September 13, 2016
Stereotypes can be hard to break. Especially when their existence reinforces a "victim" mentality.
So it is with hunting trophy whitetails in Texas. All you ever hear is that it's purely a rich man's game. This folds seamlessly into the old stereotype of the Lone Star land baron admiring his cattle herds and oil wells from the driver's seat of his Cadillac convertible as he puffs fat cigars lighted with $100 bills and gazes across his horizon-to-horizon spread.
Sure, there are still some mighty big ranches in Texas. A few, such as the fabled King Ranch southwest of Corpus Christi, measure in the hundreds of thousands of acres. Whether holdovers from original Spanish land grants or assembled from "smaller" places since those early days of settlement, they're vast inland empires with a mystique spreading far beyond the state's borders. Ford doesn't just peddle its luxurious King Ranch F-150 in Texas, you know.
But the King and other large ranches scattered about the western half of the state are legendary because they're well outside the norm — even by Texas standards. The average rural landholding in this state is roughly 500 acres, and many are way smaller. The average is far less than that in the eastern half, where most of the state's 27 million people live.
As might be expected of a place roughly 750 miles wide, 750 miles deep and including over 167 million acres, Texas is like many states in one. The west is desert, some of which is quite mountainous. The Panhandle is largely wide-open plains. The eastern fourth or so is mixed pine-hardwood forest. The Gulf of Mexico is a grassy, humid coastal plain. South Texas is largely a semi-arid land of cactus and thorn-brush. And in the middle of it all are the picturesque Central Texas Hill Country and fertile blackland prairies.
With the exception of far-West Texas, which is better suited to desert mule deer and pronghorn antelope, there are good numbers of whitetails in most of the state. Several million, in fact, with parts of the Hill Country featuring some of the world's highest deer densities. Many areas are target-rich bowhunting environments.
The biggest bucks in Texas tend not to come from those locations. But as the accompanying map shows, Pope & Young-class whitetails have been recorded just about everywhere at one time or other. The potential for a deer of that size to be taken, either by bow or gun, exists virtually everywhere.
Many people of average means hunt whitetails in this state, whether on their own properties or through season-long leases of other tracts. Leasing of hunting access got its start in Texas many decades ago and is considered the norm here — much as it's since become elsewhere. But many people also hunt for free with friends. Some others book bowhunts through outfitters. And still others go the public route.
While over 95 percent of Texas is privately held, that still leaves plenty of acres open to the public. Wildlife management areas run by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department are scattered over the state, and some host bowhunts for whitetails.
In addition, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls recreational opportunities around many major reservoirs, and some of these have archery hunting. Available hunts, permit requirements and hunting regulations vary by property and agency.
Huge deer sometimes are shot on these public bowhunts, particularly those held on the tracts bordering reservoirs. In fact, a giant non-typical scoring over 200 P&Y was taken last season on a quota bowhunt at Granger Lake, which is just northeast of Austin. And every year mega-bucks await archers drawn to hunt sprawling Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge bordering Lake Texoma north of Dallas.
There's a widespread perception most ranches in Texas are surrounded by "game-proof" fences, precluding deer taken on them from being entered into P&Y. However, that's not actually the case. Most tracts are low-fenced. Even tracts bordered by high fences tend not to be totally surrounded by them. Such fences are most prevalent in the western half of the state, especially in parts of the Brush Country and Hill Country.
For more on P&Y bucks from Texas and elsewhere across North America, visit: pope-young.org.