BLACK BEARS, bighorns, cougars and mule deer.
There aren’t many publicly accessible lands where you can encounter all of the above in Texas, but you can at the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (WMA) 55 miles south of Marathon.
The Black Gap WMA borders Big Bend National Park on the northwest. The management area shares 25 miles of the Rio Grande with the Mexican state of Coahuila on the southern and eastern boundaries. The property contains approximately 103,000 acres where the Sierranias del Burro and Sierra del Carmen Mountain Ranges enter into Texas.
“It’s a very remote, diverse ecosystem that has an abundance of wildlife that we manage for biodiversity and as well as sporting opportunities,” said Black Gap WMA manager Travis Smith.
General visitation is allowed only during the period March 1 to August 31 and is restricted to roads (Horse and Maravillas Canyons) accessing the Rio Grande corridor.
Seasonal hunting is available by annual public hunting permit for dove, quail, waterfowl (during the early teal season) and rabbits. It is also one of the few places in Texas offering public draw permits for mule deer, which are abundant.
“Our mule deer population here is pretty healthy,” Smith said.
“We offer draw archery hunts for mule deer in October as well as November and December-January rifle hunts. As mule deer hunting opportunities are rare for most Texans, it is a great opportunity.”
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials, the mule deer population in Texas ranges from about 150,000 during dry conditions to about 250,000 during wet periods. The latest estimates put it on the high end of that range.
“Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the mule deer in Texas inhabit the Trans-Pecos Region while the remainder are found in the Panhandle and western Edwards Plateau regions. Mule deer in the Trans-Pecos (including Black Gap WMA) and western Edwards Plateau belong to the desert subspecies (Odocoileus hemionus crooki).
The first words of this story were “black bears.” That’s because Black Gap WMA has become one of the strongholds for bears in the Trans Pecos. Once virtually eliminated from the region, crossovers from Mexico started filtering in during the 1980s. Now bear sightings are not necessarily common, but they’re not a surprise either.
In September 2019, TPWD’s Twitter account shared a photo of a black bear mother with three cubs.
It was a beautiful sight, showing that even in Texas’s roughest country, life is abundant. Thanks to TPWD’s management and sportsman’s dollars for footing the bill to steward this Trans Pecos gem.
—special report by CHESTER MOORE