EVERY YEAR, TEXAS HUNTERS take to the woods to hunt whitetail deer with the confidence they understand the hunting regulations, license requirements and bag limits. Or do they?
Unfortunately, many hunters dont closely examine the Texas Parks and Wildlife Departments Outdoor Annual of hunting and fishing regulations. The annual is published not only so hunters can understand long-time hunting regulations but also to alert them of changes that may have occurred since last season.
Its all spelled out in black and white. Things like who is required to take a hunter safety course, legal hunting hours, proper procedures for recording the harvest of a deer and much more.
Here is a quick course in what is legal, what is not, why laws are in the books and the consequences of not obeying them. Because regulations may differ on lands under the Managed Lands Deer Permit program or the Landowner Assisted Management Permitting System, the following is for general whitetail deer hunting on private properties, wildlife management areas, state parks and most other areas. It is important to read the Outdoor Annual for information applying to the area you plan to hunt.
Hunting seasons: These vary throughout the state but generally run from around October 1 through early November with an archery-only season followed by the general firearms season running from the first Saturday in November through the first Sunday in January. Also, counties with a general firearms season have special two-day early and late youth-only seasons. Some also have a two-week late-season for antlerless and spike deer, generally beginning the day after the regular season closes. A few counties also have a mid-January muzzleloader-only season. The special seasons are meant to provide more hunting opportunities and/or to allow a higher harvest in heavily-populated deer areas.
Where you may hunt: Most hunting in Texas is done on private land, mostly through lease agreements with a landowner or with outfitters. Although state laws must be obeyed at all times, some landowners and outfitters establish individual guidelines for antler size and numbers and methods that may be used to take deer on their properties. Understanding state laws and individual rules are very important.
Legal deer: A legal buck is any male whitetail deer with a hardened antler protruding through the skin or, as the case in 52 counties, a legal buck is one with at least a 13-inch or greater inside spread or one with at least one un-branched antler. The 13-inch antler restriction has been met with both favoritism and disapproval by many hunters but it is the law in those counties. A male deer without a hardened antler protruding through the skin must be tagged as an "antlerless" deer.
Definition of an Antler Point: A projection that extends at least one inch from the edge of the main beam of another tine. The tip of the main beam also is a point.
Hunting hours: During open seasons, legal hunting hours for deer begin one half hour before sunrise and end one half hour after sunset.
Legal firearms: No firearms using rimfire ammunition may be used for taking deer in Texas. Only centerfire firearms, archery equipment, including crossbows, and muzzleloaders are legal. Note: During the archery-only season, crossbows may not be used to take deer in Grayson County.
Harvest regulations: A hunter who kills a deer must immediately attach the appropriate deer tag from his or her hunting license to the deer. The name of the ranch and county where the deer was shot must be filled out in ink on the tag and the date of the kill must be cut out or notched and not simply marked in ink. The information about the kill, such as the date, location of the kill and whether it was a buck or antlerless deer also must be recorded on the persons hunting license. If the buck deer was taken in a county with antler restrictions, that must be noted on the license as well.
Whitetail deer tags: There are five whitetail deer tags on a hunting license. Two are to be used on antlerless deer only. Three tags are for buck or antlerless deer. If a buck with an inside antler spread of 13 inches or greater is taken in a county with a 13-inch antler restriction, a box with an astric on it located on a buck-antlerless tag must be checked in addition to a box on that tag noting the deer is a buck.
Proof of Sex: You may not possess a deer with proof of sex removed unless the deer has reached its final destination and has been quartered. Proof of sex is the head of buck deer with antlers attached, or the head of an antlerless deer.
Transporting harvested deer: You may transport a deer to a final destination (a residence or cold storage processing facility) providing it is accompanied by proof of sex. You may quarter the deer no further than six parts (two front quarters, two hind quarters, and two backstraps), before transporting it along with proof of sex and appropriate tag.
Licenses and certificates: Check the Outdoor Annual to see which license you need buy to fill your requirements. Persons born after Sept. 2, 1971 are required to complete a Hunter Education Training Course and carry proof of certification while hunting. The minimum age for certification is nine. Hunters under age nine must be accompanied by a licensed hunter age 17 or older who has taken the course or is exempt. Persons age 9-16 must complete the course or be accompanied by a licensed hunter 17 or older who has completed the course or is exempt.
Cost of being illegal: Class C misdemeanors with fines of $25-$500 include waste of game, failure to take a required hunter safety course, hunting without a hunting license, and failure to properly tag a harvested deer. More serious penalties including some as high as $10,000 and including up to two years in jail can be imposed on persons caught hunting and/or shooting a deer on lands without the landowners consent and discharging a firearm across a fence or other boundary of land without the consent of that neighboring lands owner.