Drought affects habitats, hunting
By Robert C. McDonald
Wilson County News
Despite the recent bits of rainfall, the Wilson County area is still very much within a state of drought. And while the lack of rain affects nearly everyone and everything, it’s of particular concern to wildlife species, as their water sources continue to dry up.
The lack of water has and will lead to a decline in suitable habitat and food sources. Some species will be impacted more than others, and for hunters, 2011 may bring some disappointments.
When it comes to dove hunting, local Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist Ryan Darr said he doesn’t expect to see a major hit to populations, as many of these birds migrate to Texas during the season, but he said he does expect there to be a slow start to the season.
“The hunting is likely to be poor during the first part of the season, due to poor food sources to hold birds in the area,” Darr said, “but if we can get some more rain this year, the second season should be much better.”
Although there aren’t a large number of duck hunters in the area, Darr took a moment to address these birds as well.
“It’s going to be a tough year for ducks,” Darr said. “Farm ponds are dry, and the birds are going to concentrate on just a few good places. I would expect the numbers to be quite a bit lower around here. There will still be ducks along the coast, but the number of inland ducks will be low.”
One can’t really talk about hunting in South Texas without the mention of feral hogs, and Darr couldn’t let the topic escape him, either. While most landowners abhor the existence and presence of feral hogs, many hunters enjoy the pursuit. For them, things are likely to be a little different in 2011.
“Feral hogs are very tied to water,” Darr said. “They need it to root -- to find food. Loamy and clay soils are hard to root in when they’re dry.
“Water is also needed to regulate their body temperature,” Darr said. “They need to ‘wallow’ to cool off. Without water, they won’t be able to do this.”
Darr said that hog numbers are likely to be down this year, but quickly admitted there would still be “plenty in the area.”
“They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he added.
Darr said hunting efforts should be focused along areas where water still runs, and said he expects areas along the San Antonio River bottom to be a hot spot.
Most hunters in the area pursue white-tailed deer, but the drought has brought nothing but bad news.
“We didn’t get the rain we needed during April and May -- which is so important for antler growth,” Darr said. “Finding trophies this year will be tougher, but the deer numbers in general should be up.”
Darr said that there was a high adult survival rate from last year, as well as a good fawn survival rate. Those facts, combined with a relatively low overall harvest in 2010, means there should be a lot of deer walking around. And since there is likely to be very little in the way of natural food sources, the deer should go to feeders with some regularity this season.
Darr went on to say that he does recommend hunters increase their harvest this year.
“With low sources this year, if the numbers aren’t thinned out, we are going to have trouble next year,” he said. “If they aren’t harvested, many of them are likely to just die off.”
Given this information, some hunters may feel the need to plant supplemental food plots or to disc the soil to promote native growth, but Darr cautions folks against doing that.
“I wouldn’t really recommend that at this time,” he said. “Unless you have irrigation available, you’ll probably just be putting a lot of time and resources into something that isn’t going to work out. It’s going to be a tough year to grow that stuff.”
There are a few things people can do to help wildlife through the drought, though. Darr said any supplemental water you can supply would be a benefit, even if it were just a birdbath or a pan in the yard.
“A little water during conditions like this can go a long way,” he said.
Darr also recommends leaving a “little extra grass height” to provide cover for animals. He said it will help them regulate body temperatures, and provides many species with cover from predators. Darr recommends not shredding fields that aren’t being grazed, and to avoid overgrazing pastures that are in use. He said reducing cattle numbers when possible would benefit the wildlife, though he understands that may not be an option. Darr also suggested to avoid disturbing habitat by clearing brush that is likely producing food and cover to one wildlife species or another. Bird watchers will most likely see the immediate benefits of providing birdbaths and feeders.
For more information on native wildlife, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us.