Time to enter the TPWD Draw Hunts!
The cost of a hunting lease in west Texas ranges from $5/acre up to $30/acre. The cost can depend on several variables such as; food and cover for deer, are there healthy, well managed deer herds? What is the fencing situation? Other considerations are utilities, whether or not there is a cabin or other structure for hunters to stay in as well as other game that might be available, such as dove, duck, hogs and turkey. Are there exotics such as Axis and Blackbuck? Does the lease have stock ponds, streams, rivers or creeks for the wildlife?
There is also the consideration of the number of hunters on the lease. Some leases will put 10 or more hunters on 1,200 acres. How many days a year can you hunt without having someone else on the lease, shooting less then 100 acres away from you? What days can you hunt? Is it a year-round lease? Lease luxuries are often few and far between.
But there are other options for hunting deer, turkey, Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Axis, Mule Deer, Gemsbok, Bighorn Sheep and waterfowl in Texas. That option is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Draw Hunts.
The draw hunts range from $3 per entry up to $10 per entry. It depends on if you’re hunting TPWD land or private land that landowners allow draw hunts for to help manage deer populations. If you’re drawn, there is an additional fee, ranging from $80 on up, for the given hunt.
The locations span the state and offer opportunities for ducks, geese and Sandhill Cranes in Dimmitt, TX to Mule Deer in Big Bend State Park, Exotics from Mason Mountain to Elephant Gap, Pronghorn antelope up in the Panhandle area. Deer are available in almost every TPWD location across the state. There are also National Wildlife Refuge hunts available in the draw hunts. These range from Balcones Canyonlands to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Currently there are 9 hunts available in National Wildlife Refuges and several US Forest Service hunts.There is no fee to enter the US Forest Service hunt draw.
TPWD also offers different categories in the hunts, such as muzzle loaders only, youth hunts, gun hunts, etc. Some hunts, such as for larger game animals, have a minimum rifle caliber requirement, typically it requires a caliber higher than .25 caliber.
Some hunts are for anterless or spikes only while others are any management deer, typically 8 points or less. Many of these management hunts are on private ranches where the landowner partners with TPWD to help cull his herds to keep the deer healthy. Areas overpopulated with deer will have poor health. The flora and browse will be eaten away and deer can starve. A starving deer is more susceptible to injury and disease.
In an article for the Runnels County Register last year, Justin Dreibelbis, the TPWD program director for the Private Lands and Public Hunt program, said that the public lands and private draw hunts started some time in the 1950s. While the numbers from the beginning of the program are buried deep in a file box somewhere, Dreibelbis points out, “This year there will be 9,450 individual draws and there will be 534 groups of hunters drawn.” Those 9,450 hunts have above average success rates, although you aren’t guaranteed that you’ll always get a shot.
While adults make up the majority of the hunters, Dreibelbis says that they also have youth hunts, “The youth hunt for free. In the non-youth hunts, there is a fee ranging from eighty dollars to one hundred-thirty dollars depending on the length of the hunt. For the youth hunts, there is no fee, either to enter the draw or to hunt if drawn. They’re completely free.”
TPWD also offers loyalty points for hunters who don’t get drawn. According to Dreibelbis, “If you enter for five years and don’t get drawn, you’ll get six entries during the sixth year you enter that hunt.” If you enter a “Gun deer - Either Sex” at San Angelo State park and don’t get drawn, you’ll build up loyalty points in that specific hunt.
I have personal experience with the hunts, having entered them for the last 2 decades or so. I have been drawn to hunt private ranches as well as Balcones Canyonlands, Dimmitt Playa, Brownwood State Park and several other locations. The TPWD staff or Federal Game Wardens and rangers have always been kind and supportive. In most cases they will set up blinds a couple of days before you arrive but some ares have permanent blinds, such a San Angelo State Park.
Each location within the TPWD hunts is different. Some locations will have a superintendent or regional director that will have blinds and allow baiting with corn and other deer attractants, while others won’t allow baiting at all. The federal locations don’t allow any baiting and you can’t even have corn in the bed of your pickup truck. Make sure to check the rules on the hunt information before entering the hunt.You can also have more than one person on an entry. If you do enter and you’re drawn, no one will be allowed to hunt with you unless it’s a youth hunt or handicapped hunter.
You can browse the available hunts by going to the TPWD homepage, www.tpwd.texas.gov and clicking on the “Hunt” tab.