Q: Hunters in Texas kill a lot of white-tailed deer each year. What would happen if they didn’t kill any at all?
K. McKay, Austin
A: While the Texanist has been a trapper of raccoons, a shooter of birds, a stabber of feral hogs, and a hunter of good times, he has never been a stalker of deer. He can, though, affirm that the hunting of whitetail has been a tradition in Texas since before Texas was Texas. Indigenous folks relied on deer for food, clothing, and other necessities, as did Spanish colonists and Anglo settlers.
Today the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department manages what is the largest white-tailed deer population in the country. Recent counts put the number somewhere in the neighborhood of five and a half million. So, unsurprisingly, Texas is also home to more deer harvests than any other state in the union. The 2022–2023 season saw some 750,000 hunters shoot about 377,000 bucks and 303,000 does.
And though most hunters shoot deer for their own purposes, their efforts have a major effect on the management of the state’s herd. If so many Texans didn’t kill so many deer each season, the creatures would multiply to a staggering extent, someday possibly even outnumbering recently arrived Californians. (Editors’ note: The Texanist is not calling open season on transplants from the Golden State.) Parks and Wildlife’s big-game program director, Alan Cain, believes that if hunting season were suspended in Texas—which currently has a dearth of natural deer predators such as wolves and cougars—the impact would be felt quickly. “The population would grow very rapidly,” he said. “In one year, we’d add over a million deer.” In places like the Hill Country that have sizable populations, the deer would quickly outgrow their habitats, which are, of course, also the native habitats of many other species. “Everything from songbirds to Texas tortoises would be impacted.”
That bedeviled menagerie would certainly include the class of critter known to zoologists as Homo texanis, which is, of course, the bipedal, occasionally booted species to which yours truly and all his fellow Lone Star countrymen and countrywomen belong. One need look no farther than to the disgusting, viscera-strewn shoulders of our rural highways and byways to note the numerous interactions between Texans and deer. If Texans weren’t killing deer with our guns, we’d be killing even more of them with our vehicles, which is not ideal. Suburban landscaping? We could likely say goodbye to every last leaf. And there’d be a major uptick (sorry) in Lyme disease–carrying pests.
On top of all that, a significant economic impact would be felt across the state, as whitetail hunting generates more than $4 billion annually in Texas. A portion of that comes from the sale of hunting licenses, which in turn funds all sorts of Parks and Wildlife activities, including many conservation efforts.
Finally, if there were no deer hunting, there’d be no deer processing, and without deer processing, there’d be no tasty venison to consume. Though the Texanist, again, is not a deer hunter, he is always happy to scavenge the spoils of his friends who are.
May your aim be true, Texans!
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.