Though deer-hunting season is still several months away, the fate of the upcoming season appears to fall in the hands of the looming drought conditions, which continue to beset the Southern Great Plains in unpredictable ways.
As with the majority of plants, crops and wildlife, abundant rain is key for deer survival primarily because of its impact on the forage that provides the nutrition that supports lactation and antler growth, said Alan Cain, whitetail program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Currently, almost all of Texas is facing drought — from the lowest level of drought of "abnormally dry" to "exceptional drought," the most severe level on the drought monitor's scale, which large portions of the South Plains and Panhandle regions are currently experiencing. Since September, when the rain cycle transitioned amid burgeoning La Nina conditions, Lubbock has received 6.73 inches of precipitation.
While Texas has the largest deer population in the nation -- totaling around 5.4 million last year -- Cain believes the state may be on the verge of a decline this year with the lingering drought and could possibly see increased fawn mortality if the drought continues into the upcoming growing season.
"As drought continues to worsen, you see stress on these plants, so they're lacking nutrition to help deer maintain really good body condition," Cain said, noting that many will also have antlers of "below-average quality" -- particularly in areas west of Interstate 35.
While regulations may not change in the approaching hunting season with the population decline, Cain still encourages hunters to remain informed about local herds to ensure there remains a healthy population.
"Assess your populations," Cain said.
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, general white-tailed deer season is set to run from Nov. 5 - Jan. 1 in the northern portion of Texas.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Extreme drought lessens quality, quantity of Texas deer population