For most outdoorsmen, the New Year begins on September 1—not January 1, as observed by the rest of the world.
Just as the first norther awakens the virility of the buck deer and fills him with energy that has slumbered all summer, the hunter comes alive. Some even take to jogging, doing push-ups or otherwise exerting themselves for the first time in months. On the first day of the season, they spring out of bed as the alarm goes off, although they normally can't be dragged out of bed with a winch truck. Getting back to this most basic skill helps change the pace and perspective of life in a 100-mile-an-hour world.
Hunting is one of the most therapeutic strategic withdrawals available. Sitting on the side of a hill out in the Frio Canyon, a hunter can feel things falling back into the right places as it gets on toward 5 o'clock in the afternoon. It's the autumn of another year in his life, and a good time to reflect.
So much for psychology. What does Texas have to offer hunters in the way of game?
Over three million deer, for openers. That's about one-fourth of the entire nation's deer population. And they are annually taken in about 214 of Texas' 254 counties under widely varied circumstances.
If a hunter is up to it, he can assault the mountains and canyons of West Texas in the land known as the Trans-Pecos. Chances are he'll get a shot at mule deer and maybe two kinds of whitetail the same day. Or he might be after a real trophy for his den in the tangled cat-claw and prickly-pear world near the Mexican border known as the Brush Country. Some of the best whitetail racks of all time have come from that southland. But if he prefers picturesque rolling hills with sparkling streams where the deer and turkey abound in awesome numbers—and where each vista looks like a Pearl Beer ad—he really ought to hunt the Hill Country. The deer aren't the largest, but it's the greatest concentration of them in the world.
In the Panhandle, he can hunt a brushy draw along the Canadian River, where Texas' heaviest deer hide out. And the hilly area of the Possum Kingdom region provides thousands of whitetails for hunters west of Dallas-Ft. Worth. Even East Texas offers good hunting in the heavily timbered land along the Louisiana border. The state's mid-section, too, the Central Oak Prairie region, in many places is lush with oak thickets and acorn fat bucks.
But there's plenty besides deer. Over half of America's wild turkeys are Texans and much of the country's waterfowl winter here. This is the end of the line for those travelling the central flyway from Canada. Likewise for Sandhill cranes coming from the North to light in West Texas. Nearly ten million quail, 14 million mourning doves, a quarter of a million whitewings and a million squirrels go into the stew each season. There are still more javelinas (150,000) than pronghorn antelope (10,000) in West Texas.
Then for those who want something out of the ordinary come now the exotics, those critters not native to Texas or in most cases not even native to this country. Some, like pheasant, for instance, or prairie chicken, have been imported from other states. The most exotic ones, though, are the ones that didn't speak English at all before coming to Texas. A glossary of game which can now be hunted in Texas reads like a Swahili road map: Oryx, Aoudad, Nilgai, Mouflon, Axis, Barasinghi, Blackbuck. And a good many others.
Probably no area in the world offers a hunter such a divergent choice of game or hunting terrain for the $5.25 cost of a resident hunting license. (See the subsequent information on licensing requirements.) And there's an open season on something all the time.
So how does a person get into Texas hunting?
Leases Pro and Con
WELL, TO BEGIN WITH, HE'LL need a place to hunt, and that's not as simple as it used to be.
When Texas annexed the Union in 1845, one of the conditions the early Texans placed upon accepting statehood was that Texas retain title to its public lands. As a result, an abundance of federally owned public land open to free hunting simply does not exist in Texas as it does in some Western states. The National Forest lands are exceptions, but, practically speaking, he can't just pull off the road in an unfenced area and start hunting.
Whether or not there are signs saying he cannot hunt is of no consequence. The land belongs to somebody, and a provision of the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime to trespass for the purpose of hunting, and landowners don't condone trespassing. One ranch has a sign reading "POSTED. TRESPASSERS WILL BE VIOLATED." Odds are it wasn't a misprint.
On top of that, it just ain't safe to cut across a pasture without permission. Not that the average, experienced hunter is going to wilfully shoot him it's just that he may be passing through the sights of someone with bad eyes and a highly excitable trigger finger who might mistake him for a buck. It happens every year.
If he finds a ranch that he wants to hunt on, it probably would do no harm to go up to the ranch house and ask permission to hunt. The land may already be leased or may be up for lease; he'll never know until he asks.
Most Texas ranchers that have any deer to speak of, (and maybe one or two who don't), lease their land commercially for hunting purposes. It's simply a matter of economics. The rancher has to make a living off his land. Deer actually detract from the rest of his agricultural operation since they compete with domestic livestock for food and are an absolute menace to some crops. A few ranchers actually consider them pests. If the deer are