It is the first sign that the fall hunting season is just around the corner. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has put out the call for hunters to apply for public hunts around the state.
After a humble beginning in 1954 when 75 hunters were allowed on the Kerr Wildlife Management Area, this year the department is offering almost 10,000 permits in 61 categories. Some hunts will be guided, but most unguided with hunters targeting everything from bighorn sheep to white-tailed deer and mule deer, alligator, dove and more.
“These drawings include selections for U.S. Forest Service Antlerless Deer Permits, both adult and youth hunts, 18 e-Postcard Selections for hunters using the $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit (APH), and hunts conducted on nine National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) in Texas,” said Kelly Edmiston, TPWD Public Hunting Program Coordinator.
Hunts on the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, formerly the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant, and Neches River NWR have been added to this year’s hunts, along with hunts for feral hogs, quail and spring turkey on three private ranches.
Information on all hunts and categories, as well as the application process is online at https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing/.
Last year the public hunt program was a great reprieve from the COVID-19 lockdowns attracting a record 227,000 applications, or about a 35% increase. Annual Public Hunting Permit sells were also up 20% to 54,000
“All hunts were carried out last season. It is a massive credit to our TPWD staff that all our hunts were done safely and successfully,” Edmiston noted.
The vast majority of hunters applying through the public hunting program are after white-tailed deer. Some wait years to be drawn for the Chaparral Wildlife Management and a chance at a true trophy. Others set their sights on quality bucks at one of the other 30 or so WMAs around the state, while some just want a doe for meat or a chance to take their child on a hunt.
Others put in for something completely different like a chance to hunt alligators in Southeast Texas, exotics in the Hill Country, mule deer or pronghorn out west.
Not surprisingly the vast majority of those who apply for public lands hunts are middle-aged white males. But not all. About 10% of applicants a couple of years ago were female.
If there is a drawback to the program it is that there is more interest than opportunity.
“We are doing what we can with what we have while at the same time expanding our partnership with the National Wildlife Refuges in Texas to assist with drawing their staff administered hunts,” Edmiston said.
He added the department realizes access to suitable hunting land is the key, but available public lands are limited and utilized when possible. The department also attempts to partner with other state and federal agencies, water authorities and even cities, but again there are limitations. That leaves the department searching for private landowners willing to work with the program. While there are some, it could always use more.
“In addition, the Public Hunting program applied for and was awarded a Voluntary Public Access grant from the last USDA Farm Bill. We are using funds from the VPA grant to partner with Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever for a leasing biologist to target leasing sites in areas of Texas where we do not have as many hunting areas. We will also be combining these funds with our own state budget specifically for leasing those new hunt areas and expanding our drawn private lands hunts. Hunters will be able to see some of the immediate benefits of these funds with the newly created Private Lands Feral Hog, Private Lands Turkey and Private Lands Quail drawn hunt categories this season,” Edmiston said.
Being affordable is one reason the program is success. There is an application fee ranging from $3 to $10 based on the type of hunt. Selected hunters may also need to pay a Special Permit fee ranging from $80 for a regular hunt to $130 for an extended hunt. There are categories, including youth-only hunts, which require no fees.
Application for private land dove, alligator and pronghorn hunts are due Aug. 1. The deadline for archery deer, general exotics and javelina is Aug. 15. Other deadlines follow through Nov. 1.
For more information or to apply, go to the department’s drawn hunt webpage. For other questions, contact email@example.com or call (512) 389-4505 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.