IT’S SPRING IN TEXAS. Fall hunting seasons will be here before you know it. Time for all public lands hunting junkies out there to get ready to head to the drawing board.
Each June, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department begins accepting applications for thousands of available permits for a wide range of hunts included in the popular drawn hunts segment of its public hunting program.
The program is an exceptional value, especially for hunters on a tight budget or those looking to see new country or try something different. It gives selected applicants the opportunity to enjoy high quality hunting experiences on premium properties that see limited hunting pressure without investing much money.
Application fees for most of the multi-day hunts range from $3 to $10. Successful applicants are usually required to pay a hunt fee of $80 to $130. However, some hunts, including Youth-Only hunts, require no application fees or hunt fees.
“Our drawn hunt system is definitely a great deal,” says Justin Dreibelbis, TPWD program director for private lands and public hunting. “At only $3 per application for most hunts, it’s the cheapest big game public hunting draw in the country as far as I know. Some of the most sought-after guided hunts are desert bighorn on one of our Trans-Pecos WMAs, or exotics on Mason Mountain WMA. For these hunts, the $10 application is drastically cheaper than similar hunts in most western states.”
As always, the 2020-21 menu of drawn hunts will include dozens of different hunting categories for a long list of game such as deer, turkey, pronghorn antelope, exotics, javelina, alligator, waterfowl, pheasant, feral hogs, dove, quail and squirrel.
A highly-prized bighorn sheep hunt in far in far West Texas will probably be up for grabs as well, pending August population surveys. Sold in auction settings, bighorn sheep permits have been known to fetch $100,000 or more.
The draw hunts are held on state wildlife management areas, state parks, federal wildlife refuges, U.S. Forest Service properties and select private tracts. Although many of the hunts allow the use of firearms, others are designated as “Archery Only.” Several other hunts are open only to youth hunters with a supervising adult.
In addition to Special Permit hunts, hunters have the option to apply for numerous E-Postcard hunts, U.S. Forest Service antlerless deer permits and several hunts that will be held on seven national wildlife refuges.
E-Postcard and USFS antlerless permits are different from other public draw hunts. There is no application fee or hunt fee. However, hunters 17 and older are required to have a current Annual Public Hunting Permit before applying.
The 2020-21 APH goes on sale along with new hunting licenses in mid-August. The cost is $48. The special permit provides access to hundreds of thousands of additional land enrolled in TPWD’s public hunting program.
The drawn hunts are open to resident and non-resident hunters who meet application deadlines. Some of the deadlines roll around in early to mid-August.
Historically, hunters could apply for only one hunt within the same category, such as gun/deer either sex, archery deer, etc. TPWD modified the rule in 2015 to allow hunters to apply for as many hunts as they want within the same category. The only exception is Youth Only hunts, which allows for three applications per category.
As many as four hunters may be included on the same application for many of the hunt categories. If an application is drawn, everyone in the group gets to hunt, provided they pay the permit fee.
The selections are made by random computer draws. Draws usually take place on the first business day after the application deadline. Only drawn applicants are notified by e-mail.
Submit your application via TPWD’s public hunts link: tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing/hunt-categories.phtml. Required application fees for each hunter must submitted simultaneously using an appropriate credit card.
Applicants who do not have a personal computer or Smart Phone should seek Internet access through a public library or a friend. Applications and fees are no longer accepted by mail.
The easy-to-navigate public hunting website contains a wealth of pertinent information about application deadlines, permit numbers, hunting methods, bag limits and previous success rates. A downloadable brochure for each hunting area contains a map, total acreage, a description of the terrain, check-in times, special restrictions, all legal game and baiting rules, etc. The website also provides links to check application status as well as a list of answers to frequently asked questions.
The number of permits available for Texas’ 2020-21 hunting seasons had not been finalized at press time, but last year’s totals were impressive. TPWD offered 9,177 hunting permits last year, including 5,260 permits for use on state owned/managed properties, 1,370 USFS antlerless permits and 2,547 permits designated for national wildlife refuge hunts.
Not surprisingly, some hunts are more popular than others. Those held on areas known for abundant game, liberal limits or producing trophy animals always get plenty of attention.
A good example is the Chaparral WMA in South Texas. The 15,200-acre unit is always the frontrunner among white-tailed deer hunters. Located in La Salle and Dimmit counties, “The Chap” is well known for producing numbers of quality bucks and an occasional giant.
The 11,000 acre Gus Engling WMA and the 13,700 acre Richland Creek WMA (both near Palestine) are among the most popular areas in eastern Texas. Both WMAs produce a fair number of quality bucks each year, and the waterfowl hunting can be outstanding during years with ample water.
The popular private lands dove hunts category will continue this fall. Last year 170 permits were available from six outfitters. Dreibelbis said he expects a similar number of permits to be available this season. A $10 application fee is required from each hunter on the application, but selected hunters are not required to pay any additional hunt fees.
“The private lands dove hunts are definitely popular with our hunters,” Dreibelbis said. “People like the idea of being able to go dove hunting on a premium area for $10. I can’t blame them, either.”
Program participation has always been fairly brisk, but the popularity has spiked since 2014.
That’s the year TPWD did away with its antiquated mail-in application system, ceased publication of a chubby public hunting lands booklet and stepped into the digital age.
Dreibelbis says the drawn hunt program received about 50,000 applications the final year of paper applications. Participation nearly doubled to 99,052 the first year the program went online. The number of applications climbed to 165,753 in 2019.
More quality hunts to choose from and more available permits have certainly made the program more attractive. However, Dreibelbis believes one of the main factors was the 2015 decision to allow hunters to apply for more than one hunt in the same category.
“This change was made in response to survey data where the overwhelming majority of our public hunters were telling us they wanted this functionality,” he said. “Five years later, our survey data suggests that the vast majority of our drawn hunters are still happy with the ability to apply for more than one hunt in a category.”
Participation has never been better, either.
WHETHER YOU’RE a blue-collar hunter on a really tight budget or a rich guy who is feeling particularly lucky, here’s a good deal that’s too good to pass up.
It’s called Big Time Texas Hunts—a lottery-style program run by the TPWD that allows hunters to buy inexpensive chances to win top-notch hunting packages. Chances go on sale May 15.
Winners are selected by computer drawing. The lucky ones get to go on premium hunting trips on some of the best private ranches and wildlife management areas in the state. There are hunts for white-tailed deer, mule deer, desert big horn sheep, turkey, waterfowl, dove, exotics, alligator, turkey, pronghorn antelope, pheasant and quail.
Guides, lodging, food and on-site transportation are provided on most hunts. Winners may bring companions on some hunts.
Entering the sweepstakes is simple. Chances can be purchased anywhere Texas hunting/fishing licenses are sold, by phone, mail or over the Internet.
The cost per entry depends on the method of purchase. In-store, mail and phone entries cost $10. There is a $5 administrative fee for phone-in entries. Online entries are $9 with a $5 administrative fee.
There is no limit on how many chances you can buy, and you do not need a hunting/fishing license to enter. However, a valid license is required to participate in the hunts. All entrants must be at least 17 years old. To learn more, go to tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/btth/.
—story by MATT WILLIAMS