Hunting Public Land in Texas
Texas Public Hunting Land
Hunting Public Land in Texas is our new favorite past time. Texas is best know for private ranch hunting, especially for big game hunters. But there are many opportunities to hunt for deer, hogs, and other smaller game on over a hundred accessible Wildlife Management Areas across the state of Texas. Moany of the big game hunting opportunities, especial for exotics, are only accessible by winning a tag in the lottery systems. But there is plenty of land open for everyone willing to buy the license. Every year starting in August, hunters can enter lotteries for specific hunts in hope of winning a tag. There are about 100 total lotteries scattered over the seasons and public land areas. Each hunt has a few hundred to a few thousand applicants going after 20 or so tags. The odds are not in your favor. But, if you are lucky enough to land a tag, the success rates for harvesting a deer or other big game can be over 50%.
This is our 6th year to put in a serious effort to hunting public land in Texas, Check out our blog for 2023
No-Draw Public Land
Sam Houston National Park just outside of Houston is a large wilderness area open to deer and hog hunting with an over-the-counter hunting license and public land hunting permit. These two permits are available for both in-state and out of state residence, and grant you access to all sorts of hunting opportunities. Sam Houston and Caddo are two of the areas you can hunt deer with a rifle with an over the counter licenses. If you are willing to hunt with a bow there are many other options, and you can hunt deer with a shotgun and slugs just outside of San Angelo and several other places.
My Favorite Public Hunting Land spots in Texas
- Sam Houston National Forrest
- Caddo National Grasslands
- Pipeline road near Waco
- Twin Buttes San Angelo (Slugs, no rifles, exotics in the area)
- Lake Somerville (Bow Only)
- Lake Marlin (Bow only)
You need an additional permit for doe’s with a rifle in all the areas except Waco. The doe permits are free to enter they drawing, and we have one 3 of them over 4 years with two hunters applying. You are allowed to harvest a doe with a muzzle loader or a bow without the special doe permit in most other public hunting areas. We made our first trip to Sam Houston in 2018 for a few days near the end of the season, another trip in 2019, and have now made a few more trips. For 2023 I landed a doe permit, and got withing 50 yards of a nice doe before opening day. The Caddo Grasslands and a new Pipeline Property near Waco are open to gun season for deer and hogs. Lake Marlin and Sommer are close and have lots of deer, but are bow only.
Caddo National Grasslands
One of the most popular public hunting grounds in Texas, The Caddo National Grasslands are a set of tracks of lands open for deer and hog hunting for bow and gun seasons. No doe permit required for bow season, general gun season requires antlers permit by draw to take a doe. Hunting and Public Land permit required. I have made two trip to the Grasslands and have seen plenty of hogs and does, no bucks yet.
The area is two sets of units that are located about 20 miles apart. Each section has about 10 un-connected areas that average a few hundred archers each. It is a 17,873-acre protected area that was purchased in the 1930s. The units to the South are grasslands with small sections of woods. The Northern section is all tick woods. Unfortunately, the better hunting is in the south with only one lame campground. The camp grounds in the Northern section are nice and plentiful, with paid grounds including bathroom located on the lake shore. Free and primitive grounds in the woods had single public port-a-potty at most locations. The fancy paid units on the lake were empty, all the free areas had a few other campers on site.
The trips to the Grasslands has been fun, with an exciting look at a few animals that were legal to shoot.. I had to get used to the notion of playing dodge with the other public land hunters. There cows in the grasslands you have to keep your eye on, with a few very small cows back in the woods looking similar to a large hog. I’m definably going to check this place out for hogs when deer season is over.
Waco Pipeline Road
New to the public hunting lands options the past few years, a 12,000 acres strip of land that has opened up east of Waco. My first trip to the area was during bow season. I was the only hunter on the land and got within about 75 yards of good sized doe. You can hunt this area during rifle season and you did not need a special doe permit for gun season. My second trip I didn’t see any deer. I did see about 20 other hunters and few armadillos. The property has a nice mix of open spaces, woods, a few ponds, and creeks that are not too thick.
Sam Houston National Park
Just outside of College Station and north of Houston, Sam Houston Nation Park is one of the large tracks of public land where the hunter can walk in and take a buck with a rifle with just your Texas hunting license and the Annual Public Hunting Permit. Season starts Nov 2 for 2019. Like any public land, there is extreme hunting pressure these days. If you want a chance of a successful hunt, you will need to work hard to hike into a place few hunters are willing to go.
We made our first trip to Sam Houston last year during the tail end of deer season, so we didn’t see much, but it was still a cool place to go camping and walk around. Some of the woods are very thick, while other areas have decent trails and a good areas to stalk deer and hogs. Our second trip to Sam Houston in 2019 was a nice trip. I found one deer that I got my scope on for just a brief second. We also got to scout out more ground and go deeper into the woods, Success! At least one trip a year to this place is usually on the to-do list.
Twin Buttes Reservoir
We made several trips out to the far west town of San Angelo the past few years, and it’s now one of our favorite Texas hunting destinations. The season for both white tail deer and exotics stays open late into the season. Some of the area is bow only, but most of the enormous amount of public hunting land is open for shotgun with slugs. There are a handful of different areas around the main lake that is just a few miles from the cool little town. I’ve been staying at a cheap motel just a few blocks from main entertainment district and driving into the hunting grounds each day. I have also seen a good amount of white tail deer, one axis deer, a fair amount of dead blackbuck antelope, 2 live blackbucks, a handful of rabbits, and no hogs. It’s one of my favorite places to hunt in Texas.
Applying for Public Hunting Land Draw tags
You have to create an account with The Texas Wildlife and supply a credit card. After you have created your account, the cost is $3 to enter most hunts. If you win, then you have the right to purchase the tag and the cost is typically around $80. The deadlines start in August and for the most part are done by the end of September. If you start applying each year you will start to accumulate preference points and increase your chances of winning future lotteries. After many years of hunting public land in other states, I created my account and have decided to play the lottery in Texas. Here are the hi-lights of my wish.
Pronghorns in the pan handle
One of the big prize tags of the year, camp and spot and stalk possible in a real wilderness setting.
So is it impossible to go hunting on public land without winning one of the rare lottery tags? No there are still a few options available to the Texas Hunter to purchase an over-the-counter tag and go on a hunt.
Deer tags near Austin Texas
Most of the deer tags near Austin are in small areas with designated blinds. So you can not spot and stalk, and there is no great adventure hiking around the large wilderness area. On the plus side, the success rates for these hunts are very high. I was less excited about these hunts, but since a few of the areas including Perdenalas Falls and The Guadalupe River are just a short drive from my house, I decided it was worth a shot
Duck and bird hunting on the coast
The Texas Gulf Coast is home to the largest undeveloped beach in the world. Padre Island spans over 100 miles starting just outside of Corpus Cristi down south to the town of South Padres. The entire beach and surrounding area is accessible public land and completely un- developed. You are allowed to drive and camp on the beach, and there are sand dunes and marsh lands to the east. There is a man made cut in the middle of the island, so you can’t drive from one end to the other, and the now 2 islands are known as North and South Padre Island. You will need a small boat and other water\duck gear to hunt this area. While this is one of the great wilderness areas in Texas, there are people everywhere on the beach. It can be a bit of a party atmosphere with RV’s campers and trucks lined up for miles blaring music and drinking it up. Last time I went camping, I had to drive about 5 miles down the beach before I could grab the first little tent camping spot I found. While you can drive you car, it’s better to have a 4×4 or truck.
Over the counter tags
To hunt any of the public land in Texas you need to purchase the Annual Public Hunting in addition to your regular hunting license. With this permit you will gain access to many areas for bird hunting, and the only big wilderness area for Whitetail open to the public in Texas. When you purchase this additional permit, you will also receive a book with all the regulations and maps for each area. You can also download the book from the Annual Public Hunting Website -Click Here
The Texas dove season
Dove hunting is a popular past time in Texas, and one of the most affordable hunts you can find. There are all sorts of place to go dove hunting on public land in Texas. We have made a few trips around the Austin area and have got a few shots off at Lake Granger. We need some decoys to help this hunt out, and a little practice on the skeet range.
Wild hogs are an invasive species in the United States, and a growing problems to farmers and ranchers in Texas. So there is no season for them and you can shoot them 365 days a year. So where are the best places to shoot them on public land?
Hunting private land
While this is article about hunting public land in Texas, that isn’t always an easy option. For those willing to spend some money and be a little less sporty about it, here is a quick overview of your options.
Texas is home to a wide selection of private hunting ranches. They can range from some dude’s 10 acre back yard to luxurious 10,000+ acre super ranches. The price tags accordingly range from about $200 to $10,000+ with a decent hunt probably going in the $500 – $1000 range. What you want to hunt makes a big difference in the price tag.
Many of the private ranches raise non-native species like elk, axis deer, mountain goats, and a wide range of other popular species one might find in other parts of the world. An elk will cost you a pretty penny. A doe axis deer can be harvested for as little as a few hundred bucks. Many of these non-natives, like the axis deer imported from Africa, do not have a hunting season. So like the hogs, you can shoot an Axis deer 365 days a year. Hogs are your easiest and cheapest option. You can sometimes find hunts advertised on Craigslist starting at $200.