TPWD’s Sweepstakes Program Offers Quality Experiences at Great Prices

Everyone is looking for a bargain these days. Unfortunately, there aren’t many to find. People are paying more for everything from pork chops to Cheetos, and no one seems to know when things might stabilize.

The good news is that inflation has not trickled down to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife’s public hunting program. The same is true for hunting and fishing permits.

The last time the Texans saw a license fee price hike was in fiscal year 2009-10. For example, the cost of a Super Combo license has increased by four dollars ($64 to $68).

In 2004, the annual public hunting license fee increased from $40 to $48, the application fee for TPWD drawn hunts jumped one dollar, and the drawn hunting license fee increased by $5. These prices have not changed since then, but the number and quality of hunts on the Prize Hunt menu have increased significantly.

Hunters can browse and apply for hunts through the drawn hunts link on the TPWD website. You can apply for as many different hunts as you want, but you cannot apply more than once for the same hunt in the same area.

You will need a computer, internet access and an email address to apply. Applications by mail are not accepted.

There are hunts for a variety of game including white-tailed deer, mule deer, alligator, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, exotic species, pheasant, javelin, turkey, dove, wild pigs, squirrel, quail and waterfowl. Hunts take place in state wildlife management areas, state parks, federal wildlife refuges, U.S. Forest Service properties, and select private plots located throughout the state. Some hunts allow the use of firearms, while others are designated as “Archery Only”. There are also several hunts open only to young hunters with an adult supervisor.

Many hunts allow multiple people on the same app. In the event of a draw, everyone in the group can go.

There are four hunting options to choose from: special permit hunts, e-postcard hunts, US Forest Service antlerless permits, and National Wildlife Refuge hunts.

It costs $3 to $10 to apply for most hunts, but some are free. Successful applicants will be selected by computerized lottery. All draws take place shortly after the application deadline.

Additional permit fees are charged to adult participants for most special permit hunts. Hunting fees range from $80 to $130, depending on the length of the hunt.

There is no charge for hunts on private land, guided packages, pronghorn hunts or hunts with special permits for young people only. E-postcard hunts or National Forest antlerless deer permits are also free, but adults must have a valid $48 public hunting permit.

Greg Bludau of College Station is an avid public land hunter who over the years has shot some exceptional big game animals. Bludau, 35, caught these two remarkable white-tailed deer last season, six days apart, while taking part in random hunts in two different TPWD Wildlife Management Areas.(Greg Bludau)

Abundant permits

About 10,000 permits are up for grabs in 62 different categories this year, according to TPWD Public Hunting Coordinator Kelly Edmiston. Edmiston says about 5,300 permits are for hunting in state-run wildlife management areas, state parks, public hunting lands and private lands.

Another 3,100 permits are for hunting in select national wildlife refuges and 1,380 antlerless permits are for use on U.S. Forest Service properties. Approximately 1,500 licenses are available in 14 youth-only categories.

There is a wealth of information on the website that can be useful in tailoring the hunting selection based on the species you want to hunt, preferred hunting methods, distance you want to travel, number of hunters allowed per application and application deadlines.

Hunts are listed by species and type – special permit, e-postcard selection, national refuge and US Forest Service antlerless. Most list the number of licenses available, legal hunting methods, number of applicants from the previous season as well as success rates.

Some hunts attract more attention than others. Edmiston says the exotic and pronghorn hunts are the most played these days. He highlighted two guided exotic hunts (Scimitar-horned Oryx and Gemsbok) at Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the Pronghorn Hunt at Rita Blanca Nationals Grasslands, the Powderhorn Exotic Hunt WMA, and the Bighorn Guided Hunt in Western Canada. Texas as the program’s most popular hunts.

For years, the Chaparral WMA near Cotulla has attracted more applications than any other venue. “The ‘Chap’ remains a top choice among white-tailed deer trophy hunters. In 2020, there were nearly 5,800 applications for his Gun Deer hunt – Any Gender.

Edmiston added that several state parks will join the trolling program this year, while the newly acquired Powderhorn State Park in Calhoun County will offer trolling for the first time. TPWD will also begin handling raffle archery positions for the Muleshoe NWR this year.

Participation peak

Edimston says TPWD’s public hunt program has seen an increase in participation since the pandemic hit.

In 2021, the agency processed nearly 250,000 sweepstakes requests. The bump generated more than $1.2 million in application fees alone — money that is intended to be used to administer the hunts and improve the program.

“The number of people seeking opportunities under the public hunting program has increased dramatically over the past two years,” Edmiston said. “The number of unique clients submitting applications through our online drawing system has increased by almost 30%.

Edmonton said the agency has also seen a 20% increase in annual sales of public hunting licenses. The APHP allows holders access to nearly one million acres of public land for hunting white-tailed deer, wild hog, dove, quail, turkey, waterfowl, rabbit and squirrel hunting in over 180 hunting areas during legal hunting seasons. Areas include wildlife management areas, state parks, and more than 100 dove and small game areas leased from private landowners.

As of June 1, the department had issued more than 53,000 public hunting licenses for the year, generating $2.4 million in gross revenue.

According to the TPWD’s small game surveys, approximately 28% of APHP holders use the department’s dove/small game leases. Edmiston says the program will add eight new dove/small game leases this fall. The new leases are located in Floyd, Bailey, Jim Wells, Milam and Bosque counties.

There aren’t many great bargains these days, but plenty of bargains are available through TPWD’s public hunt program.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by email, [email protected].

Ryan H. Bowman