I expect that a lot of businesses and schools in Central Texas will see a spike in absenteeism later on this week, as hunters head for the stands and blinds in preparation for opening day of gun season for white-tailed deer on Saturday.

Wildlife biologist and avid outdoorsman Josh Sears says conditions over the past year should surely translate to hunters “finding heavy harvests and large antlers in the woods this season.”

“Deer populations in Central Texas made it through last year’s mild winter in good condition, and had abundant food resources due to early spring rains,” Sears said. “The initial green-up not only created ample food, but excellent habitat conditions for a potential banner year.”

A variety of vegetation is key to a young deer’s growth and development, and early and sustained protein resources, which continued through the late summer, provided a strong foundation for above-average antler development and body weight this year.

Sears points out that our area has enjoyed 3 years of above-average rainfall. “We should see healthy population dynamics in place through prime maturation this season, which is exciting on many levels,” he said.

With acorns abundant and recent high winds knocking them out of trees, deer should be finding plenty to feed upon. While this is excellent news for deer health going into the heart of the rutting season and through winter, it will certainly slow down deer movement and put hunters’ skills to the test, since deer will be less dependent on corn from feeders. On the bright side for hunters, the rut continues, and deer will still be on the move, just not on predictable paths.

Sears offers the following advice for deer hunters: After scouting a promising oak mott full of acorns, strategically position a stand or two in or near this natural feeder. “There’s no dinner bell here, so prepare to invest some time hunting these locations with the appropriate winds,” he said, “and with diligence, preparation, and time, it will successfully produce punched tags.”

Several long-time deer hunters I talked with recently said they had lost their leases or didn’t want to pay the spike in cost, and if you’re like them and in search of a place to hunt, you’ve got some options – like public hunting lands ($48 permit). While these places typically aren’t home to the kinds of deer you’ll find on game ranches and high-fence places with intensive breeding and nutrition programs to maximize genetics and growth to produce trophies, there are plenty of good-sized, tasty native white-tails just the same.

Lake Whitney striper guide Clay Yadon can’t complain about the striper bite throughout the summer and early fall, but as the water cools down, it brings on one of his favorite times of year to fish.

“Stripers are a cold-water fish,” he said. “They prefer water temperatures in the 55-65 degree range, and in Texas, that translates to late fall, through winter, and into springtime.”

Yadon, whose Facebook page (Reel Deal Striper Guide Service) chronicles his near-daily limits, says it’s now time to change the style of fishing to match the changing bite and conditions.

“When the weather cools, the gulls start moving in, and that makes finding schools easier because the birds are looking for the same thing I am,” he said. “But you have to be smart about it and not rush into them full-blast or you’ll scatter the fish and have to start over.”

Yadon says the fish are already ganging up into big schools, and they’ll continue to get bigger as water temps drop. When these schools of stripers chase big balls of shad toward the surface for a feeding frenzy, gulls spot the activity and move in to take easy meals of injured and fleeing bait fish. They group up, spiral around over the school, squawk incessantly, and dive-bomb the surface to snatch up shad.

“If you’re smart about your approach to the school,” Yadon said, “you can sit there and catch fish until you’re tired of it.” He says most people make the mistake of getting too eager and blasting into the area with their big motors running, and with the cold, dense water of winter carrying sound more efficiently than during warm weather, it spooks the fish and sends them in all different directions.

“Get upwind from the school and let the breeze blow your boat into the fish, then make long casts into it,” he advises, stressing that even trolling motor noise will sometimes send a school back to the depths.

He recommends using swim baits, slabs, and bucktail jigs. “Cast them out, count them down to the depth you’re finding fish on your electronics, and crawl the bait back as slowly as you can,” he said. “If you think you’re fishing too slowly, slow it down a little more.”

He says the slightest taps are likely strikes, so every bump you feel, you should s the hook hard and start cranking. “A lot of people miss out on fish because they don’t recognize the bite, but if you can sense and act on it, with the schools being as big as they’re getting, you can have 4 or 5 hook-ups at a time,” he said.

This time of year, Yadon says, is great for catch-and-release, and as long as the fish isn’t injured, it will live to grow up and fight another day. “It’s not hurting a thing to release them, and as long as you don’t have a limit in the boat, you can keep catching and releasing them all day.”

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