TPWD Management Programs
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has a wide range of programs to allow wildlife managers to increase the value of their property and the wildlife which call it home. There are a few that you should be really interested in if you are looking to get that next “leg-up” on wildlife management. Programs range from regulations concerning restricted harvest on whitetail bucks based on antler characteristics to the breeder deer program and accepting the broad range of ideals and desires of the public of the State of Texas. While I can’t cover all of the programs that are out there, these few should really peak your interest.
First, is the antler restriction regulation program. This program is highly contested by many hunters, but many are quickly swayed once they realize the benefits of the results coming from this program. The program was initialized in the late 1990s in a handful of counties between San Antonio and Houston where a suppressive level of pressure on young bucks was detrimental to the health of the population. While conceived on the basis of the desire for larger antlered bucks by hunters, the resulting modification to the age structure to the herd has been a driving force in the expansion of the program. The program now has expanded to 61 counties across the state and this number will continue to grow as wildlife management becomes more and more popular with the hunting public. Antler restrictions make deer that have at least one un-branched antler, an inside spread 13 inches or greater, or more than six points on one side a legal buck while all others are illegal. Results of the antler restrictions have been great, and instituting them on your property is a great way to start your management program if the deer have suffered from heavy hunting pressure in years past.
The second program, and one of the most popular programs in the toolbox of wildlife managers is the Managed Lands Deer (MLD) Program. The MLD program has expanded to mule deer, javelinas, as well. To participate in the program, an approved wildlife management plan must be on file with your local biologist. Landowners and/or hunters must survey the deer herd annually and tags for the property are issued instead of hunters using the tags on the licenses. Data about each animal harvested must be collected and reported to TPWD. Hunters are allowed to harvest deer in excess of the number of deer allowed by their tags permitting a smaller number of hunters to manage larger tracts of land or where deer may be overabundant. To participate in any of the “upper-tier” management programs, the MLD program is the foundation and is required. The “upper-tier” programs include the Trap, Transport, and Transplant (TTT), Trap, Transport, and Process (TTP), and the Deer Management Permit (DMP).
The DMP program focuses on the final step in deer management, genetics. While age and nutrition are of foremost importance in deer management, genetics plays the final role. The prevalence and results of commercial, captive deer breeding programs is testament to the importance of genetics in antler size of bucks. The DMP program allows managers to capture and selectively breed <20 does and one exceptional buck per pen. Research at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute has shown that the bigger bucks do NOT do an overwhelming majority of the breeding. They tend to breed around the same number of fawns per year as other bucks. This undermines the traditional frame of mind of hunters. While allowing exceptional bucks to walk is a great way to augment the influence of exceptional bucks, it isn’t enough to take your management program to the top level. The results of the program have shown dramatic improvement over pastures were DMP pens were not employed as a management practice. I have seen known-age three year old deer produce as much or more antler than their 6 year old sire. 20-40 fawns from a single, exception buck over 1-6 fawns per year is a dramatic augmentation of genetic influence. However, there are many costs associated with this program as pens have to be built and deer have to be captured and fed. For those whom are ready for one of the strongest improvements in their deer herd should strongly consider the DMP program.
TPWD has really opened the door to allow research results to be applied to those animals which they were intended to help. Whether or not you agree with the principle of these permits and practices, landowner and hunter satisfaction has increased across the board. Long gone are the days of traditional deer management and upcoming are the increased health of deer herds as well as the opportunity to greatly improve the quality of bucks that are harvested by hunters annually. I applaud TPWD in their enthusiasm to accept research and allow it’s full application across the state.
Posted by Cody Zabransky