Managing a Deer Herd in Texas
By: Bob Zaiglin and Justin Bryan
As I negotiated my truck over a deep red, sandy sendero enveloped by overhanging branches of honey mesquite on each side of the narrow passage in the ink black predawn hours, I had to exercise caution not to hurt any of the occupants gathered in the bed of my truck. It was actually early November in the Golden Triangle of South Texas, and the individuals in the bed of my truck were deer hunters. More importantly, they were first time hunters from a number of homes for disadvantaged children on their first ever deer hunt.
I, along with several of my close friends, along with the generous support from the Texas Game Warden Association, was conducting one of the many doe hunts I was privileged to host in the 80’s on one of the expansive ranches I managed at the time. Initially, my goal was to employ these hunts as a method to harvest surplus does, but that changed over time as I realized the number of deer harvested by the kids was not great enough to accomplish our recommended harvest, but that didn’t fail to stop us from conducting these hunts as the smiles reverberating on those youngsters’ faces more than made up for all the hard work and the lack of harvest.
The paramount objective that must be satisfied when it comes to managing a deer herd is population control. By sustaining a deer population within the fixed carrying capacity of the land, the acute demand deer place on the native vegetative component is assuaged. As a result, deer realize an ample amount of quality vegetation while the plants themselves are allowed to rebound before being consumed to a detrimental level.
Now this is fine in theory, but in a typical situation, it is often hard to accomplish when managing a deer herd. Sometimes it’s too hot and deer activity plummets while deer hunters are available; other times range conditions are so good deer simply don’t move out of their shallow secure core areas and go without being seen. More importantly there is the time factor–sometimes the season is just not long enough to get it done.
One of the principal advantages of owning a piece of deer turf in Texas is the user-friendly Parks & Wildlife-sanctioned permits that provide landowners with the necessary tools to optimally manage their landholdings, particularly when it comes to deer management.
One of the most beneficial and highly sought after permits is the Managed Land Deer Permit (MLDP). Not only is this permit free, it provides landholdings an extended hunting season to accomplish their harvest objectives. With the issued MLDP tags, landowners or their agents can actually participate in achieving their harvest recommendations should hunters fail to do so. In other words, the state parks and wildlife department realizes the importance of controlling a mushrooming population of an estimated four million deer, and since 95% of the state is privately owned, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the private landowner, thus the department relinquishes as much freedom to the landowner as possible.
Although free, the managed land deer permit does have some management-oriented demands that must be fulfilled.
First of all, the landowner requesting a permit must have a written management plan which remains the starting point for any endeavor. The plan must not only address the owner’s goal but outline the measurable objectives leading to the goal. In reality, the management plan is the landowner’s road map to success and a yardstick measurement of progress. It can be prepared by the owner or by a certified wildlife biologist with ample assistance available through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The permits are classified in three levels from one to three with level three providing the maximum amount of flexibility to the landowner, but requires the landowner to conduct additional habitat management requirements.