T exas public hunting program is a model for both conservation initiatives and access to the masses.
While the Lone Star State doesn’t boast as much public land hunting as those states farther to the west, the areas of Texas open to walk-in hunts and drawn hunts are still vast, with plenty of different species to pursue. That includes federal wildlife refuges, too.
Justin Dreibelbis, Private Lands and Public Hunting Program Director with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, noted that the overall public hunting program in the state is designed to extend hunting to many folks that otherwise don’t have prime access to private locales.
“We have lots of very different opportunities throughout Texas for hunting, including at our Wildlife Management Areas, state parks and also private lands,” he said. “We’ve expanded opportunities in many locations, which is what hunters have told us through our surveys is something they would like to see.
“We’ve also used hunting-specific funds to expand hunting in Texas. One example is our private lands dove hunt drawing. We have used funds from migratory game bird hunting stamp sales to help lease out lands that are in some of the best dove hunting areas of the state, and our outfitters we have worked with have helped provide an exceptional experience.”
Dreibelbis said that interest in the public hunting system as a whole has continued to expand annually.
“We have seen increasing participation each year in the online draw system, which is mostly because folks have gotten used to using the system and become more familiar with our hunting options,” he said. “We (TPWD) also have taken over the hunt drawings for National Wildlife Refuge opportunities at places like the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge along the coast and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in far South Texas, and we’ve been glad to help them.
“They previously used a paper system for their drawn hunts, which took up lots of time for their staff, and they’ve been happy with the results of the online system. Using the online system also has opened up those hunts to an entire section of hunters that either didn’t know about those opportunities (including deer and exotics.)”
Lower Rio Grande Valley Refuge biologist Imer De La Garza noted that the partnership with TPWD has helped to get the word out about, not only his area, but the overall public hunting program in Texas as a whole.
“We’ve been running hunts on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge since 2000,” De La Garza said, “but last year was the first that we used Texas Parks & Wildlife’s online draw system to place hunters in our deer and exotic hunts. The demand for our hunts has gotten bigger each year, so it’s a good thing for anyone who may be interested in entering our draws.”
The draws that have piqued the interest of hunters from across Texas are those for “blue bulls.”
“The nilgai hunts in particular have generated more and more interest, especially because nilgai are isolated to extreme South Texas,” De La Garza said. “People see where it says ‘unlimited nilgai’ on the hunt application and they get excited. There’s good and bad with that though. You can shoot them, but then you also have to pack them out.
“These hunts have opened a lot of opportunity for all Texans, not just those folks who live down here in the Valley,” De La Garza said. “We’ve also been getting more and more applicants from all over the country, too. It has gotten much more competitive in the draw process.”
In addition to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge also offers similar hunt frameworks for nilgai.
Many people purchase specialty license plates to show their pride in, and affiliation with, a particular school, profession, or cause. Those purchasing the Ducks Unlimited license plates are making a difference for waterfowl and people across the state.
Money from the sale of Texas Ducks Unlimited license plates help public land partners manage and maintain habitats that benefit waterfowl and provide public enjoyment. Revenue from these plates has allowed Ducks Unlimited to dedicate nearly $132,000 to help partners enhance and manage more than 1,700 acres of wetland habitat since June 2016.
These funds are prioritized for smaller projects on sites with public use opportunities that generally require habitat management and infrastructure repairs. Projects have been done across the state, including Sandia Springs Wetlands (West Texas near Alpine), Gus Engeling and Richland Creek wildlife management areas (WMA) in East Texas, White Oak Creek WMA (northeast Texas), Taylor Lakes WMA (panhandle), and Sheldon Lake State Park, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Justin Hurst WMA and Mad Island WMA on the Texas Upper Coast.
Project activities include levee repair, water-control structure installation and replacement, water delivery canal cleanout, vegetation control, removal of accumulated sediments, and other management infrastructure improvements.
Because the majority of the larger, public grant programs and private foundation donations prioritize larger-scale projects on the Gulf Coast, it is difficult for Texas Ducks Unlimited conservation staff to provide project support to our partners on these smaller projects across the state. License plate funds provide a means to do so.
In addition to the traditional Texas Ducks Unlimited logo tag, Texas also offers a DU tag featuring a Great Blue Heron. A new tag design is in the works, and it will continue to show off Ducks Unlimited pride and help improve wetland habitats across the Lone Star State. Show your pride in wetlands conservation by getting your DU tag today.
TaylorLakesWMA-NE Cattail Lake Dozer Dredging.jpg & TaylorLakesWMA-Dredging Scraper_Dozer.jpg
Tag funds facilitate wetland restoration and infrastructure improvements on Taylor Lakes WMA in the Texas Panhandle.
RCWMA Mulching 2.jpg
Plate funds supported woody vegetation control on Richland Creek WMA in East Texas.
SLSP spraying 2.jpg
Spraying to control undesirable vegetation on Sheldon Lake State Park near Houston.
An aerial view of wetlands restored using Ducks Unlimited license plate funding on Sandia Springs Wetland in west Texas near Alpine.
The Quality Deer Management Association has named the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department as the recipient of its 2017 Agency of the Year Award.
“The white-tailed deer is a charismatic symbol that has come to represent the importance of wildlife conservation in Texas,” said QDMA founder Joe Hamilton, in a news release. “The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department understands deer hunting is an essential and longstanding contributor to the state’s culture and economy, and is a motivator for land stewardship.”
According to the release, TPWD’s deer management program has been so successful that its 80 wildlife biologists work with more than 10,000 properties on 25 million acres, including nearly 200 wildlife cooperatives actively receiving deer harvest and management recommendations. Texas is one of only a few states with a wildlife cooperative program that includes a dedicated cooperative staff member and incentives for participating landowners.
Additionally, according to data compiled by QDMA for its annual Whitetail Report, Texas has one of the best buck age structures in the whitetail’s range. During the 2015-2016 deer season, only 23 percent of bucks harvested by hunters were 1.5 years old, while 59 percent were 3.5 years old or older, according to the release.
Email Will Leschper at