A ttracting youths and novice hunters to outdoor and sporting traditions is vital to the passing of the torch to those who will be the next stewards of our wild places.
One way the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department caters to those user groups is through small game public hunting options and walk-in and standby hunts, specifically on the state’s Wildlife Management Areas.
One of those areas is 10,000-acre Gus Engeling WMA, which sits just north of the unincorporated community of Tennessee Colony – less than two hours from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex – and is among the most diverse land holdings overseen by TPWD.
Among the notable research projects conducted at Engeling are white-tailed deer aging techniques, factors affecting white-tailed deer fawn survival, comparisons of feeding habits between white-tailed deer and cattle, and site-specific competition between feral hogs and white-tailed deer.
In addition to valuable research, the WMA also features a variety of good hunting opportunities, with some small game hunts open to those who possess an Annual Public Hunting permit. Engeling also offers a variety of good deer hunting options through the public drawing system. The WMA also doesn’t have as much competition for those hunts, with hundreds of applicants typically, rather than thousands as with other hot spots. Engeling has drawn permits for archery buck hunts, as well as gun hunts for bucks, spikes and does. It also features youth-only buck hunts, in addition to spike and antlerless hunts, which all are free for youngsters who are drawn.
Jeff Gunnels, area manager for Engeling, said many of the hunting opportunities are designed with youth hunters in mind, especially when discussing introducing them to successful outings.
“We start out with dove season in September, planting dove fields, and then move right into squirrel hunting, which has become a big pursuit,” he said. “There’s some of the best squirrel hunting around in this part of the state. Then after that, I move right into my deer hunting. We start with kids first, giving those youths the first crack at the deer. All our big WMAs try to have a big hunt on that first statewide youth-only weekend. And then this year we moved our youth either sex deer hunts to the rut, hoping that we can give those kids an opportunity to kill a pretty good deer, which they did. We had a 137 (Boone & Crockett) and change clean 8 (point), and a 136 and change clean 8 that were the two best deer our youth hunters killed this year.”
Gunnels said that in terms of deer hunting and small game hunting, Engeling is an ongoing case study in recruitment of hunters, something that’s important to the pursuit in a state such as Texas.
“Our objectives through hunting at all our WMAs is to introduce the pursuit to new and inexperienced hunters, which is one reason why we focus on so many youth’s hunts,” he noted. “We actually get a lot of hunters on our drawn deer hunts that are inexperienced, so that provides a good way to teach those folks about everything from field dressing to showing them proper deer management. The goal is that hopefully those hunters have a positive experience and then carry on with hunting and recruit family and friends to take part in the future. It’s important to continue that hunting tradition.”
In addition to attractive small game and deer hunting options, Engeling also faces the growing menace that is the feral hog. Engeling offers E-postcard hunts for hogs, with 200 permits for the invasive species last season. It should be noted that all drawn deer hunts also feature unlimited feral hogs, which is a bonus should the deer hunting prove tough.
“We’re also like every other landowner in Texas, trying to control feral hogs,” Gunnels said. “That’s a constant problem and pretty much a statewide issue.”
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The Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Restoration Project continues to show the power of concerted conservation and wildlife restoration efforts, with the successful relocation recently of 109 pronghorn antelopes.
This marks the fifth year that pronghorn have been transplanted from healthy populations around Pampa in the Texas Panhandle to an area northeast of Marfa to supplement severely depleted pronghorn populations in the Trans-Pecos region, according to TPWD.
The relocation process was coordinated among TPWD, the Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University, Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Working Group Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation and USDA-Wildlife Services. The project is a five-year, $1.4 million public-private partnership with TPWF. To date, more than $900,000 has been secured.
At least 17,000 pronghorns historically roamed the West Texas region, but by 2012 there were estimated to be less than 3,000, according to TPWD. As of last summer, pronghorn numbers had doubled, based on a TPWD aerial census survey.