10 (per recipient) to the TWA member sponsor. A printed copy of Texas Wildlife is mailed each of the three months to these subscribers. If you are interested in this unique opportunity, please visit the News section of the TWA website at www.texas-wildlife.org. A downloadable form is available for you to identify individuals you wish to receive this special trial magazine subscription. All forms and contact information must be returned to the TWA office by November 30, 2013, in order for each recipient to receive all three trial issues.

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c o n s e r vat i o n l e ga c y


True Education Passed Down from

Generation to Generation Article and Photos by Koy Coffer


uring the past summer, 17 educators and 22 volunteer instructors from across Texas traveled to the Flagler Ranch in Mountain Home to attend a Texas Wildlife Association Learning Across New Dimensions in Science (L.A.N.D.S.) training. There were many opportunities at the training to learn from some of the best conservation, wildlife, and natural resource instructors around. The agenda was packed with classroom activities, field investigations, demonstrations, and loads of hands-on learning. What was learned? Why was it important? What is the take-home message for the teachers and volunteers who attended? Here are just a few of the comments we received after the class: Tom Hynes – I just wanted to let you know that this training was one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” great experiences. The core of instructors and the overwhelming content were just outstanding, not to

mention the phenomenal facility of Flagler Ranch. I was particularly impressed by the group of teacher/students in the class and to learn of so many things they were already doing which dove-tailed L.A.N.D.S. and Project Wild. It is always very interesting and rewarding to hear of their classroom experiences and challenges. Becky Etzler – I want to let you know how much I enjoyed our LANDS Training. I may have participated in several LANDS events; however, now that I have been through the training, I have such a greater respect and understanding of the program. I applaud all the teachers who attended. You have an admirable vocation, and I thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm. I bet I got to meet the cream of the crop at the training. Thank you also to the instructors. I feel very grateful to have been taught by each of you. Daneshu Clark – First, I want to thank Koy, Leslie, instructors and volunteers for an incredible three days of awesome

Dr. Carroll Butler and Jim Booth share their love for bird hunting with their dogs with guests at the training.



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training. It can’t get any better than this. Thanks also to Mari Ann and Lewis for the best accommodations possible. We had a beautiful place to learn and play. To the educators – you are the cream of the crop. I am thrilled about being ready to participate in the L.A.N.D.S. program in a more prepared way. Thank you for the opportunity. Kimberly McClintock – I want to let you know how much I enjoyed the training and appreciate the opportunity to be part of it. I have been talking about it non-stop to anyone that would listen! I think it is so important that kids learn about wildlife and the land. Most of them don't get it from their parents, and if they don't get it from teachers...well, more than likely, they don't get educated on it, at all. So thank you for all TWA does to get the word and resources out. This week was also special for me, for another reason. My dad was an avid quail bird hunter, and he passed away when I was

Bill Armstrong(retired TPWD) gives a lesson on the importance of native plants and quality land stewardship.


test scores

Dr. Dale Rollins and Brad Compton look on and assist while educators learn how to perform a Quail Necropsy.

Joe Franklin (NRCS) leads Dixie Mayer through the "Splash Test" Experiment.

Joyce Moore (TPWD) shares Aldo Leopold's tools of wildlife management.

15. Being an only child, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with him, and the older I’ve become, I realize just how cool he was. He lived and breathed bird hunting, much like Dr. Dale and the volunteers who gave us a Bird Dog demonstration. The only time I ever remember seeing my dad cry was when his star bird dog died. I grew up around it, and it was part of my life. After Dad passed away, we ended up giving his dogs to a friend, because he would have wanted them to be able to continue hunting. Since then, I haven't really been around anyone who bird hunts. I think it is quickly becoming a lost art of

hunting because of the lack of birds. That's why I am so happy that you are doing so much education on it and probably why it gets me a little sad. My dad would have been great at something like this, and I hope I can continue educating others about it in his honor. My dad has been gone for 17 years, and some years are harder than others. With my Mom's injuries from the same accident, and it just being the two of us, I had to grow up a little quicker than most of my friends. I had a teacher who made a statement in class one day. She said: “We all have bad things happen to us in life; you can either make the best of the situation

or let the situation get the best of you. The choice is yours.” I am so thankful for the time I had with my dad. Even though I wish it could have been longer, I am blessed to be able to have the memories I have and things I can pass along to my kids. I honestly learned so much this week, and it really meant so much to me. I just wanted to tell you thank you! It is an experience that I will never forget! If you'd like to learn more about the L.A.N.D.S. program, or to volunteer, contact kcoffer@texas-wildlife.org.




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arthur temple college of forestry and agriculture

stephen f. austin state university

SFA news

East Texas Divers –

Waterfowl on the Big Reservoirs Article and Photos by

Warren C. Conway, Ph.D., Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University


aterfowlers’ pursuit of diving ducks (often called divers) has a long, rich and storied history of cold mornings, low flying birds, large rafts and flocks throughout North America – particularly in the prairies and marshes of large natural lakes and bays of the upper Midwest, Canada, and the Atlantic seaboard. In fact, Canvasbacks were often the primary focus of market hunters, as a result of their high palatability and relative ease of harvest due to their “rafting” behavior. In fact, the scientific name of Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) references their affinity for aquatic celery during winter in Chesapeake Bay, and it also indicates their relatively mild taste, seeing as they tended to be preseasoned naturally! Through the use of techniques no longer legal since the passage of the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty, market hunters harvested thousands of Canvasbacks for markets throughout the United States. Pursuit of “King Can” remains strong, and for the first time in decades, duck hunters in Texas can legally harvest two canvasbacks in the upcoming 2013-2014 waterfowl season. Besides Canvasbacks, Greater and Lesser Scaup, collectively referred to as “bluebills,” also have a long and traditional history of diving duck enthusiasts, particularly in southern Louisiana, the upper Midwest, and along the Atlantic seaboard. Historical accounts of darkened skies filled with flocks of bluebills are rare to see today, but bluebills remain a popular diver for many ardent big-water waterfowlers. Canvasback populations have recovered

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Sunset on B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir in early fall. Shallower water on this reservoir provide potentially easier foraging for wintering diving ducks. Photo by Keith Webb.

nicely during the last 15 years, where continental populations have generally increased during the last 20 years or so and have remained above long-term average estimates for the last several years. In contrast, bluebill numbers have typically been declining for nearly 30 years now and remain well below long term averages --which has created significant concern among waterfowl hunters and professional waterfowl biologists. Despite year-to-year variations that occur for a wide variety of reasons, such as breeding habitat conditions, migration stopover suitability, and wintering habitat conditions, bluebill

numbers have gone up the last couple of years, and bag limits remain at three per day for the 2013-2014 season. Here in East Texas, several large manmade reservoirs provide hundreds of thousands of acres of big-water habitats for divers during winter – although we know comparatively little about their behavior, food habits and population sizes during winter. Many waterfowlers in East Texas like to hunt the margins of these big reservoirs, trying their hand at Mallards, Gadwall, American Wigeon, and other dabblers, but mid-winter surveys performed by Texas Parks and Wildlife

Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University and Rumsey Research and Development Fund

november 2013

Ring-necked ducks seeking cover during winter on Sam Rayburn. Photo by Warren Conway

how ducks spend their time. Similarly, body condition estimates are used to look primarily at the amount of fat that a duck possesses. As fat is the currency by which we estimate the relative health of waterfowl, as well as how waterfowl survive winter and fuel migration, condition Coves, bays, and inlets can provide estimates are very useful good foraging habitats for divers on East Texas reservoirs during winter. means of making inferences Photo by Warren Conway about food and habitat quality, as well. When the two Department biologists indicated that are coupled, they become key pieces of these reservoirs wintered decent numbers of information for making recommendations Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked regarding future management decisions for Ducks. As part of a larger project supported wintering waterfowl habitat and for overall by TPWD, Shaun Crook completed his population health and status. Master’s thesis research here at Stephen We collected behavior data on nearly F. Austin State University on diving duck 1,300 Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, and Ringbehavior and body condition during winter necked Ducks from November through on Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, and B.A. March, 2003-2005, and all three species Steinhagen Reservoirs. This was the first spent considerable time foraging (18-30 research to examine how divers behave and percent of their time) and in “resting” use these reservoirs during winter, and the behaviors (20-35 percent of their time) research also provided the first information – which did not deviate dramatically on overall body condition of these birds, from normal activity budgets. However, regionally. all three species spent considerable time Literally hundreds of behavior studies locomoting (swimming or flying), ranging have been performed on many species from nearly 25 percent of the time for Ringof wintering waterfowl throughout necked Ducks to 40 percent of their time the country, as they are useful to make for Canvasbacks. This was substantially inferences about relative habitat quality different from most other studies – and and quantity, as well as to characterize the has potentially important impacts on potential influence of hunting pressure, waterfowl condition, as these activities environmental variability, and other habitat are very expensive, energetically. This changes on behavior. Typically, wintering was concerning, as many Canvasbacks waterfowl spend most of their timing (in particular) were observed swimming feeding and loafing, but they do spend or flying away from boat traffic on the some time in courtship behaviors, as winter reservoirs, which can be significant sources wears on. With this in mind, deviations of disturbance to these birds during winter from what are considered “normal” timeand may negatively influence their overall activity budgets can provide information body condition. This is relevant, as birds for inferences regarding habitat quality, that are in relatively poor condition during food availability, and other influences on

winter tend to leave wintering grounds later, arrive to breeding grounds later, settle into poorer quality habitat, lay fewer eggs, and experience poorer nest success – conditions during winter do influence future breeding success. However, when looking at their overall body condition – all three species (despite engaging in these energetically expensive swimming and flying behaviors) were in relatively good body condition; meaning they all had significant amounts of stored body fat, ranging from 19-35 percent of their total body mass. What this indicated is that despite the fact that these birds spent considerable time swimming, moving, and flying during winter, they were able to offset those energetic losses by successfully foraging enough on (presumably) high enough quality food items to maintain body condition throughout the winter. From a management standpoint, this is good news for these diving ducks wintering on East Texas reservoirs, as the amount of locomoting they were observed doing did not seem to negatively impact their ability to acquire enough food and accumulate enough fat during winter. Part of this may be explained by the fact that waterfowl wintering in East Texas rarely experience other stresses commonly encountered by diving ducks in more northerly regions, such as food shortages and periodically severe or extended periods of cold weather. In those instances, food shortages may result from large numbers of divers foraging in relatively concentrated areas, which tend to deplete food resources quickly. Or, divers may have to forego foraging altogether to avoid complications with thermoregulation in excessively cold waters or windy winter conditions. From our work, it seems that divers have not exceeded nor approached carrying capacity of these large reservoirs and clearly do not experience extended periods of inclement or extremely cold weather they might encounter in the Chesapeake Bay (for example). Although we do not have a good handle on what foods these birds actually consume during winter, this work provides some insight into how divers use big East Texas reservoirs, and it provides the foundation for future diver work, regionally. For more information, please contact Dr. Warren Conway, Professor of Wildlife Management, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University (wconway@sfasu.edu).



Understanding Carrying Capacity Article by STEVE NELLE and Photos by STEVE NELLE (except where noted)


arrying capacity is one of the most commonly used terms in wildlife management and one of the most misunderstood. The term is frequently used by range and wildlife managers, landowners, biologists and agencies. It is important to understand what it really means and what it does not mean. Carrying capacity is the ability of land to safely support animal populations (wild and domestic) on a sustainable long-term basis. Inherent in the definition is that the health and stability of the soil/plant resource will be maintained and not degraded. If land is managed to maintain animal numbers within carrying capacity, then other important ecological functions will usually be perpetuated. If carrying capacity is violated in a chronic manner, the condition and health of the land will deteriorate. In Texas, carrying capacity applies

most directly to ungulates including deer, pronghorn, exotics and livestock. The concept does not apply as directly to quail, turkey, songbirds or many other species of wildlife, since these do not become overpopulated or cause harm to their habitat. Balancing and adjusting animal numbers to carrying capacity is considered one of the single-most important and most challenging parts of ranching, wildlife management and responsible land stewardship.

A Concept, Not a Number

The common misperception about carrying capacity is that it can be quantified as a number. Most deer biologists are prone to quote a number and say that the carrying capacity of some area is so many acres per deer. In the Hill Country, 10 acres per deer is the magic number. In other regions, 15, 20, or 30 acres per deer is often cited as the

When the principle of carrying capacity is used to manage numbers of wildlife and livestock, habitat quality remains high and range conditions are maintained.



november 2013

carrying capacity. This has been the tradition and culture of Texas deer management. If all lands within a region were alike, and if every year was identical, only then could a reliable numerical carrying capacity be established. Range managers and ranchers are equally prone to stating the numerical carrying capacity of land for livestock grazing. For example, it was common in recent decades to say that central Texas ranges would support a cow per 20 acres. This generalized regional approach has caused great harm to rangelands, because most of the region will not safely support this amount of grazing in a normal year. Likewise, we hear rules of thumb such as “one cow per section for each inch of average rainfall.� These oversimplified rules of thumb might make interesting conjecture, but they have little practical application.

An abundance of desirable and preferred shrubs such as winterfat, lightly to moderately used, indicates that animal numbers are not excessive for habitat conditions.

Regional carrying capacity numbers have been passed down through several generations of biologists, range specialists and landowners. These numbers have been repeated so often that they have become, essentially, etched in stone. While it is sometimes helpful to attempt to establish an approximate numerical range of carrying capacity, it is important to realize that carrying capacity is an ecological and management concept, not a number.

When deer and livestock numbers are balanced to carrying capacity, desirable plants, such as bush sunflower, will thrive and increase in abundance.

A Moving Target

There are too many variables, dynamics and complexities involved to establish a numerical carrying capacity with any accuracy. Each ranch is different. Each pasture within each ranch is different. Each season is different, and each year is different. Trying to establish a carrying capacity for a region or a ranch is just as futile as trying to bag a limit of fast flying doves with a stationary shotgun. Instead, the manager must understand the ever-changing nature of land and carrying capacity and be willing and able to adjust, balance and re-balance animal numbers to prevailing conditions. Numerous natural and man-made complexities overshadow any ability we have to quantify carrying capacity. Consider some of the factors that affect carrying capacity on any specific parcel of land over space and time: soils, and the combination of soil types across the landscape, topography, the condition of the soil, past erosion, rainfall amount, rainfall distribution, rainfall intensity, rainfall effectiveness, temperature patterns, temperature extremes, past grazing management, current grazing management, current brush density, past brush manipulations, past

fire or lack of it, current deer population, the presence and extent of invasive plants, presence and numbers of free-ranging feral livestock or wildlife, insect, rodent or rabbit populations, water distribution, forage accessibility, and the skill of the manager. Based on various combinations of these factors, one ranch will be capable of supporting two to three times as many animals as the regional average, while an adjoining ranch will only sustain only half or less of the regional average. Anything that affects plant growth, plant consumption, or animal distribution influences carrying capacity. Given these numerous complicating factors, it would be futile and unwise to try to assign a number to carrying capacity for a ranch or a region. Any number you come up with will be wrong, most of the time. Hitting such an unpredictable moving target with regularity requires skill, experience, concentration, keen observation and some system of monitoring and evaluation.

Three Approaches

There are three approaches that can be used to help evaluate carrying capacity:

animal performance; condition of the range and habitat; and quantitative estimates of food and forage supply. Each of these approaches is valuable, but each also has drawbacks. Animal performance indicators for deer include keeping multiyear records of field dressed weight (by age class); prevalence of yearling spikes; fawn crop; and antler development (by age class). This is an extremely good way to indirectly assess habitat conditions and carrying capacity. If these indicators are below normal, it is a sure sign that animal numbers are excessive and in need of adjustment. If these indicators are consistently above expected norms, it is a signal that the habitat will safely support more animals. However, the widespread use of supplemental feeding masks these effects and makes this method less useful. On ranches that rely on supplemental feeding, animal performance indicators will often give a false positive of habitat condition and carrying capacity. Habitat evaluation is a skill that all deer managers should develop. Habitat indicators include: degree of hedging, plant vigor, presence and severity of browse lines, reproduction of key species, abundance of desirable shrubs and perennial forbs, and relative location of preferred species (in protected or unprotected places). An astute habitat observer familiar with a region will be able to discern if animal numbers are approximately in balance with carrying capacity. This is one aspect of “reading the land.� There are similar skills used by range managers to evaluate range and forage conditions for livestock grazing. The quantitative approach of measuring the forage supply is the most difficult of the three methods. For deer, it requires the clipping and weighing of perennial forbs and available browse on small plots and extrapolating this information to a pasture or ranch. This is a tedious process for deer forages, and although it can be very useful, the technique is rarely used. However, this quantitative approach is commonly used in helping determine an approximate initial carrying capacity for cattle and to help determine needed stocking rate adjustments.

Increasing Carrying Capacity

Some of the more direct and obvious methods of increasing carrying capacity for deer and livestock include reseeding, roller chopping, prescribed burning, and selective



When shrubs are heavily browsed, they take on a hedged appearance. Here, a hackberry tree remains stunted and hedged reflecting too many deer and livestock.

Astute deer managers will study which plants are being eaten, and will understand which plants are more preferred and less preferred. This information will help them make good decisions regarding deer harvest. Photo by Steve Bentsen

brush manipulation. These techniques can result in substantial increases in the food supply within two to four years, when properly applied. Roller chopping and burning can materially increase the availability of browse that has grown out of reach of deer. Reseeding can increase the abundance of desirable grasses (for cattle) and perennial forbs (for deer). Selective brush control can be used to “release� the more desirable shrubs, forbs and grasses when the dominating brush species is thinned. These direct methods can be very effective, but it can be difficult to justify the investment involved. The subtle forms of management require more time for the benefits to accrue, but they are more long lasting and less costly. Improving overall soil health and soil condition is a good way to increase plant productivity. Soil condition is improved to the degree that plant litter is being returned to the ground. Natural plant litter mulch on the surface protects the soil, buffers against extreme soil temperature and reduces evaporation. As plant litter decomposes, it enhances soil structure, soil porosity, infiltration rates and water holding capacity. Every serious gardener knows the value of mulch, compost and organic matter. Well-managed land provides a continual renewing and recycling of plant litter into mulch, compost and soil enrichment. These things, in combination, provide for better plant growing conditions and help make



the best use of rainfall. Rotational grazing also enhances habitat and range productivity by giving a competitive advantage to the more preferred and desirable plants. Over time, rotational grazing, with adequate rest periods and proper stocking rates, tends to increase plant diversity, which, in turn, improves habitat for many species. Conversely, continuous grazing, even at moderate stocking rates, often leads to the high-grading of the better plants, including grasses, forbs and shrubs. This gradually results in a reduction in the abundance and vigor of the best plants, leaving the lesser plants to thrive.

A New Challenge

Since carrying capacity for a ranch or a region cannot be rightly stated as a number of animals or a given density, this presents new challenges to land managers and those who provide them with technical assistance. It is no longer acceptable to use arbitrary or traditional carrying capacity values to govern management of wildlife and livestock numbers. Harvest recommendations and livestock adjustments must be aimed to hit a moving target, not a stationary goal. Managers and their advisors must develop the ability to read the land and see what is happening in a dynamic landscape. Management must not only be ecologically sustainable, but it also must be economically viable, which presents an even greater challenge. Keeping deer and/or livestock numbers at artificially high or abnormally

november 2013

One of the essential skills of land stewardship is the ability to read the land and to properly understand the concept of carrying capacity.

low levels for long periods rarely makes good sense. Between these two extremes is where the art and science of management must be applied in a skillful and common sense manner.

Bottom Line

Today’s landowners deserve wellreasoned advice and assistance, not the broad-brush easy answers of the past. Each ranch is unique, different and special, and requires individual treatment and customized management, skillfully applied by genuine land stewards. Texas Wildlife Association supports and encourages this kind of long-term, sustainable land use, based on sound ecological and economic principles.


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by Ed Allday A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher photographed by Ed Allday on the Santa Margarita Ranch owned by Don Collis. Allday’s professional photography coach for the ICF photo competition was Grant Atkinson. TWA and Vantage Bank are proud to partner with the Images for Conservation Fund in an effort to present some of the outstanding images captured during its nature photography competitions held on private lands in Texas. IFC is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization created for the purpose of conserving wildlife habitat and generating a sustainable income stream through the establishment and prosperity of the Private Lands' Nature-Photography Industry. For more information on ICF, visit www. imagesforconservation.org.

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who have trusted the outcome of millions of hunts to the performance of MONARCH, we are proud to introduce an extraordinary level of All Terrain Binocular: MONARCH 7. Appreciate its fast-handling proportions and exceptional balance—trademarks of its long ATB heritage. Be amazed, however, at its extreme field of view (nearly 25% greater), dusk-penetrating brilliance and elevated resolution—hallmarks of its advanced optical system and further exploited through Nikon ED glass lenses.