Because we don’t have a hunting lease, and probably couldn’t afford one anyway, Steve and I rely on the Texas public hunt system for our hunting adventures. We have been doing this for many years and it has worked out well for us. Usually. By hunting this way we often get to meet new and interesting people and see parts of Texas many people don’t even know exist.
Here is my guide to the Texas public hunt Draw and APH (Annual Public Hunting) system and how it works. TPWD tends to change things and how they are done so I will try to update this guide as changes come to my attention. However, it is possible that things stated herein are already outdated.
In years past, of which there have been an alarming number of, TPWD would mail out a hunt booklet to hopeful applicants. The Applications for Drawings on Public Hunting Lands booklet was the eagerly awaited means by which hunters would apply, by mail, for one hunt in each category, i.e. Gun Deer, Feral Hog, etc. These applications would be placed into a lottery and drawn at the applicable time. Winners would then be notified by mail or phone.
The days of excitement and anticipation of waiting for the hunt book to arrive are long gone. Now all drawn hunts are provided on-line, even the “post card” hunts which used to require mailing in a simple post card to each hunt area for an in-house draw. Today, all hunts are available through the on-line system only. As an added benefit a hunter can apply for as many hunts as they wish in each category. Also a hunter can check the status of their application at any time and quickly learn if they had won a hunt and pay for their permit.
Today the system is much different. As stated, everything is on line. Each year, around early to mid July, TPWD updates the draw hunt site with the new hunts for that year. To apply you only need to review the hunts offered, pick the hunt you want, add it to your cart and then pay the fee. Usually $3 per person per hunt. Some hunts are $10 PP and a few don’t cost anything.
Then you wait.
A day or two after the deadline (on the 1st or 15th of the month) for the hunt a drawing is conducted. If you were lucky enough to win a hunt you are usually notified by email. But the impatient among you, like me, can check the status of all of your applications anytime.
So how does each area determine how many permits to give out? WMA’s (Wildlife Management Areas), State Parks, SNA’s (State Natural Areas) and even private land and Federal properties will each have done studies and taken censuses of their deer/target species populations and determined how many animals needed to be/could be taken to maintain healthy numbers.
Some areas, although public land, never allow hunting because the deer numbers are at or below optimal. Some areas are temporarily impacted by weather, fire, or other events which may close hunting for a time while the land and animal populations recover. Other areas may need to thin out their populations to help them through rough years or remove older animals. And, unfortunately, some areas don’t have public hunts because the area manager doesn’t want to be bothered by them. It takes experience and intimate knowledge of each specific area and it’s carrying capacity to decide what would be best.
Once these harvestable numbers are arrived at, formulas, tables and and a bit of magic are used to decide how many hunters could be allowed to hunt and how many animals could be taken so as to not adversely impact the property. All to arrive at one simple number. The amount of permits which will be drawn for that hunt.
But it isn’t even that simple because the style of hunting is also taken into consideration. Most hunts fall into two types. By Compartment, or By Assigned Blind. By compartment hunt areas usually have a bit of flexibility on how many hunters the area can accommodate. By assigned blind areas are pretty much limited by the number of blinds available,
Generally, this means that the hunter (or group of hunters) is given a specific area within the property in which to hunt. A map is provided to detail the boundaries of the area. Usually bordered by roads, fences or other easily recognizable barriers. Hunting is allowed only within these boundaries. This style of hunting is often used on larger, more primitive areas without significant people populations nearby.
Compartment hunting allows hunters to scout out likely areas and set up where and how they prefer. It also allows groups of hunters, families or buddies to hunt together.
By Assigned Blind
With this type, a hunter is assigned a “blind” from which to hunt. This can mean anything from a cattle panel wrapped in burlap, a tripod or a “pop-up” ground blind to a lovely tower blind with sliding windows and carpeted floor.
Whichever the case, it is from this spot, and usually ONLY this spot, That you may hunt. In most cases you are not allowed to leave the blind except to place bait (if allowed) or retrieve a downed animal. Sometimes not even then.
The reasons for this strict control are varied but usually have to do with safety. Sometimes hunters are very close to one another due to the size of the property. Wandering about could allow them to ruin another hunters hunt or unknowingly place them within range of another hunter. Sometimes it is because the hunt is within a populous area and only a few spots are safe to shoot from without putting other people in danger from stray or misdirected projectiles. By setting the area, and even direction, in which shots are taken, safety can be better maintained. And sometimes it is because the hunt manager just wants it that way.
In some cases hunters may actually be taken to and from their assigned blinds by department personnel. This helps to ensure everyone is where they should be and gives a better idea of who is actually out hunting. In the unfortunate event someone is injured or has an emergency their exact whereabouts are known and help can arrive quicker. It is also wonderful when you have an animal down because extra help loading it is available.
This is the person who has ultimate say over how the hunt is conducted, what type and number of species may be taken, the type of weapon which may be used and even what times your are allowed to hunt. The Hunt Manager has the ability to modify your permit on the spot. In other words, the Hunt Manager can change how many animals you are allowed to take or add animals they want removed. It is quite possible during orientation you learn that an extra deer may be allowed or some other species not listed on your permit are now legal game. You could easily be there for a deer hunt but find out you could also take an exotic or predator if the opportunity presents. It is also possible to learn that some unforeseen circumstance has suddenly affected the area and your two deer limit just got cut to one. The Hunt Manager has the final say regardless of what your permit states.
This is when all the rules and regulations affecting your hunt are laid out. Sometimes this is an informal gathering stating the rules before cutting you loose and other times everyone files into a building for a lengthy PowerPoint presentation. Remember, just because your permit states that such and such animals may be taken, the Hunt Manager has the ultimate say and things can change. Pay attention. It has been my experience that hunters who find themselves in trouble during their hunt could have avoided it if they had only LISTENED during orientation.
Picking where to hunt.
It is not un-common, once every one is checked in, for hunters to do a secondary draw on site to pick their hunt locations. Sometimes you randomly draw for blinds or compartments. Other times the hunt coordinators assign the blinds or compartments to you. Since each hunt area seems to do things differently I won’t go into it too much. The most important thing I have found is what you do after your blind or compartment is assigned.
If possible approach the hunt coordinator/s and ask them about your specific spot. Remember. They know their areas. It is what they do. If they have put on many hunts they also know what other hunters have seen in or taken from your area in the past. Pick their brains. Ask questions. This will help you make decisions on which areas to set up in or watch closely while you hunt.
On the day of the hunt some areas may still have room for even more hunters. These extra spots can become standby positions if the Hunt Manager allows. Standby positions can come about in many way. After all of the drawn hunters are notified some may choose not to hunt or they don’t pay for their permits in time. Sometimes life happens and hunters can’t hunt after all. Sometimes the area sets aside spots for standby positions. And sometimes things can be re-arranged to allow for more hunters.
However it happens, standby positions are a way to hunt an area you were not drawn for. Most areas publish whether they will allow standbys. Calling ahead is a great way to know if any are available. Otherwise you may make a long trip for nothing. In general you have to show up the first day of the hunt, usually around 10 am. and fill out a standby card. Then, after all of the drawn hunters are checked in, the hunt coordinators will know how many spots are still open. If there are less standby applicants than spots everybody gets to hunt! If there are more applicants than room then a quick on-site drawing is held. If you are one of the lucky ones, you get to hunt! You will still have to pay the permit fee like everyone else. Again, check the website or call the area ahead of time to see how this permit is paid. Some areas will not accept cash.
Annual Public Hunting
This is different from the public hunt draw system detailed above, although some properties may participate in both types. Texas public hunting lands are open to each person who purchases an Annual Public Hunt Permit (currently $48). Once you have purchased this permit over a million acres of public land are open to you.
But you don’t just get to run out and start hunting. You are gonna need to know where all of these glorious places to hunt are. You are going to need… a treasure map!
The most important tool for this purpose is the Public Hunting Lands map booklet. Sometimes you are given this when you purchase your permit. More often than not it will be mailed to you. But don’t despair. You can find everything you need to know on-line.
Looking over the hundreds of properties available and trying to pick one can be a bit overwhelming at first. But TPWD had made it easy. By using the tables and indexes in the booklet, or the search feature on-line, you can quickly narrow down your choices by type of game and area. If you know what you want to hunt and about where you want to hunt it then picking the right property is fairly straightforward.
But not so fast…
Each hunt area has its own specific rules. Deer or pigs may be allowed but only with a shotgun or with archery equipment. Baiting may or may not be allowed. Once you have narrowed down your area be sure to check out the details specific to that property.
Most APH properties do not have on site staff. To help keep track of who is using the area, on site registration (OSR) may be required. Sometimes this is in the form of a slip of paper, available on site or in the back of the map booklet, deposited into a box. Some areas allow sign in by electronic means (eOSR). Once again the map booklet will state whether registration is necessary or not and in what form. Either way make sure you register. Otherwise, APH or not, you are there in violation.
These hunts bridge the gap between both drawn hunts and and annual public hunting. They are “drawn hunts” in that hunters utilize the on-line site to apply and the drawing is done through that system. But, unlike most draw hunts, they don’t charge a fee if you “win” a permit. You do, however, have to possess an Annual public Hunting Permit to apply.
I hope this overview helps you feel a bit more confident in using the Texas Public Hunting system.
Check out this link to read about our adventures in the Texas Public Hunt System.