Texas Whitetail | Odocoileus virginianus texanus
Texas Whitetail | Odocoileus virginianus texanus
by Patrick Meitin
Texas whitetails are a diverse subspecies, easily broken into three distinct groups (four including Carmen Mountain whitetails found in southwest Texas, addressed elsewhere on this site). The first group of Texas whitetails is found on the Gulf prairies and oak savannahs of South Texas, the second the Edwards Plateau in the heart of Texas, and the third on the south-central plains surrounding Texas’ Panhandle region (including eastern New Mexico and Colorado and western Kansas and Oklahoma).
South Texas whitetails are renowned for their large antlers, further accentuated by relatively small bodies exhibited by these white-tailed deer. They thrive in the mesquite and prickly-pear oceans, coastal prairies and oak savannahs of the region. The Edwards Plateau is several hundred miles across and occupies the center of the Lone Star State, harboring dense deer densities often topping 40 deer per square mile. Body and antler size of Edwards Plateau whitetails are typically smaller in direct comparison to southern and northern Texas herds. Finally, South Plains whitetails, once thinly distributed, have begun to thrive and spread in the agricultural and ranching areas of the Texas Panhandle and surrounding states, thanks largely to CRP set-asides and the encroachment of invading mesquite and blueberry juniper brush to provide secure escape cover.
Relative trophy quality in Texas whitetails is directly linked to available moisture and resulting nutritional quality. Despite its seemingly inhospitable appearance, South Texas, for instance, provides excellent feed, thus the higher incidence of trophy-class bucks. Quality nutrition in the form of agriculture is also why South Plains herds have provided the newest Texas whitetail trophy hotspots.
Texas can largely be credited with starting the present quality deer management program, as the state is comprised almost entirely of private lands and landowners long ago realized white-tailed deer represented a valuable commodity. Such management began as early as the late 1960s. In many instances, deer hunting generates as much money as livestock ranching. Most Texas ranches are carefully managed for trophy quality, including encouraging doe harvest and aggressively removing bucks with inferior genetics. Even in regions such as the Edwards Plateau, where genetics and nutrition are generally inferior to other Texas regions due to drier conditions, careful game management has resulted in a marked improvement to antler quality. Texas is decidedly a pay-to-play hunting destination, with deer-lease, semi-guided and outfitted hunts available, and price dependent on proven trophy quality, accommodations and property size.
Outside Texas, this subspecies appears in true mountain habitats of New Mexico, the open plains and dry-land farms of Colorado’s Eastern Plains and western Kansas, and western Oklahoma where habitat mirrors drier parts of northwestern Texas. This is a testament to how adaptable this subspecies is. Public-accessible lands are more common outside Texas, particularly New Mexico.
Hunting approaches are normally dictated by where Texas whitetails are pursued. In Texas, the nearly universal approach is guarding timer-equipped corn feeders, or “corning roads.” This institution began in South Texas where nasty-thick, thorn-cursed mesquite and prickly-pear flats make hunting difficult at best. The solution is to create sendaros (swaths carved through especially thronged brush) and lace them with corn to coax the appearance of whitetails (and collared peccary and hogs). The practice has spread throughout the state and is a favorite bowhunting approach. Texas also brought us antler rattling, which is effective anywhere buck-to-doe ratios and herd dynamics prove ideal.
Oklahoma and Kansas also allow baiting. Baiting is strictly forbidden (including salt licks) in Colorado and New Mexico, though terrain is generally more open (particularly in Colorado), so spot-and-stalk ploys, even when bowhunting, is more productive.
The Texas whitetail rut is highly variable, normally dependent on latitude and general deer density. In northern habitats, or where buck-to-doe ratios and healthy herd dynamics exist, typical November ruts result. In southern areas, or where deer density is higher, the rut can string out from late November to January.
Locations the Texas Whitetail is Found
Texas: Texas whitetails inhabit nearly every corner of the state in a diverse range of habitats. South Texas has traditionally produced the state’s biggest bucks, though northern Texas is coming on strong in recent years. Central Texas ranches generally provide higher-odds hunts and more liberal bag limits. For more information, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/.
New Mexico: The Texas whitetail is found in isolated pockets up and down the eastern flank of the Land of Enchantment. One long-established herd is found in the brushy Sacramento and Guadalupe mountains of southwestern New Mexico, often to alpine elevations in the Sacramento Mountains. Moving north, whitetails are limited to major drainages spilling into West Texas, such as the Canadian River. For more information, visit http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/.
Colorado: Colorado’s Eastern Plains has become a trophy destination extraordinaire, agricultural crops and excellent regional genetics producing regular Boone & Crockett antlers. This area is largely private holdings (normally controlled by outfitters), with only limited public hunting areas available, which are generally difficult to draw due to high demand. For more information, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/.
Oklahoma: Western Oklahoma could be considered a sleeper whitetail hotspot, with hunting conducted on private cattle ranches and occasional “walk-in” style public hunting areas. Trophy quality is good and baiting legal. For more information, visit https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/.
Kansas: Texas whitetails reside in western Kansas’ “Out There” country, which mirrors Colorado’s Eastern Plains in habitat and trophy potential. In fact, many of the Sunflower State’s highest-scoring bucks come from this region. For more information, visit https://ksoutdoors.com/Hunting.
Mexico: Texas whitetails are found in Mexico in every state bordering the United States border with Texas, including Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. Hunting Mexico requires contracting with an outfitter.