When it comes to recognition programs for deer hunting, Texas Big Game Awards program kind of gets lost in the shuffle with hunters compared to events like Los Cazadores, Muy Grande and a host of other deer contests around the state.
Part of the problem is that TBGA is not a high-dollar big buck contest. It is not a contest at all nor is it just about white-tailed deer. Its purpose is geared more toward celebrating Texas’ quality of hunting, those who take part in it and the managers and landowners responsible for it.
However, the joint effort between the Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is in its 31st year and continues to show the relationship between hunters and conservation across the state.
“The TBGA is unique because it acknowledges that a quality big game animal is much more than what is hanging on a wall,” said David Brimager, TWA’s director of public relations. “It’s a complete process that begins with a landowner’s decision to do the right things for habitat and ends with a hunter’s well-placed shot. We realize that somewhere along the way that hunters made a conscious decision to embrace our hunting heritage and become a responsible sportsman.”
Participation in the TBGA program is free, and there are categories for white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorns, javelina and bighorn sheep with entry based on minimum scores set for eight geographical regions around the state. But it is not just about the score. There is a division recognizing everyone who takes one of those five for the first time and a youth division for any hunter hunting under a youth license. Just as importantly the landowner where an entry is taken is also cited.
“By bringing attention to the positive impacts of hunting, whether they’re ecological or economic, TBGA strengthens our hunting community. TBGA encourages ethics, recruits new participants, makes business better for those enterprises connected to hunting and champions natural resources education. It is a win for hunting, hunters and habitat,” Brimager said.
The white-tailed deer division is split into two categories, low fence and high fence, and beginning this season high fence entries will be divided between ranches with native deer only and ranches that have released deer. Minimum scores for entry in either division runs from 125 to 140 for typicals and 140 to 155 for non-typicals depending on region. The scoring variations recognize the difference in habitat across the state.
The statewide minimum score for mule deer is 145 for typicals and 160 for non-typicals. A pronghorn must have a minimum score of 70 for entry, and javelina must score at least 13 4/16.
There is a competition component in that deer are ranked by score in each region. Unlike most contests, hunters do not pre-register and the program has more than a thousand certified scorers around the state to make it easier to have a kill included. First harvest and youth entries are not required to be scored unless they want to be included in the scored entry category.
While the program is more about recognition than competition, looking down the lists of the top five entries in each category, Texas Big Game Awards has seen the best of the best over the years. For example, the all-time best low fence typical whitetail is Curtis Clingingsmith’s 10-point 192 5/8 taken last season in Maverick County. The bottom of the top five in that category is Larry Pancake’s Donley County buck from the 1994-95 season scoring 187 4/8.
The top low fence non-typical is also a newcomer from last season, a 37-point 268 3/8 taken by Robert Buker on the King Ranch. No. 2 in that category is a Houston County buck scoring 259 3/8 taken by Mark Lee in the 2013-14 season.
East Texan Jack Brittingham recorded the best high fence typical with a 196 1/8 in Dimmit County during the 2010-11 season, and the best non-typical in that category is a 380 4/8 taken last season in Mason County.
The best typical mule deer ever entered is a 196 5/8 taken in the Panhandle’s Potter County in the 1996-97 season. The best non-typical is a 292 1/8 taken in 2019-20 in Culberson County.
The program’s best pronghorn scored 89 2/8. The bottom of that top five list is 87 6/8.
To register a deer in one of the scored categories, a hunter must have their deer scored, download an entry form and return both to TWA. For non-scored youth and first kill entries, just the form must be filled out and sent in. All entries must be received by TWA before March 1. Events recognizing winners in the different regions will be held following the season.
For more information on the program or to find a program scorer, go online to www.texasbiggameawards.org .