It’s only July, but fall’s cooler weather and the long line of hunting seasons that come with it will be here before you know it. Whether you are a hardcore hunter looking to explore new territory, a novice without a lease or simply restricted by a limited budget, now is a great time to head to the drawing board.

The drawing board in question is located within the drawn hunts link in the public hunting section of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website, tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/.

You can visit the site to browse dozens of hunt categories and register for shots at thousands of low cost hunting permits that will be awarded to successful applicants over the next few months as part of TPWD’s popular annual drawn hunts program.

TPWD launched the 2021-22 menu of drawn hunts just ahead of the July 4 holiday. Think of it like a cyber gateway to a wealth of cheap hunting trips. Some are really rich in quality.

The online program is offering hunting permits for all sorts of big game animals, birds, exotics, small game and non-game animals on public and private lands statewide. Among them are white-tailed deer, mule deer, alligator, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, exotics, javelina, turkey dove and feral hogs, squirrel, quail and teal.

There four hunt options to select from — Special Permit Hunts, E-Post Card Hunts, U.S. Forest Service Antlerless Permits and National Wildlife Refuge Hunts.

Resident and non-resident hunters can apply for Special Permit Hunts and National Wildlife Refuge Hunts individually, with a partner or as a small group for as little as $3-$10 per application. The permits are awarded by random computer draw and those adults chosen may be required to pay a separate permit fee of $80-$130, depending on the hunt category. Youth hunters under 17 are always free, regardless of the category.

That’s a bargain price structure considering some the hunts last for 4-5 days on well-managed tracts that see limited hunting pressure over the course of the season.

Some of the properties are known for above average trophy potential and/or high success rates. In many cases, hunters are allowed to take multiple animals, including unlimited numbers of feral hogs and coyotes.

The E-Postcard and USFS antlerless permits are unique from the other options. There is no application fee or hunt fee required. However, hunters 17 and older are required to have a current Annual Public Hunting Permit before applying. The 2021-22 APHP goes on sale Aug. 15, along with new hunting licenses.

Know the Ropes

The drawn hunt menu is ripe with useful information. It includes hunt dates, application numbers/success rates from last year, bag limits, fees, number of available permits and downloadable maps. A lengthy list of frequently asked questions will help guide first-timers through the application process.

It’s important to pay attention to listed application deadlines, too. The cutoff date for applications varies with the hunt category.

The first deadline for assorted alligator and private lands dove hunts falls on Aug. 1, followed by an Aug. 15 deadline for Archery Deer, Archery Mule Deer, Javelina and two pronghorn categories. Application deadlines in the 52 remaining categories will occur on the first and 15th day of the month through Nov. 1.

Sept 1 and Sept. 15 are the deadlines for drawings in most white-tailed deer hunting categories. Permit drawings are held on the first business day after the deadline.

It is worth noting that you need to have access to a computer, internet access and an active e-mail address to apply. A public library is a good source if you don’t have online access.

Only successful applicants will notified through e-mail. Carry over loyalty points are awarded to unsuccessful applicants. Loyalty points boost the odds of getting drawn when you reapply for a specific hunt the following year.

Permits by the Bunches

TPWD Public Hunting Program Coordinator Kelly Edmiston says the program will award nearly 10,000 permits to applicants in 61 different categories this year. The overall total is up from nearly 9,500 permits available in 56 categories last year.

About 5,300 of the permits are for hunts on state-run wildlife management areas, state parks, public hunt lands and private lands. Another 3,200 permits are for hunts on select national wildlife refuges and 1,345 antlerless permits designated for use on U.S. Forest Service properties. About 1,400 permits are available in 15 Youth Only categories.

The age window for youth hunts is 8-16 on state properties; 9-16 on national wildlife refuges. All youths must be accompanied in the field by an adult 18 and over who is hunter education certified. No more than three applications may be submitted for any Youth Hunt category.

The E-Postcard and USFS antlerless permits are unique from other public draw hunt options. There is no application fee or hunt fee required. However, hunters 17 and older are required to have a current APHP before applying. The 2020-21 APHP goes on sale Aug. 15, along with new hunting licenses. 

New Additions

The increase in draw permits and categories this season is due in part to the expansion of private lands hunts that include three new categories for quail, spring turkey and feral hog.

Additionally, Edmiston says two more national wildlife refuges came onboard with deer hunts this year. This brings total number of participating NWRs to nine.

The newest NWR additions include the 8,493-acre Caddo NWR near Karnack and the 7,000 Neches River NWR near Jacksonville. All NWR hunts will be administered by NWR staff.

Participation Brisk

TPWD’s drawn hunt program has a strong contingent of loyal followers that has steadily increased since 2014-15. That’s when the department nixed an antiquated paper application/mail-in process and relaxed a rule that historically prohibited hunters from turning in more than one application in the same hunt category.

The number of applications doubled from about 50,000 to 100,000 during the first year online and participation has steadily climbed every year since, according Justin Dreibelbis, TPWD’s private lands and public hunting program director.

The program witnessed a significant spike in applications last year, jumping from around 166,000 in 2019 to more than 227,000 ahead of the 2020-21 hunting season.

Experts believe the 37 percent increase can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cabin fever that came with it.

Millions of people were off work or working from home at the height of the pandemic and many of them had more disposable income to spend on outdoor recreation. Edmiston said there also was a noticeable upswing in interest in outdoor activities, because of group gathering restrictions that stifled participation in other recreational activities.

“Hunting is one of those activities which can be both social and “socially distant,” he said.

APHP, License Sales Jump Too

TPWD also saw an uptick in hunting/fising license sales and purchases of Annual Public Hunting Permits last year.

The $48 APHP provides year-round access for hunting during legal seasons on more than 1 million acres of land, plus more than 40,000 acres of private property the department has leased exclusively for dove and small game hunting.

Edmiston said there were 54,000 APHP’s sold through the end of May 2021. The total represents a 20 percent increase over the previous year, generating more than $2.5 million for use in maintaining and improving one of the best public hunting programs in the country.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

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