Added hunting opportunities are never a bad thing, and for mule deer hunters with access in Gaines County, they have been downright awesome.
In its second nine-day muley season since being reopened to hunting, Gaines again proved to be the epicenter for big muleys in this part of the world. Last season was one for the record books as the county produced three non-typical mule deer bucks that netted more than 200 Boone & Crockett points, the largest being a buck harvested by Danny Young that grossed 230 and netted 2193/8.
It’s tough to top a year like that, but Gaines produced another pair of huge non-typical muley bucks this past season, the largest taken by Steven Trammell grossing 198 5/8 and netting 195 5/8 B&C. The other bruiser, harvested by Kurt Davis, grossed 193 and netted 188 6/8.
Gaines also produced a pair of massive typical muleys, which will rank fourth and fifth all-time in the Texas Big Game Awards for typical bucks when the official results are released. The larger buck, taken by Rick Meritt, grossed 212 5/8 and netted 190 5/8. The other buck, harvested by Steven Hatchett, grossed 204 4/8 and netted 189 1/8.
Lamb County produced the largest muley buck entered into the TBGA, a non-typical taken by Dillon Spradley that grossed 208 6/8 and netted 203 3/8.
The quantity of quality mule deer bucks in the western Rolling Plains certainly isn’t on par with the arid Trans-Pecos region, which produced five non-typical muleys that netted more than 200 B&C points this past season, but it certainly is hard to argue with the results some hunters have seen in areas that haven’t recently been pressured.
On that note, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is considering a proposal to add Dawson County to the list of nine others in this part of the world that have a nine-day mule deer buck-only season in November. The department also is considering adding Wheeler County in the northeastern Panhandle to the list of 36 with a 16-day season.
Jim Lionberger, a TPWD wildlife biologist in Hermleigh, said that if the proposed season is approved, it should provide additional hunting opportunities that expanded seasons have in other area counties. It remains to be seen if Dawson supports the quality of muley bucks that have been taken in recent seasons in counties that had been closed to hunting, but the potential certainly is there for a few great bucks in suitable habitats.
Lionberger noted that overharvest of mule deer bucks could result in a lowering of the age structure but with such a short timeframe it remains unlikely that the season would have any negative impact on productivity or expansion. He said his agency offers free technical assistance to landowners and land managers in regards to harvest recommendations and enhancement of habitat.
The Managed Lands Deer Permit program for white-tailed and mule deer provides landowners who take the proper steps in attaining a written wildlife management plan approved by a TPWD biologist or technician the incentive of an extended season. For muleys, that timeframe ran from Nov. 7 to Jan. 3 this past season.
For more information on the MLDP program, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/permits/land/wildlife_management/mldp.
In addition to all the huge mule deer bucks harvested and entered into the TBGA, there also have been plenty of large whitetails taken in the Rolling Plains and Panhandle.
Jeff Bonner, a TPWD wildlife biologist in Pampa, said it was a very good year for whitetails across the region, noting that he saw some 150- to 170-class bucks harvested that were only 3 to 4 years old. He said those deer usually peak at 6 to 7 years of age, and when bucks in that class are taken it indicates a good year for forage sources. Bonner said he also saw bucks in the 180- to 190-class at the beginning of the season that were taken in supplemental feeding areas.
Even in what could be considered a down year, plenty of hunters harvested the buck of a lifetime.