Drought following good spring conditions could impact Texas game animals, but early population reports and estimates suggest a favorable hunting season, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
John Tomecek, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, Thrall, said good spring conditions favored most wildlife species, but dry summer conditions may have created some difficulties. However, he said, it appears young animals likely had plenty of cover, food and water sources to support growth.
Both winter and spring provided good conditions for pregnant does throughout their gestation period, Tomecek said. Does were showing good body conditions during and after breeding season.
Despite extended dry and hot weather over the last few months, Tomecek said he expects does to enter rut relatively healthy and bucks have had good conditions for antler production.
“I’ve not seen many reports of sickly animals or poor antler condition, outside of a few areas,” he said. “Trophy bucks should have been in excellent body condition going into this dry stretch. So, that means their bodies were able to put energy into antlers.”
Tomecek said the anthrax outbreak this summer in parts of South Texas should not deter hunters from taking to the field.
“Anthrax flares up in a small area of the state for a period and then it goes away,” he said. “People should understand this happens naturally, and it is typically long gone by the time deer season starts.”
“Anthrax is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and these outbreaks will mean more resources available for surviving animals,” he said. “Hunters in those areas may see lower numbers of deer, but the outbreak should benefit those animals that survived by providing better nutrition to fewer animals.”
Regardless of local conditions, Tomecek emphasized hunters should not hesitate to go hunting. Harvesting animals is important, but getting youth outdoors, passing on fall hunting traditions, and spending time with friends and family is just as important as the actual harvest.
Tomecek said an accurate report on quail populations is still a few months away, but the spring moisture was likely good for quail with regard to cover and food.
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Quail don’t travel far from where they hatch, he said. Therefore local habitat conditions on individual ranches are very important. Individual landowners are one of the most critical components in ensuring healthy quail populations.
They mostly feed on seed grasses, grains and forbs, but insects are an important part of laying hen and newly hatched quail’s diet due to their protein content, Tomecek said. The indications suggest an abundant supply of bugs for those young birds.
Tomecek said another good trend for Texas quail is landowner acknowledgement of the birds’ need for habitat.
“There’s a lot of momentum among landowners to do better for quail,” he said. “They’re mindful of the habitat necessary to support healthy quail populations, and there are a growing number of people re-establishing native plants that provide cover and food for them.”
Tomecek said early reports on Texas turkey populations were positive, but interesting because of reports of younger birds in July.
“Usually young birds are getting bigger by summer, but we’ve been getting reports of very small birds in some areas, so we’re wondering if all the spring rains may have pushed the breeding season later than usual,” he said. “There were excellent nesting conditions, and this late dry weather helps those younger birds locate bugs, which are also a big part of their early diet.”
Tomecek said those birds will transition to seeds, grains and forbs, and conditions and resource availability going into fall and winter will impact how turkey populations progress.
Tomecek noted hunters and landowners should harvest as many wild pigs as possible. The pest animal not only causes damage to property and agricultural crops but also consumes resources needed by preferred species and is a predator for young animals, including fawns.
Although they may seem fun to hunt, they do more harm than good to hunting opportunities.
Trapping, especially using larger corral-type traps that can catch entire sounders of pigs, is the most effective method, but Tomecek said every opportunity should be taken to reduce their numbers.
“Most landowners know what we’re up against when it comes to wild pig populations in Texas,” he said. “They’re a nuisance when it comes to property and crop damage, and they’re also a detriment to healthy ecosystems.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Rains helped grasses, but record high temperatures were drying soils quickly. Amounts ranged from 3/10 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch of rain. Soil moisture levels were short in most areas. Rice was not doing well. Temperatures were above 100 degrees. Pasture conditions were declining. Hay fields were cut and barely greening up afterward. Livestock were in good condition. Fungal diseases were still a problem in trees.
Livestock were in average condition. Heavily stocked pastures did not rebound due to lack of rainfall. Corn and grain sorghum were harvested. Early cotton looked good, and later-planted fields looked stressed. Bolls were opening. Grain harvests were over for most producers, and yields varied. Cattle were in good body condition, and stock ponds were holding steady.
ROLLING PLAINS: Conditions where hot and dry with several counties reporting large fires. The Bird Ranch fire in Cottle County was estimated to have affected around 9,900 acres; Hardeman County’s Copper Breaks State Park fire was estimated at around 7,200 acres, while the Vivian fire in Foard County has burned 11,000 acres. The fires were still not 100% contained. Cotton fields were blooming, and bolls were developing. Cattle were doing well after some rainfall, and most still were not needing much supplemental feeding.
COASTAL BEND: Hot, dry weather with some isolated showers continued. In the southern end of the reporting area, only a small portion of cotton acres were harvested. In other areas, cotton harvest was in full swing. Cotton gins were receiving numerous loads of cotton bales with good yields and grades reported.
Corn, grain sorghum and rice harvests neared completion. Soybeans were being harvested with average to above average yields reported. Fieldwork, such as stalk destruction and disking, was ongoing. Livestock were running on short pastures, and supplemental feeding of hay had started. Cattle remained in good to fair condition. Burn bans were in effect for most of the district.
EAST: Hot and dry conditions dominated. Pasture and forage conditions worsened quickly. Houston County reported much-needed rain in some areas while other areas remained very dry. Polk County reported daily scattered showers. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to very poor. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short. Pond and creek levels were drying up over most of the district.
Cattle markets bounced back. Livestock were doing fair to good. Producers were on the lookout for armyworms. Sabine County reported several large producers made the decision to revert back to Bahia grass production due to the costs of fighting armyworms and Bermuda grass stem maggots.
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SOUTH PLAINS: Very hot and dry conditions continued across the counties. The district received light scattered morning showers. Crops perked up a little where the rain fell. All crops needed significant rainfall. Beef cattle continued in good condition with the significant spring and early summer rains on pastures. Pasture and rangeland were in good condition. Peanuts were maturing.
PANHANDLE: Southwestern parts of the district started irrigation due to high temperatures. Corn was in fair to good condition. Dryland corn was cut for silage in southern areas. Some rain fell in the southeast, while dry conditions continued throughout the rest of the district. Pastures and rangelands were in fair condition with fires reported in some areas. Cotton was in fair condition across a majority of the district, and bolls were setting. Sorghum was in good condition, and most fields had headed. Subsoil and topsoil moisture were short to very short.
NORTH: Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate to short with some counties reporting very short. Temperature highs were in the 90s with a high of 102 degrees before a slight cool front dropped temperatures into the 80s. Some parts of the district received a little bit of rain. The rain greened up grasses a little, and conditions were looking better going into fall. Summer pastures were holding up for the most part, but more rain was needed. Hay meadows have shown little growth over the past five weeks.
Corn harvest was nearly wrapped up with yields averaging around 150 bushels per acre, and weights were right on target. Sorghum was being harvested. Soybeans and cotton were doing well. Leaves were dropping on early soybeans, and harvest should begin soon. Some bean pods were not filled entirely or have a low pod count or both, so there was curiosity about yields and weights.
The sorghum harvest was halted for a few days by the rain, and some producers had not resumed yet because soils were too wet. Sorghum yield reports were from 3,000-5,500 pounds per acre so far, and test weights were below average. Sugarcane aphid pressure increased. Producers were preparing to plant some wheat and oats soon with fields plowed and ready but wet in most places.
Cattle still looked good with calves gaining a little weight. Some tank levels were declining, and pastures were showing signs of heat stress. A few armyworm infestations were reported, but they were concentrated in irrigated/fertilized fields.
FAR WEST: High temperatures reached 109 degrees with a low of 66. A large thunderstorm delivered up to 3.5 inches of rain to some areas. Excessive lightning and wind were also reported. Western parts of the district reported scattered showers and less than half an inch of rain. Cotton progressed well with good boll sets. There was stronger stink bug pressure in cotton, more on the Upland crops compared to Pima cotton.
Some producers started preparing farm equipment for winter wheat planting. Pecan orchard conditions looked good. Some farmers reported off years, but it seemed like those orchards have maintained a good balance between on and off years. Traps had not caught any pecan weevil in orchards, but an orchard containing weevils did get sprayed for the first round early in the reporting period.
Rangeland and livestock conditions were still poor, and cattle needed supplemental feed. Cattle producers were preparing to ship calves and were rotating pastures as well. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very dry and hard. Fires started to pop up due to drought.
WEST CENTRAL: Some areas received rain, but it wasn’t much. Conditions were extremely hot and dry. Pastures and rangelands continued to brown with some smaller stock tank levels getting lower. Corn and sorghum harvests were underway. Cotton was blooming. Some farmers and ranchers started preparing land for wheat. At auction, feeder cattle were $3-$5 higher per hundredweight.
SOUTHEAST: Chambers County received heavy rains throughout the reporting period, but it was mainly on the east side of the county. High temperatures continued to dry soil moisture levels out in Walker County. Rice harvest was delayed by rains. The burn ban in Grimes County continued despite a few showers. Corn harvest continued. Rangeland and pasture ratings were fair to very poor with fair being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to very short with short being most common.
SOUTHWEST: Kerr, Sutton and Caldwell counties received spotty rains that delivered trace amounts up to 6 inches. Hot temperatures and dry conditions continued for all other counties. Rangeland and pastures were suffering in dry areas. Ponds and creeks were getting to critical levels. Most producers started to supplement feed for livestock.
SOUTH: Conditions were hot and dry with short to very short soil moisture levels. McMullen County reported three-plus weeks of 100-degree days. Many other parts of the district reported 100-plus-degree temperatures. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline. Irrigated hay pastures were harvested, and dryland forages were drying out. Most dryland producers reported their last harvest unless significant rain comes.
Row crop harvests were nearly completed in some areas with only a few late-planted cotton and grain fields remaining. Strawberry producers were preparing the soil for planting, which should begin soon. Peanuts were under irrigation and pods were maturing. Peanut harvest should begin soon. Cotton bolls were open and maturing. Cotton defoliation and harvest were underway in some areas.
Hay grazer was being cut and baled. Watermelon and cantaloupes looked good under irrigation. Pecan orchards were also progressing and in good condition. Producers in some areas were providing supplemental feed to livestock. Some began to cull herds, and some continued to haul water. Corn and sorghum harvest have been completed. Oat and wheat producers were holding off planting preparation activities until some moisture was received. Sorghum stubble was baled for hay.
Local markets reported more early weaned calves and cattle, which would normally be used as replacements, were going to slaughter due to lack of forage. Feeder calf prices had fallen about $20-$30 per hundredweight but bounced back about $10 per hundredweight during this reporting period.