Texas is a big hunting state. Alligators, javelinas, mule deer, pronghorn, turkeys, waterfowl and upland birds, especially quail, lure many Texans out of doors and attract a lot of out-of-state hunters. But the state is most famous for their big-antlered whitetails. If you’re looking for a good whitetail trophy anybody would be proud to put on the wall, Texas should be on top of your list.
How do you hunt deer in Texas?
The most common method of deer hunting in Texas is from a permanent blind or high seat. The blinds are often positioned over bait sites. Baiting, including with automatic feeders, is not only legal but actively practiced in Texas because without artificial feeding it’s hard or impossible to maintain the high numbers of animals that Texas game ranches are famous for. The ranch owners or managers, especially on well-managed areas with high densities of both native and introduced species, typically do not want to add an extra disturbance factor in the form of hunters wandering about the territory, thus the popularity of hunting from blinds. However, some ranches offer African style walk-and-stalk hunts.
Most people think of Texas as a wide open prairie, but in fact the lion’s share of the state territory is thick and brushy. Rolling hills are common, and in some parts of the states the going can be pretty tough. Beware of an occasional rattlesnake as well. The whitetail season falls on the time when temperatures are not easy to predict: it can be as hot as 90 degrees or as cold as 30. Most outfitters recommend to pack a medium height jacket and additional insulation, including neck gaiter and gloves.
You’re likely to see a lot of different animals in the course of your hunt. There may be other kinds of deer: red deer, fallow deer, elk, Pere David’s deer, axis deer. Other introduced animals include Asian antelopes, nilgai and blackbuck; sport hunting for them in countries of their natural range is closed, but they are abundant and perfectly huntable on Texas game ranches. There are also African species like oryx that give you an opportunity to experience an African safari without leaving the USA – an opportunity especially welcome these days. And of course there’s the feral hog, the problem animal that is a free-for-all no-holds-barred in Texas and can be famously pursued by any means.
When to go?
Archery hunts for free-range deer start in early October and run through early January. The general firearms season is November to January, and covers the rut, which typically begins in early November and continues until mid-December. The rut is the time of choice for many whitetail hunters. However, good outfitters can put you onto deer using their feeding strategies both in the pre-rut period, and especially post-rut. High number of deer ensures that you’ve got a good chance even at the end of the season.
Even though you may be hunting an exotic species on private land, a non-resident hunter still needs a general Texas hunting license. The license is available online at TPWD or at all Walmarts. An all-year license costs $350 but for a short-term visiting hunter there’s a 5 Day non-resident license for $48. When hunting on public land, you’re required to wear at least 400 square inches of blaze orange. Many private landowners and game ranchers strongly encourage blaze orange, too. It goes without saying that you need the landowner permission if hunting on private land.
How much does it cost?
Management, spike buck, and doe hunts may start as low as $650, and typically run between $1,500 and $2,000 for a 3-5-day hunt with food and lodging included. You may have a trophy buck hunt for this price, too, but be sure to check the details of the package. Usually, the low price includes a trophy animal under a certain threshold. For example, a hunt may cost $1,750 with a buck included, but the price will be for a “management” buck” with 7-8 point antlers, scoring 130” or less. The same hunt if you harvest a 8-10 point buck will be priced at $3,000 or so. Deer in the 200+ range may cost you up to $10,000 in trophy fees.
Unlimited number of hogs are usually thrown in for good measure. Other exotics carry a fee according to a price list. Blackbuck antelopes, various sheep (e.g. mouflon, Barbary sheep, and Texas Dall’s sheep), and axis deer usually cost about $2,000-$2,500; animals such as scimitar oryx, red and fallow deer may go up to $4,000 range. If such an animal walks into your blind in the course of a deer hunt, in most cases you can just go ahead and lay it low, but be sure to a) ask the guide if any animals were ‘reserved’ for other hunters; and b) study the price list carefully. Texas may be the most gun-, bow- and hunter-friendly place in the world, but there, too, you should think before you pull the trigger or release an arrow!
Read also: Barbary Bighorns of West Texas by James Reed
As for other costs, the Texas hunting license has already been mentioned. Field trophy preparation and basic butchering is included in the price of most hunts; inquire about the extra costs for full-scale processing and use of the freezer. Don’t forget to budget for tips, too. A rule of thumb is about 10% of your bill to the guide, and a few more dollars to the chef and other stuff. However, tipping is always at your discretion and depends on your satisfaction with the service provided.
Read also: A Tip or Two by Alex McDonald
Texas Game Ranches
Unlike some other states, Texas does not require a license to run a game ranch or be a big-game hunting guides. And, all in all, it makes a good case against government regulation. For most owners and guides it is a work of love. “I‘ve been hunting since I was a kid and we, my ranch partner Daniel and I, both have been bow hunting for decades” says Will, one of the two partners at 4 Amigos Ranch. But you won’t go far on love alone. It also takes education and experience. “Daniel is a wildlife biologist by degree. He is a consultant for several ranches. And I’ve been managing hunts and hunters for over 25 years.”
Competition is high and if hunters don’t like something, they’re free to go somewhere else. “It takes funding, great employees, a nice lodge, a good ranch and good marketing to start a game ranch” Without any licensing or regulation, on private initiative alone, the Texas game industry is going strong and leaves nothing to other, more regulated, countries and states. “We are having a blast.”
Like in South Africa and Namibia, most lodges provide comfortable family-friendly facilities, and many offer opportunities for entertainment of family members. This makes deer hunting in Texas a good choice for a beginner hunter, a family trip, and/or for someone who wants to introduce a younger or lesser experienced hunter to the tradition. Have a look at our selection of deer hunts in Texas and see if it’s for you.