It is mid-July and Texas hunters are starting to come out of their spring-summer hibernation.
The first fall hunting season, dove hunting, is just seven weeks away. Although it may be too early to start putting corn in the feeder for deer season, it isn’t too early to start planning trips.
That is especially true for hunters wanting to participate through Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s public draw hunts program. This year’s booklets are out and the first applications are due Aug. 8.
About 45,000 hunters apply for about 5,000 hunts through the program each year. This year the department is offering 26 adult and youth categories.
“We have been hitting that pretty consistently,” said Kelly Edmiston, TPWD public hunting program specialist. “Year to year as hunt areas evaluate their needs, the need for permits can vary.”
The department offers a variety of hunts from alligators to javelina and feral hogs, pronghorn and even a bighorn sheep, but it is white-tailed deer that attracts the most interest.
“We have gun deer either sex, gun deer antlerless or spike, gun deer management and all the youth deer hunts,” Edmiston said. “By the time you put all the gun deer hunts together that is generally 55 or 60 percent of all applications.”
The most popular of those are for buck hunts on the Chaparral and James E. Daughtrey wildlife management units in South Texas.
The hunts are conducted on department wildlife management areas, state parks, federal government sites and private property. In all there are 69 hunt sites covering about three-quarters of a million acres throughout the state.
Along with an application fee of $3 to $10, the only other cost to the hunter is a hunt fee of $80 for most hunts or $130 for a limited number of extended hunts. Hunters may apply for multiple hunts, but only one from each category. In a number of categories, their application can include friends or family.
“If they want to go as a group we tell them to put everyone down,” said Edmiston, noting there is an application fee for everyone in the group.
The hunts at state parks were first started as a tool to manage deer and hog populations, but have been so popular that in recent years they have been expanded simply for recreational activity.
Draw hunts on private land go back to 1994. Edmiston said they are a win-win for the hunter and the landowner because they create hunting opportunity for hunters and provide hunters to do management work for the landowner.
“The landowner is compensated because he runs those hunts,” Edmiston said. “The hunter reports to the private landowner and he runs the hunt.”
Most of the hunts are for management, antlerless or spike deer. For those the landowner is paid from $250 to $500, money taken from program fees.
The program will also offer four pronghorn hunts on private land, three more than last year. Edmiston said the department paid about $1,000 for those hunts.
While youth hunters, those 8 through 16, can participate in the general hunts, there are also youth-only hunts.
“We expect to offer 1,263 youth permits this season,” Edmiston said. “This is up 82 permits from the 1,181 youth permits we offered last year. Last year, we received 8,000 applications from 11,030 youth for those permits.”
All but three of the general hunts are self-guided. The three that aren’t are among the most unusual hunts offered. Two are on the department’s Mason Mountain Ranch for a gemsbock and a scimitar-horned oryx.
The other is in the Trans Pecos region for a prized desert bighorn ram. That hunt will be held on one of three wildlife management areas depending on an annual sheep survey later this summer.
Application deadlines are Aug. 8 for general archery and crossbow deer hunts, alligators, mule deer and private lands hunts; Sept. 11 for general and youth gun deer hunts, exotics and javelinas; and Oct. 10 for guided hunts, feral hogs and spring turkeys.
Draw hunt catalogues are available from TPWD Law Enforcement offices and wildlife management areas and state parks that conduct hunts or by calling 1-800-792-1112, menu item 5. The booklet and other information is also available online at http://tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing/.