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Whitetail Deer hunting generates $1.2 billion

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

The White-tailed deer is the most sought-after large game animal in Texas. Every year, according to figures from Texas Parks & Wildlife, White-tailed deer hunting generates $1.2 billion in the state. Nationwide, hunting the White-tailed deer brings in $15.7 billion.

Big Whitetail bucks can bring big, green bucks to local economies. In the 2017-2018 season, over 900,000 Whitetail deer were harvested in Texas. Over 3,000 deer were harvested in this eco-region of Texas.

In 2017-2018, it's estimated by Texas Parks & Wildlife that 918,009 Whitetails were harvested. This eco-region, alone, had well over 3,000 Whitetail harvested. TPWD estimates that there were 14,500 hunters just in this eco-region who spent 79,511 days hunting with a 22.50% success rate.

Texas sold over $170 million in hunting/fishing combo licenses in 2018. Much of the money that boosts the economy also comes from the costs of gas, hotels and restaurants. Since the hunting takes place in rural areas, a significant portion of that money goes to local small businesses.

White-tailed deer hunting brings over a billion dollars to Texas every year.

One area often overlooked is the sell of deer corn and wildlife protein. Local businesses can bring in thousands of dollars a month just on the sale of deer corn during the White-tailed deer season. Many of the local wild game processors are open only during hunting season. Some of these locations take in over 100 deer/day on the weekends. Just basic deer processing, with no sausage or jerky, will run you $120 - $135 per animal. If you take the 3,000+ Whitetails that were harvested here, even at the basic cost, the processing alone can bring in $360,000-$405,000 to the local economy. Add in the price of getting smoked sausage, jerky, chorizo, cured deer hams and breakfast sausage made and the costs run closer to $200 per deer.

Over 98% of land in Texas is privately owned. With lease costs in the thousand, it leaves the frugal hunter to hunt public lands and enter draw hunts in pursuit of the Whitetail deer.

It's not just the hunters' dollar that goes into the kitty. Lease/landowners pay lease fees to TPWD, which go into the proceeds. The lease fees charged by TPWD are based on the size of the lease.

The cost of paying for a hunting lease varies greatly. According to TPWD, there is not a maximum number of hunters allowed per acreage. Some leases can run you $1500/year for a hundred or so acres, while other leases can easily run $10,000/year on larger areas. A quick look at the costs of hunting leases on Texas Parks & Wildlife shows some leases that cost $9000 with a limit of 9 hunters on 8,700 acres, while a $2,100 lease on 161 acres allows 4 hunters. Another lease on 37,000 acres is $6500/year for 10 hunters. 

Many of the leases are only for deer season, while others can be year-round. There are leases that offer day hunts for anywhere from $50/day to $2,600/day. The day hunts typically involve shooting doe or other management deer, and can include "trophy fees," that quickly approach thousands of dollars.

The cost of hunting includes more than just the cost of the lease. Corn feeders usually start at around $150/each, while many larger ones exceed $1,000. Protein feeders are also pricey. Once you have the feeder, there is the corn and protein that you have to purchase. Some feeders hold over 1 ton of corn or protein. If you purchase the corn in 50 lbs bags, you're looking at almost $200 just to fill it one time. Protein is more expensive. Then you must include the time that you spend at the lease working on or filling up feeders.

The cost of a lease might seem steep, but in Texas, 98% of the land is privately owned. For many hunters, this leaves public draw hunts and public land hunts at state-owned areas. Typically, the draw hunts are for does and management bucks A management buck at a public draw hunt is typically any buck with 8 points or less.

Whitetail deer hunting is a boon to local economies throughout west Texas.

Public land hunts are archery only and you can take any deer you want, given you have the appropriate licenses and tags. The costs include more than just the $25 for the hunting license. To hunt public land, you must have a permit, which runs you $48. If you win a draw hunt, you'll have to pay an additional $80 or more for the hunt. It costs anywhere from $3 - $10 per entry for a draw hunt.

Much of the public land allows you to put up blinds or tree stands, provided that you don't use nails or screws to attach the stand to the tree. San Angelo State Park has a couple of thousand acres of land, divided up in over 9 hunting areas, available for archery hunting. Many people come from other areas of the state to hunt deer out there. Once you add in the cost of gas, lodging, deer corn, scent attractants, tree stand/deer blind, food, processing, license and public land permit, the cost can easily approach $500 - $1000 in the blink of an eye.

One key aspect to having healthy deer, that is often overlooked by many people, is the availability of water out here in west Texas. Stock tanks, creeks, rivers and streams have dried up due to the drought. Out of the 314 days so far this year, Ballinger and the surrounding area has only received 29" of rain. October only had .04 inches of rain. To keep a healthy deer population it's recommended that you put out water troughs if there isn't much water available on your property. You can have all of the corn and protein feeders you want, but if you don't have good water available, the deer herd won't be as healthy as is could be. Mineral blocks are another key component to overall deer health and fawn survival. Healthy doe give birth to healthy fawns.

While hunting White-tailed can be a luxury expense, as the non-hunting spouses of most hunters will tell you, it can also be a boon to a local economy. It can bring in thousands of dollars to businesses who earn the majority of their income during the White-tailed deer season.