Hunt Time....Stellar Year Expected

Stretching his neck to find the tallest mesquite branches he can reach, a mature buck rakes his antlers in the thorny limbs. After a thorough thrashing, he gouges out a scrape with his hooves beneath the beaten boughs. Fallen mesquite leaves lay scattered in the sandy depression as the buck departs to visit his next signpost.

High overhead in the crisp blue sky a sentinel flock of geese call as their ragged V formation soars southward. When the bucks begin rubbing their antlers in the mesquite, and the haunting call of wild geese fills the air, it's a sure sign that fall is fast approaching and hunting season is drawing close.

The first Saturday in November is traditionally the most anticipated date on the South Texas hunter's calendar as it marks the beginning of whitetail deer season. This year opening day for the general season is November 3, and it runs thru January 20.

Archery season has been open since September 9 and runs until November 2. There is also an early rifle season on some ranches administered under the Managed Lands Deer Permit program that allows landowners enrolled in a formal management program to have an extended season.

Texas boasts the largest deer herd in the nation with more than three million animals roaming the state. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, TPWD, last year 533,000 hunters took to the field in search of venison and annually some 430,000 deer are killed statewide.

"We are seeing a lot of good deer, and we expected to because of the exceptional year we have had," said Mitch Lockwood, TPWD deer program leader. "Generally speaking, it's been a banner year for fawn production, and I expect antler quality and body weight to be above average."

Timely and abundant rains throughout deep South Texas have spurred bountiful browse during the critical antler growing season, and many bucks have responded with exceptional antler development. The three keys to producing trophy bucks are genetics, age and nutrition. On well managed ranches where excess deer have been culled and bucks allowed to mature Mother Nature has provided the essential wild card this year producing optimal growing conditions for maximizing antler size.

With the high percentage of recruitment into the deer population this year, state biologists are urging hunters and landowners to actively manage whitetail numbers. "It's important for hunters to use those antlerless tags this season and get those excess animals off the range before winter sets in to ensure there's enough food to go around," Lockwood said. "If folks want help to determine how many deer to remove from their property they are welcome to contact their local TPWD biologist for assistance."

"Every year we try to emphasize to hunters to try and take advantage of the bag limits they are afforded," Lockwood said. "But folks in general don't take advantage of it, and as a result we are having a hard time getting a good handle on the population and managing it as effectively as we want to."

With hunting season coming up, many hunters may soon find their freezers full of venison. There is a statewide program called Hunters for the Hungry that provides an outlet for anyone who has extra meat to donate to help feed people in need.

Hunters for the Hungry was initiated in 1990 through a collaborative effort among hunger relief agencies, hunters and sate government agencies. Some 96 meat processors in 69 counties participate in the program administered by the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies, TACCA. Interested hunters can take legally harvested deer to participating butchers who will process the meat for a nominal fee to help cover basic costs. The processors make arrangements with local food assistance agencies to distribute the meat to people in the community who need food. "Last hunting season, hunters donated nearly 176,000 pounds of meat to the program," said Kerrin Meyer, Program Coordinator.

There are two places in the Valley where hunters can take their excess whitetail deer or nilgai antelope if they want to donate meat. Rudy's Meat Market in Raymondville at 588 N. 10th will handle game, but hunters will need to leave a $50.00 check to cover the processing of a deer. Nilgai processing fees are adjusted according to weight of the animal.

In the upper Valley, Aguilar's Meat Market at 1306 University Dr in Edinburg will handle donated game and there is no fee required. The Edinburg Rotary covers the processing expenses at Aguilar's. "We are grateful for this partnership between the Edinburg Rotary and Aguilar's Meat Market," said Victor Martinez, Acquisition Manager for the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley. "When we speak to other areas of Texas about how this program works, we use this partnership as the state model of how hunters, meat processors and food banks can work together."

Since January 1 of this year Aguilar's has already processed 7,335 pounds of venison and nilgai. Teri Drefke, Executive Director of the Food Bank of the RGV said that a donation of meat products is particularly significant. "Protein is one of the most efficient and long lasting sources of energy," Drefke said. "Nutrition in children is extremely important because it affects not only growth but also the ability to learn and perform well in school."

And if you want to save the backstrap for the grill, Aguilar's will charge only for that particular cut of meat, and the rest of the animal can be donated to the Food Bank of the RGV. You can reach Aguilar's Meat Market at 383-2231, and the number for Rudy's Meat Market is 689-2186.

Have a great hunting season! And if you have some extra venison please share it with those less fortunate.

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Copyright 2007 Richard Moore