White-tailed deer season opens in Texas Saturday, and Brown County area hunters should find plenty of opportunities to bring in their limit.

“Things are never slow for us at any time of the year, but deer season is a big deal in the Brownwood area,” Region VII District 1 Capt. Malcolm Wilkes of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said Thursday. “There’s a lot of money spent on deer hunting especially, and landowners benefit a great deal with leases.”

It could be a good year for deer hunters in this part of the state, Wilkes said.

“We had rains when we needed them,” Wilkes said. “We’re seeing a lot of fawns.”

The department’s mission involves education, safety and enforcement, Wilkes said, and game wardens will be on patrol fulfilling those goals and helping other law enforcement agencies protect the public.

New regulations on what is a legal deer are now in effect in Brown and Mills counties after having been in effect in Comanche and Eastland counties. They are designed to allow deer to mature before becoming targets.

“Within a few years, we’ll start seeing some older animals, and they will be a lot better quality with larger antlers,” Wilkes said.

Details of the restrictions are published in the department’s annual regulations booklet, and cards with drawings explaining the regulations are available at retailers where hunting supplies are sold. They were also featured in the Bulletin’s sportsman magazine, Central Texas Outdoors, on Oct. 25.

Those guides will allow hunters to determine whether the antlers extend beyond the ears, and whether the target has at least one unbranched antler.

A legal buck is defined as having a hardened antler protruding through the skin, and at least one unbranched antler, or an inside spread measurement between main beams of 13 inches or greater. Department officials said if a hunter has any doubt about the legality of the deer, the safest option is to pass up the shot.

The deer population may not be as robust in parts of Texas still recovering from major hurricane damage and months of drought. However, summer rains have made a significant difference in wildlife conditions in many areas, especially in the Texas Hill Country and east Texas.

White-tailed deer attract 650,000 of Texas’ 1.3 million hunters. Approximately one out of 35 Texans over the age of 8 hunted deer this past season, and about 62 percent of them were successful, according to data collected by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Both of those figures – the number of deer hunters and the percentage taking at least one deer – are the highest they have been since TPWD began using standardized surveys following the 1972-73 deer season.

Mitch Lockwood, TPWD’s white-tailed deer program coordinator based in Kerrville, said he expects those numbers to be about the same this season, if not higher.

In the Hill Country, the rains have resulted in a bumper crop of acorns, providing deer with an abundance of food, Lockwood said. That’s good news for deer conditions, but perhaps bad news for hunters who may not find as many deer traveling long distances for food or visiting feeders.

The deer industry has an economic impact of $700 million in the Texas, according to Dr. Don Davis, associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and Brown County benefits from its share of that business.

Promotion of Brown County as an outdoorsmen’s destination is a year-round project of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber maintains a hunting lease on its Web site, and also features seasonal, weekend and guided hunts.

“The hunting lease list is always in the top three viewed pages on our website,” Emily Crawford, tourism and marketing manager at the chamber, said. The chamber also provides that information in print, fax or mail, and any landowner in Brown County may list their lease on the site.

This year, the chamber of commerce began a new project to show appreciation to hunters throughout the season by providing a hunter’s discount coupon booklet and koozie to each out-of-town hunter staying in one of the nine chamber member hotels.

“In the booklet is door prize form for chance to win a gun,” Crawford said, and the drawing to determine the winner of the shotgun was being held Thursday. 

Since Sept. 1 , 523 room nights were tracked from dove hunters, and 290 door prize forms have been collected from the hotels.

“We will continue the promotion through Jan. 18, when a rifle will be given away,” Crawford said.

The general white-tailed deer hunting season ends on Jan. 3, 2010.