I f there is a downside to hunting in the Lone Star State, it relates to access, with roughly 97 percent of lands resting in private hands.
That being said, it’s hard to overlook public hunting locales in Texas—with nearly a million acres of territory accessible to anyone who buys a hunting license and a permit. Those areas hold a lot of game, too.
Since 1987 the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s annual public hunting permit program has helped hunters across the state partake in less expensive outings for wildlife, including deer and birds to hogs and exotics. The program includes hundreds of thousands of acres across the state, with many good hunts not far from urban centers. If you’re looking to get far away from civilization, there are plenty of options as well.
A valid hunting license and any necessary stamp endorsements are required to participate on public hunts, but the overall costs are much more reasonable than regular lease fees. This is a great way to introduce youngsters to the pursuits and to conservation in general.
Justin Dreibelbis, Private Lands & Public Hunting Program Director with TPWD, said that hunting has become much more competitive in recent decades. In some cases, hunters are being priced right out of areas they previously hunted.
“It is getting harder and harder to find an affordable place to hunt in a private lands state such as Texas,” Dreibelbis said. “Hunters pay for wildlife conservation in this country; and we, as a state game and fish agency, have an obligation to provide as many high-quality public hunting opportunities as we can, so that they can enjoy these areas with friends and family and pass their conservation values on to the next generation of hunters.
“TPWD has offered drawn hunting opportunities on wildlife management areas and state parks for years and with our new online system (www2.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing), it is easier than ever to take part in the program. This year we will draw nearly 5,000 special permits for a diverse group of hunts for species including everything from alligators on the Gulf Coast to desert bighorn sheep in the Trans-Pecos. Included in these drawings are eight youth-only hunt categories. Applications for these special permit hunts are only $3 per hunt and free for youth.”
In addition, the annual public hunting permit (tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/annual_public_hunting), which costs only $48, offers access to nearly 200 hunting areas, including large tracts located in wildlife management areas, and more than 100 dove and small-game areas leased from private landowners.
In addition to regular hunts, there also are youth-only and youth-adult hunts for deer, waterfowl, doves, rabbits, squirrels and feral hogs, and youths 16 and younger may access the public hunt areas free of charge when accompanied by a permitted adult.
Another public-hunting angle is regular permit hunts, available for certain small-game and waterfowl excursions. The regular permits are issued at hunt areas on a first-come, first-served basis, with a $20 fee charged for each one issued. However, the fees are waived for hunters 16 and younger when hunting under the supervision of an authorized adult who possesses a regular permit or an annual hunting permit.
One opportunity targeted specifically at introducing novices is mentored hunting, with workshops at select state parks and wildlife management areas. Mentored hunting permits—which cost $25—are required for these workshops and are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The permits are valid for a specific public hunting unit and corresponding workshop dates, but they are great for introducing and educating beginning hunters and their mentors. Workshops are followed by a hunt on the specific area for doves, waterfowl or deer.
Among the largest ways that TPWD attempts to provide hunting opportunities to the public is through its annual online-only drawings for everything from deer and antelope to turkeys and alligators. Thousands of hunters are chosen through random drawings for hunts, including those on wildlife management areas, state parks and private ranches.
With application fees ranging from $3 to $10, these are a bargain. The drawn hunt permit fees if you are chosen, range from $80 (standard two- to three-day hunt) to $130 (extended four- to five-day hunt), but when you consider you could pay more than 20 times that much just to lease some decent land for one gun, the value shines through. It also should be noted that youths between the ages of 8 and 16 may apply and hunt without paying an application or permit fee.
Look around you, I’ll bet you notice more traffic, longer lines at the store, a new subdivision going in or another Starbucks opening soon. These are all signs of the greatest threat to fish and wildlife conservation—human population expansion and associated habitat loss.
As our population grows, we need more space, more water, and more resources of all kinds. All of these resources come from somewhere, and the biggest losers are wildlife and their habitats. Fortunately for the Lone Star State, its wildlife and its citizens, the leadership at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is fully aware of such stressors on the ecosystems upon which we all depend.
In a bold move that has been years in the making, TPWD has allocated funds from the state migratory bird stamp to be used to complete engineering for wetland restoration work on several wildlife management areas across the state. Ducks Unlimited will deliver the survey and design work to restore and enhance wetlands on Justin Hurst, Richland, Gus Engeling, Lower Neches and J.D. Murphree wildlife management areas.
As wildlife gets squeezed by each new subdivision, these public lands and the habitat they provide become increasingly important. In addition to providing homes for waterfowl and other wildlife in a dwindling landscape, having places where the public can access wildlife is more and more critical each day.
Big conservation accomplishments such as the recent acquisition of the Powderhorn Ranch and smaller successes like making new and better wetlands on public lands are steps on a path toward passing on a conservation legacy we can all be proud of.
As things get more crowded and people spend more time with electronics than in the field, these investments in the public’s land become increasingly crucial. We must provide public spaces to connect people to the natural vs. the virtual, world. TPWD and DU are working toward that end, for Texans and for waterfowl.
—by Andi Cooper
Email Will Leschper at
With the help of former President George H.W. Bush, representatives of Texas and Florida, and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, the Vamos a Pescar Education Fund has announced the first grant donations to organizations bringing conservation, education and fishing and boating experiences to Hispanic families.
A total of $50,000 in grants was awarded in April during a ceremony at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station. Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population (54 million), and are projected to grow to 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2020, according to a news release from the Foundation. Out of 46 million total anglers, 3.3 million are Hispanic, representing only seven percent of all anglers in the United States, according to the release.