Traditions run deep in Texas, whether that's Friday night rodeos, football, cowboy hats, or barbecue. And one of those important Lone Star State traditions is hunting.
Each fall more than a million Texans head out in search of game, and the list of huntable species is larger here than almost anywhere else.
From the Piney Woods in the eastern part of the state to the desert habitat around Big Bend and in the Trans-Pecos regions you'll find an abundance of hunting opportunities for everything from upland game to exotic species.
But Texas has also been at the forefront of many movements in the hunting world; this is the birthplace of modern deer management and leased hunting land. Few places have invested as much time and money into preserving game, hunting rights and statewide conservation initiatives.
As habitat has been lost or altered in other areas Texas biologists are leading the way with efforts to restore native grasslands, eradicate harmful invasive species and ensure that future generations of hunters enjoy the resources that have existed here since the first pioneering settlers traveled to this wide-open country.
To say that Texas is big is an understatement. The Lone Star State covers more than seven percent of the surface area of the country — 268,597 square miles to be exact.
Brewster County alone is larger than Connecticut, and the massive King Ranch in the southern portion of the state is roughly the same size as Rhode Island. If you are in Texarkana you're geographically closer to Cincinnati, Ohio than El Paso.
That immense size coupled with proper management and ample hunting opportunities makes Texas one of the greatest hunting destinations in the United States. Here's a look at just some of what the Lone Star State has to offer sportsmen and women.
Texas is the home of big deer, and each year whitetail hunters generate more than two billion dollars for the Texas economy. There are more than a million acres of public hunting land, but many of the biggest bucks exist on private ranches. Proper management has made the state home to some absolutely massive deer, and your chances of encountering a book buck in Texas are very high if you're hunting the right property.
With high buck-to-doe ratios rutting activity is intense, and techniques like rattling (which was popularized here decades ago) work well to draw the biggest bucks out of the fortresses of thorn. But even if your objective is to simply fill the freezer there's also great opportunity here; a cull buck or doe hunt on managed ranch land can provide outstanding table fare at a very reasonable price.
Muleys, Bighorns, and Speed Goats
Whitetails certainly aren't the only deer species in Texas, though. The state is home to some outstanding mule deer, and careful management techniques have helped keep numbers here relatively high.
Plus, trophy potential is excellent. There are also plenty of pronghorn antelope in the far western portion of the state, and the wide-open grassy plains are a great place to find a good speed goat. Hudspeth County has accounted for more than a hundred Boone & Crockett antelope, so there's no question that the animals have the genetics required to reach immense size.
For the lucky few there's also the opportunity to hunt bighorn sheep, one of the country's most sought-after trophies. The odds are slim — only about two or three sheep tags are issued on state land every year — but for just nine dollars you can enter to win the state's Texas Grand Slam package which includes guided hunts for the "Big Four" (bighorn sheep, antelope, mule deer, and whitetails) and, as an added bonus, a guest can tag along and taxidermy services are provided. To say that this the hunt of a lifetime is an understatement.
At the turn of the twentieth century wild turkeys had nearly been eradicated in Texas, but work by landowners and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) have helped bolster numbers. Eastern turkeys were reestablished in the state in the 1980s and 1990s, and currently the birds are flourishing in East Texas.
The main draw for most hunters is the Rio Grande turkey, which live in the central portion of the state. With more than a half-million birds estimated to be living in Texas turkey hunting opportunities abound. With ample opportunities and affordable prices Texas is a great destination for the out-of-state hunter who is looking for high odds of success or who needs a Rio for their Grand Slam.
Texas ranchers began importing exotic species like fallow and axis deer, blackbuck, nilgai, and aoudad during the last century and since that time many of these ungulate species have flourished. There is currently no closed season on exotics and no bag limit (although a hunting license is required) and many landowners offer opportunities for these species at an affordable rate.
Interestingly, since their introduction many of these species now exist in greater numbers in Texas than in their native ranges. Some of these exotics provide excellent table fare, too — axis deer and nilgai are considered to be some of the most delicious of all wild game species. Don't be fooled into thinking that just because these exotic species are not native to Texas they always make for an easy hunt. The free-ranging aoudad that live in the remote mountains of south and west Texas are wary and hard to hunt, and chasing them in this rugged country is as tough as many high-mountain hunts for native game.
Upland Birds and Waterfowl
Texas ranks as one of the most underrated waterfowl hunting destinations in the country. With huge numbers of migratory birds working their way south along the coast places like Matagorda Island are fantastic destinations for a wide-range of waterfowl species, and as an added bonus the weather here is oftentimes far more agreeable than areas farther north on the flyway.
Most of the country's guided dove hunts take place in Texas, and harvesting these birds and cooking them (wrapped in bacon with cream cheese and jalapeno, of course) is as much a Lone Star culinary tradition as grilled beef steaks and barbecue ribs. Additionally, you'll find scaled, Montezuma, Gambel's and bobwhite quail in Texas, and recent efforts to reintroduce these birds and improve habitat promises that opportunities are good and getting better.
Predators and Hogs
If you're a serious predator hunter Texas is a dream destination. With lots of land and lots of predators you can expect high success rates when calling. Additionally, many landowners are happy to accommodate predator hunters who are willing to help reduce their coyote populations. A single ranch might be home to bobcats, foxes and 'yotes, all out looking for a free meal.
Feral hogs are a huge problem in Texas — estimates suggest that they cause more than 52 million dollars in agricultural damage annually — so to say there are ample hog hunting opportunities is an understatement. Descendants of domestic pigs that escaped or were released, these pigs reproduce at a staggering rate and hog populations are found in virtually every portion of the state.
In addition, hogs make excellent table fare, and you can often combine a deer, turkey, or predator hunt with a hog hunt for little or no additional cost.