The 2018-19 hunting season is just six weeks away and new Texas Parks & Wildlife game regulations will go into effect on Sept. 1.

One of the new regulations that is an experiment this year is the Mule deer antler restriction program. The mule deer antler restriction is set a a minimum 20-inch outside antler spread of the main beams. This restriction will cover the counties of Briscoe, Childress, Cottle, Floyd, Motley and Hall. The intent is that this new regulation will allow younger mule deer bucks to grow and improve the age structure in the herds in the Panhandle region.

“Skewed sex ratio and age structure inordinately weighted towards young bucks is due to the undesirable excessive mule deer harvest of bucks over the years,” TPWD biologist said.

This antler-restriction would not apply to the properties enrolled in the Managed Lands Deer Program since wildlife management plans are tailored to optimally manage deer populations on each specific property. This experimental antler-restriction harvest will be tested for a minimum of four hunting seasons.

TPWD will use their usual means to check on the viability of the antler-restriction such as aerial mule deer surveys, incentive-based voluntary hunter check stations and opinion surveys. Public meetings were held in the spring in Childress, Turkey and Tahoka and all of the proposed changes were discussed. In Lynn county, there will be a nine-day buck-only mule deer season with no special archery season.

One of the most significant changes is in the archery regulations. Previously, broadhead hunting points had to have two cutting edges and a cutting width of 7/8 of an inch. That requirement has been removed as of the upcoming season. Additionally, the requirements for a minimum pull of 125 pounds on crossbows and the minimum crossbow stock length of 25 inches were removed. These changes give the bow hunters many more options to take game with. Crossbows can be heavy and cumbersome and the minimum length of 25 inches was unnecessary since the length does not affect the draw weight of the string.

In March, a proposal to permit the use of air guns and arrow guns to take certain game animals, game birds, alligators and furbearers was passed. TPWD had second thoughts about permitting that and decided to rescind it pending further recommendations. They will consider new rules regarding air guns and arrow guns at their next scheduled meeting in August. Pellet guns have long been outlawed for the taking of any game animal except for squirrels. In recent years, restrictions on suppressors have been lifted along with allowing crossbows for all hunters rather than just handicapped hunters as had long been the case.

Easing the means by which hunters can take animals opens many new doors that have previously been locked. Many means were deemed unfair to the animals and any type of weapon that would seemingly give the hunter an even greater advantage were shunned. Manufacturers are rejoicing over the ease in hunting means as this presents new opportunities to gain a foothold in new markets, such as if air gun regulations are passed allowing for their use.

Hunters in the east Texas counties of Upshur and San Augustine were disheartened with the commission closing of the Eastern turkey season in those counties. Other eastern Texas counties such as Bowie, Cass, Jasper, Lamar, Nacogdoches, Polk along with a few others will have their Eastern spring turkey season shortened by one week. In recent years TPWD has been restocking and reintroducing Eastern turkeys in various east Texas counties while trying to address the increased hunting pressure on the birds. At best this has resulted in a draw in most of those areas. Between the hunters and the turkey's natural predators TPWD has been waging an uphill battle and hope that these regulations will help the native bird make a comeback.

Hunters in the general dove season's South Zone will enjoy having the earliest starting date since 1950. The season will kick off on Sept. 14. Last year and in all previous years in the South Zone the start date had kicked off around Sept. 22 whereas in the Central and North zones, it begins on Sept. 1.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Outdoor Annual will be available soon and will include all of the information for the 2018-19 season. The August meeting over air rifle regulations may have the Outdoor Annual on hold until just before the hunting season begins.