NO STATE HAS MORE unique hunting and fishing opportunities than Texas.
We really have something special here with the nation’s largest whitetail, feral hog and wild turkey populations. On the fishing side we are tops for bass and have incredible speckled trout and redfish action.
However, some species get little attention in the media.
Although few hunters get to pursue them, the desert bighorn is a huntable species in the state. Once eradicated in its native range of the Trans Pecos, they are now restored to a high enough number to allow draw-only hunts and are continually being stocked and monitored.
The return of the bighorn is in large part because of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) efforts combined with those of the Texas Bighorn Society.
Sandhills are one of the most unique game animals found in the state. Migrating from Canada, they are called the “sirloin of the sky” for their fine breast meat, but are a vastly underutilized resource.
A Federal Sandhill Crane Hunting Permit is required to hunt Sandhill cranes, in addition to a valid Texas hunting license, Texas Migratory Game Bird Stamp Endorsement, and HIP Certification. The Federal Sandhill Crane Hunting Permit can be obtained in person only at TPWD Law Enforcement offices and TPWD headquarters in Austin, but also is available by phone at (800) 792-1112 (Option 7, menu 7) or 512-389-4820, 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday or through Online Sales.
For phone and online orders, a confirmation number will be issued in lieu of a permit. A $5 administrative fee will be charged for online orders. Permittees should keep a record of hunting activities because 26 percent of crane hunters are chosen for a federal harvest survey.
Very few hunters are aware Texas has a small but huntable population of pronghorn antelope.
According to TPWD, the pronghorn antelope occupies approximately 14 million acres in the Trans-Pecos, High Plans, Rolling Plains, and Edwards Plateau Ecological Regions with about 70 percent occurring in the Trans-Pecos region. Population levels in the Trans-Pecos from 1978 to 2000 have changed significantly from a high of 17,000 animals in the mid-to-late ’80s to a low of 5,200 animals in year 2000.
“Because antelope live in sensitive habitats, TPWD regulates harvest through hunt permits to provide maximum sustained yield without deleterious effects on the resource. Issuance of antelope hunt permits has paralleled the population decline through time. It’s the reduction of these hunt permits that has caught the attention of the hunting public.”
Texas has a decent mule deer population. Around 200,000 reside within our borders in the Trans Pecos and Panhandle. According to Dale Rollins with Texas Agrilife, during the 1950s and 1960s, mule deer were transplanted into the Palo Duro Canyon and surrounding areas of the “caprock” and have since become well established.
Demand for hunting access is high, so muley hunting can be expensive. However a big Texas buck is a highly prized trophy.
Let’s also take a look at some fish people might not think are available in Texas.
Garfish of four varieties are common in Texas waters, but not all waters produce every kind of gar. Many not familiar with the species do not realize the diversity in these unusual fish.
Alligator garfish are protected with a daily bag limit of one fish and a provision in state regulation to close certain areas when optimal spawning periods occur.
The following notes are from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s garfish profiles.
Gars are easily distinguished from other freshwater species by their long, slender, cylindrical bodies, long snouts, and diamond-shaped interlocking (ganoid) scales. The tail fin is rounded. Dorsal and anal fins are placed well back on the body and nearly opposite each other.
The alligator gar is the largest of the gar species. It can grow up to eight feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds. Adults have two rows of large teeth on each side of the upper jaw. Coloration is generally brown or olive above, and lighter underneath. The species name spatula is Latin for “spoon”, referring to the creature’s broad snout.
Spotted gars grow to a length of three feet (0.9 m), weighing eight pounds (3.6 kg). Their upper body is brown to olive, and they have silver-white sides. Head, body, and fins have olive-brown to black spots that help camouflage the fish. Immature fish have a broad, dark stripe on their sides. Their long, snout-like mouth is lined with strong, sharp teeth, and their body is covered with thick, ganoid (diamond-shaped) scales. Spotted gars may be distinguished from other Texas gar species by the dark roundish spots on the top of the head, the pectoral fins and on the pelvic fins.
Lepisosteus is Greek, meaning “bony scale”, and platostomus is also Greek, meaning “broad mouth.”
Shortnose gars may be distinguished from other Texas species in that they lack the double row of teeth in the upper jaw of the alligator gar, the long snout of the longnose gar, and the spots of the spotted gar.
Longnose gars are distinguished from other gar species found in Texas by the long snout whose length is at least 10 times the minimum width.
On the saltwater side many do not realize the diversity of billfish living in Gulf waters.
According a report written Randy Blankinship, Ecosystem Leader, Lower Laguna Madre for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, The species of billfishes in the Gulf of Mexico (blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and longbill spearfish) support an exciting sport fishery. Anglers spend an enormous amount of effort, time and money to experience the thrilling fight of one of the largest and most intensely energetic fish in existence.
“Yet, as popular as these fishes are, there is very little that is known about their life history-where they reproduce, how many eggs are produced, how many larvae survive to adulthood, if variations of stocks exist within their range, how old they get and how fast they grow. This basic information is needed to allow proper fishery management measures to be made domestically and internationally and to enable sustainability throughout its range.”
“In fact, the latest stock assessment for this group shows that blue marlin and white marlin are overfished throughout their range in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. This range includes offshore waters of many coastal states and several countries. This makes the role of international fishery management extremely important. The governing body that sets the levels of billfish harvest, both directed and incidental, is the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
The United States is a member of ICCAT and negotiates with other countries in determining harvest levels. Such negotiations can only be successful if good scientific information is available to support good decision making.”
Despite the lack of information, there is a viable fishery. Anglers who have the ability to get to blue water have a legitimate shot at realizing the dream of catching a billfish right here in Texas.
—story by CHESTER MOORE