‘Outstanding’ deer season awaits new breed of Texas hunters

Texas hunters will have their chance on an estimated 5.4 million white-tailed deer when the 2021 hunting season opens on November 6.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department classified this year’s deer population as “exceptional” in a recent press release. Citing favorable weather conditions statewide, TPWD said the accelerated growth of grass and herbaceous plants (the weeds and flowering plants that serve as the primary food source for animals) has resulted in a bountiful harvest. deer in 2021.

Equally hardy are a new breed of deer hunters from Texas for whom hunting is not just about the antlers. Free and sustainable organic meat, time spent in the great outdoors, and contributing to the management of a healthy ecosystem are the reasons a new generation is coming out to harvest deer.

Danielle Belleny, for example, started hunting in 2011. Now 27, Belleny described the first deer she shot as “an unimpressive buck with unbranched antlers.”

The wildlife biologist and co-founder of Black Birders Week almost skipped the opportunity to take the animal and several large hinds due to a desire to carry a lot of money with big horns.

Now Belleny says she sees the hunt differently. “I understood that the hunt was not about the trophy.”

As a longtime nature lover with a degree in wildlife and range management, Belleny understands the importance of harvesting some of the millions of deer that overpopulate the state.

“I knew Texas had too many deer and thought it would be good to reduce the population where I can, while still getting ‘free’ meat,” she said.

Hugh Daschbach, an avid cook and a staple of the San Antonio food scene, came hunting in his 30s when a friend invited him to a Hill Country ranch near Mason. There he learned the “field-to-fork” techniques for harvesting his own meat.

The 48-year-old New Orleans transplant has since taken every opportunity to hunt and learn how to process and cook game.

Hugh Daschbach prepares a venison stew over an open fire. Credit: Courtesy / Hugh Daschbach

“I think some people assume that hunting is still a violent, macho, ‘good ol’ pastime,” Daschbach said. “Most hunters are true stewards of the land and are very interested in a sustainable and responsible harvest of the animals they hunt.

Mitch Hagney, 30, first hunted four years ago as a vegetarian. As CEO from Local Sprout, a company that runs gardens, a farm, and a food hub in downtown San Antonio, he had rejected the meat over concerns about concentrated animal husbandry operations and its environmental consequences.

Now he feels hunting allows him to preserve the environment rather than damaging it.

I’m not really excited to take the picture, ”he said,“ but I get a lot of satisfaction from the butchering process, where I can make usable steaks, shanks and tenderloin from of an animal. I harvested.

Hagney, Daschbach, Belleny and others reflect the growing diversity of Texas deer hunters. According to TPWD data, hunting licenses and combined licenses issued for the 2020-21 season numbered 1.7 million, an increase of 5.1% from the previous year. Of these, about 8.3% – 140,500 – were issued to women.

“It used to be older guys who had access to land,” said Bill Mochel, manager of Nagel’s Gun Shop in San Antonio. will hunt. There has certainly been a slight increase. “

Alan Cain, head of the white-tailed deer program at TPWD, confirmed the shifting demographics of hunters.

“In general, we are seeing more women hunting, with larger and more diverse hunter groups,” Cain said. “And the millennial locavore movement has had a big impact. They want to know where the food comes from.

As hunting gains in popularity, finding a place to do so in a state where around 95% of the land is privately owned has become an increasingly difficult challenge.

Cain said the average cost of a deer lease, an agreement between a landowner and a hunter to lease land for hunting, ranges from $ 2 to $ 10 per acre or from $ 2,000 to $ 3,000 per. year per person / weapon. “And the landowner says how many deer can be harvested,” he said.

The white-tailed deer season runs through January 2 in the Texas Hill Country and through January 16 in areas south of Bexar County.

While the deer population in Texas appears to be healthy, the onset of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a neurological disease caused by an aberrant protein similar to mad cow disease, has raised concerns about the future of hunting here. CWD first appeared in Texas in 2012 and was reported in several counties last year. Scientists believe he was transferred from captive breeding establishments.

There is currently no evidence that people can be injured or infected from eating meat contaminated with CWD, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend it, Cain said.

“We all have to do our job as hunters to contain and eradicate this disease,” he said.

TPWD recommends that if you are slaughtering a deer in an area where the disease has been detected, you should have the animal tested at a CWD checkpoint prior to treatment. See the list of CWD zones and monitoring stations here.

When it comes to finding a place to hunt, TPWD provides mentors to new hunters and advice on accessing public lands through a program funded by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation called Stewards of the Wild.

The program, aimed at new hunters between the ages of 21 and 45, has 1,000 members and 10 chapters across the state. According to its website, the program organizes events to “raise awareness of conservation issues facing future generations” by matching hunting mentors with novice hunters, providing advice on access to deer leases and land. public, and lessons on how to handle deer meat.

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