The 2017-18 Archery Only season is just around the corner. The season gets underway on September 30 and runs for 35 consecutive days before winding down on November 3, the eve of the general season in all Texas counties with a legal deer season.
It’s a great time to be a deer hunter in Texas, especially if you hunt with a bow and arrow. That’s because the Archery Only season gives bow hunters the opportunity to get into the woods long before all the big boomers do.
In fact, excluding rifle hunters with access to a lease under an approved managed lands deer permit program, participants in a special Youth Only season October 28-29 and a limited number of squirrel hunters, archery hunters should pretty much have the woods to themselves over the next month or so.
In most counties it is legal to use crossbows to hunt deer during the Archery Only season, as well. However, it would be wise to check the individual county listings in the 2017-18 Texas Outdoor Annual. Make sure the county where you hunt is among them before a game warden tells you otherwise. Fines for hunting violations aren’t cheap.
Of course, not every hunter with a compound, recurve or crossbow in the closet is fortunate enough to have private property to hunt on. Deer leases have gotten crazy expensive. As a result, many hunters have been priced right out of the market.
Even so, there is gobs of public land available for walk-in hunting with no key to a gate required. Some of the properties fall under the heading of wildlife management areas that are under lease by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Many of the WMA’s are open only to archery hunters selected in special “draw hunts,” but you have to enter before the deadline specified by TPWD’s public hunting booklet. It’s too late to apply for archery draws for this season, but it is certainly worth looking into for next year.
I’ve participated in a couple of TPWD draw hunts at the Gus Engling WMA near Palestine, and they were very well run with a limited number of hunters on a high quality piece of property. Draw hunts usually require a small application fee and minimum hunt fee if you get drawn.
Other WMA lands are wide open for anyone to hunt all season. The only requirements are that you have an annual public hunting permit and valid hunting license in your pocket when you go. The permits cost $48 and are available anywhere hunting licenses are sold.
Additionally, there are thousands of acres of national forest and Corp of Engineers property that are open for walk-in hunt archery hunting all season long at absolutely no cost to hunters, provided the property is not listed as a WMA or otherwise specified by a governing agency.
One of the big trade offs to hunting on public lands versus private is you sometimes have to share the land with other hunters that you do not know. That in itself throws up a red flag with many would-be hunters. Others don’t think twice about it. The good ones simply do their homework and keep it to themselves.
A common misconception many hunters have about public land is that game is lacking. No doubt the hunting can be tougher on public land than private, particularly in areas that are heavily pressured. But there are some sweet spots to be found out there for those who are willing to invest the time and put forth the effort.
I’ve interviewed several hunters over the years who deer hunt exclusively on the TPWD public hunting lands and national forest lands. Most are understandably tight lipped about their particular hunting locations, but their advice to other hunters looking to go public is almost always the same:
• Get a Map: Locate a good map of the area you intend to hunt and study it to locate drainages, ridges, creeks, field edges and other places that deer like to travel. Another good option is check out the area on Google Earth on the Internet.
• Off the Beaten Path: Many hunters are inherently lazy and always look for hunting spots that are closest or easiest to access from the road. Look for isolated sections of property with limited access located as far from any public road as possible. Preferably, these areas should have relatively thick cover. Deer will often retreat to these kinds of areas to escape the onslaught of early season hunting pressure.
• Scout Before You Go: There is no substitute for getting in the woods early and checking out prospective hunting areas before the season gets underway. Look for obvious deer sign such as droppings, tracks, crossings, rubs and scrapes. Finding areas with highly preferred forage also is a plus.
Public hunting opportunities also are abundant in the Sabine, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Angelina national forests as well as the Caddo National Grasslands. Hunting is free on these properties, unless the area has been leased to TPWD as a wildlife management area. Free hunting also can be found on certain Corp of Engineers properties.
So, what are some of the best public hunting areas the Texas has to offer for walk-in archers next month? What follows is a comprehensive list of hunting areas you might want to check out. Just be sure to read the rules and regulations specific to your hunting unit of choice before hunting. A full list of public hunting lands complete with maps, descriptions, rules and regulations is available online: tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/.
Below is a list of public land that is available for archery hunting:
Angelina/Neches/Dam B WMA (Unit 707)
Location: Jasper/Tyler Counties
Acreage: 12,636 acres
Caddo Lake WMA (Unit 730)
Location: Marion/Harrison Counties
Acreage: 8,128 acres
Alazan Bayou WMA (Units 747 E and 747W)
Location: Angelina/Nacogdoches Counties
Acreage: 2,607 acres
Campbell Timberland Management (Unit 122)
Location: Newton County
Acreage: 16,851 acres
Sabine River Authority (Unit 630)
Location: Panola County
Acreage: 8,062 acres
Moore Plantation WMA (Unit 902)
Location: Sabine County
Acreage: 26,455 acres
Bannister WMA (Unit 903)
Location: San Augustine County
Acreage: 25,658 acres
North Toledo Bend WMA (Unit 615)
Location: Shelby County
Acreage: 2,675 acres
Old Sabine Bottom WMA (Unit 732)
Location: Smith County
Acreage: 5,727 acres
Alabama Creek WMA (Unit 904)
Location: Trinity County
Acreage: 14,561 acres
Luminant Texas (Unit 607)
Location: Robertson County
Acreage: 1,071 acres
Los Rincones (Unit 2494)
Location: Kerr County
Acreage: 138 acres
San Angelo State Park (Unit 1166)
Location: Tom Greene County
Acreage: 2,500 acres
Twin Buttes PHL
Location: Tom Greene County
Acreage: 13,000 acres
Cooper WMA (Unit 731)
Location: Delta/Hopkins Counties
Acreage: 14,160 acres
South Sulphur Unit Cooper Lake State Park (Unit 1155)
Location: Hopkins County
Acreage: 840 acres
Caddo National Grasslands Bois D’ Arc Unit (Unit 901N)
Location: Fannin County
Acreage: 13,370 acres
Caddo National Grasslands Ladonia Unit (901S)
Location: Fannin County
Acreage: 2,780 acres
Tawakoni WMA (Unit 708)
Location: Rains/Van Zandt Counties
Acreage: 39,125 acres
Pat Mayse WMA (Unit 705)
Location: Lamar County
Acreage: 8,925 acres
Ivy Unit (Unit 2495)
Location: Anderson County
Acreage: 465 acres
White Oak Creek WMA (Unit 727)
Location: Bowie/Cass/Morris and Titus Counties
Acreage: 25,777 acres
Additionally, Corp of Engineers tracts of varied size can be found adjacent to several public reservoirs that are under the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Corps property is especially abundant around 20,300-acre Wright Patman Reservoir in northeast Texas, where more than 54,000 acres of federally owned property is open for free public hunting for deer, turkeys, squirrels, feral hogs, doves and waterfowl.
It should be noted that the following is illegal on Texas public hunting lands:
• Constructing or placing a hunting blind, stand, tower, or platform within 50 yards of any designated road, marked unit boundary, or designated campsite;
• Constructing a permanent blind, stand, tower, or platform.
• Leaving a hunting blind, stand, tower, or platform in place for more than 72 hours or using metal nails, spikes, screws, or bolts to attach such structures to the timber.
—story by Matt Williams