Just before the duck season began, I talked with Jim Sutherlin, Upper Coast Wetland Ecosystem project leader, at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Port Arthur. Thanks to the drought, he wasn’t too sure how good the public duck hunts were going to be at this Southeast Texas hotspot. His thinking was that the ducks would get here but leave in short order due to an acute lack of food. Come to find out, big time numbers of birds are here, and duck hunts at the J.D. Murphree WMA and the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, just west of Sabine, are excellent.
Those hunts are on public lands, as are many deer and hog hunts in East Texas. In fact, for hunters who do not have access to privately-owned land, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is providing low cost access to nearly a million acres of department-managed lands for hunting, including most wildlife management areas, some state parks and many leased properties under the Annual Public Hunting permit program.
The Annual Public Hunting Permit is a $48 permit, valid from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31 of the following year. The permit allows an adult access to designated public hunting lands in the TPWD public hunting lands program. Hunting is allowed during legal hunting seasons for squirrel, rabbits, whitetail deer, feral hogs, spring eastern turkey, predators, furbearers, and fish without having to pay daily permit fees and, in most instances, without having to be selected in a drawing.
“The North and South zone duck season re-opened Dec. 10, and while TPWD WMAs have strong hunter numbers taking advantage of hunting on weekend hunt dates, the weekday hunt dates leave plenty of available hunting areas and quality hunting for those hunters who might have hunting time during the week,” said Steve Lightfoot with TPWD.
When it comes to duck hunting, plenty of hunters here in Southeast and East Texas take part in hunts on public lands. Sutherlin says duck hunting is quite good on public hunting lands and reservoirs where fresher water conditions and waterfowl food resources can still be found.
“Puddle ducks prefer shallow water, and we have an abundance (record numbers of several species) of ducks on the continent this year,” said Sutherlin. “Specifically, check out the duck hunts on the Big Hill Unit of the J.D. Murphree WMA where the hunter daily duck bag was close to 4 birds per man per day during the first waterfowl season split.”
Lightfoot says duck hunting isn’t the only game in town.
He points out that there is still plenty of hog hunting to be found. According to survey results from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service 74 percent of Texas’ 254 counties contain feral hog populations and there is a good chance TPWD offers hog hunting opportunities in those counties on public hunting lands. Some of the best public land hog hunts are right here in the Pineywoods.
“Right now is as good a time as any to hit the woods hard for ol’ pig sooie,” said Bill Adams, Pineywoods Ecosystem Project Leader. “In East Texas there are several WMAs that offer year-round hog hunting, but staff recommend keying in on those areas associated with rivers such as Alabama Creek, Alazan Bayou, Angelina Neches/Dam B, North Toledo Bend, and Blue Elbow Swamp Wildlife Management Areas. “
Along with the appropriate Texas hunting licenses and stamps, permit holders may take youth under age 17 hunting free of charge on these public hunting lands. Youth hunting on departmental public hunting lands must be accompanied by a supervising adult 18 years of age or older who possesses the required Annual Public Hunting Permit, a valid hunting license and any required stamps and permits.
“A new online map feature allows for virtual scouting of public hunting areas,” said Lightfoot. “By clicking on the locator points, you can follow links to detailed aerial maps with highlighted boundaries and links to information pages from the APH information map booklet. A downloadable Google Earth file (.kml) is also available that contains all the boundary information along with links to the corresponding APH map booklet pages.”
Permits are available wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold, online through the TPWD Web site (tpwd.state.tx.us) or by calling (800) TX-LIC-4U and paying by major credit card. There is a $5 convenience fee for online and phone purchases. If the permit is purchased at a TPWD office, the public hunting lands map booklet and supplement will be provided immediately at the time of purchase; otherwise, the publications will be mailed to the purchaser within two weeks of purchase.
Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.