By Darlene McCormick Sanchez
Those lucky enough to be drawn for public deer hunts are reporting successful harvests across the state – with some bagging or spotting sizable deer.
Jason DeNunzio, who hunted Kerr Wildlife Management Area last week, said that his experience was far better than at his deer lease in Medina County.
“I had the hunt of my life,” said DeNunzio, of Brazoria. “I shot a buck. He’s almost 140 inches.”
DeNunzio said this was the first time he’d been drawn, but it was worth the wait. He has hunted in other states and considered the Kerr public hunt first-class. His buck marked the 100th he’s harvested in his lifetime.
DeNunzio and another hunter were assigned 630 acres to hunt. His partner passed up two harvestable bucks because he was waiting on something bigger. DeNunzio said he didn’t see a lot of deer, but those that showed up were nice.
The experience made him a fan of Texas public hunting, which he would highly recommend to hunters.
“I would tell them they need to try it,” he said.
Evan McCoy, a biologist who helps with Kerr WMA hunts, added that many of the hunters were complementary of the hunts. A 3-day hunt like the one DeNunzio participated in costs $80.
Hunters on public hunts go through an orientation and are required to wear orange. They are allowed to use bait corn at Kerr and can bring their own portable blinds although there are blinds on the property.
Ryan Reitz, area manager at Kerr WMA, said the goal is for the hunters to be successful. So far, that’s been the case. Reitz said 16 hunters were out the second week in November and harvested 15 whitetails and one Axis deer. Also, hunters help provide valuable research information on how the rut, habitat and hunting pressure affect deer, he added.
The top end of deer at Kerr is around 150-160 inches, but 170-inch class deer aren’t out of the question, Reitz added.
In East Texas, the news was also good.
Aaron Friar, who lives in Austin, was thrilled to get a buck that scored just shy of 130 inches during a 5-day drawn hunt at Alazan Bayou WMA that set him back all of $130.
“Actually, I harvested the biggest buck I’ve ever harvested in my life,” Friar said. “It was definitely a great trip.”
Friar likes to use tree stands, so he brought his own for the hunt. “He walked right under me,” he said, of his buck. He added that the guy next to him got a nice 8-point buck as well.
Friar said this year marks the first time he has been selected for a drawn hunt, although he has been hunting on public lands with the $48 public hunting permit for the past 6 years. Friar has never hunted on a deer lease.
“Here’s my theory on that – there’s hunters who have money, and there’s hunters who have time,” he said. Public land hunting requires hunters to study the area and means long periods of not seeing game, but it’s inexpensive.
The only concern with hunting on public lands is it’s impossible to know who’s out there or gage his/her level of experience. Because of that, Friar said he’s always careful.
“Safety is definitely a concern,” he added.
However, drawn hunts are a different story. They are controlled with hunters being given a designated area to hunt, which lowers the risk, he said.
Allen Pride, another hunter who was drawn for the Alazan hunt, is an old hand at public hunts. This marked his fifth drawn hunt.
“The Texas special hunts are the best kept secret in Texas hunting. I’ve been very happy with every hunt I’ve been on,” he said.
Pride, who spoke while hunting in the field, was anticipating having a good hunt after seeing a buck estimated to be 140-150 inches and perhaps 10 points. He and his wife saw the buck 60 yards out, right at dark.
Bill Adams, leader of the Piney Woods Ecosystem Project, which includes the Alazan WMA, said most people are pleased with their public hunting experience regardless of success.
Statistics show that last year, 65-75 percent of hunters saw deer in the Piney Woods lands, while 10-24 percent were successful in harvesting one.
The eight WMAs that make up the Piney Woods Project include: Alabama Creek, Alazan Bayou, Angelina Neches Dam-B, Bannister, Blue Elbow Swamp, Moore Plantation, North Toledo Bend, and one within Sam Houston National Forest.
Combined, the eight WMAs offer public hunting opportunity on 282,803 acres of land managed in whole or in part by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its partners.
“We’re fairly unique in that we offer public hunting permits on all but one of the eight WMAs,” he said. The number of people applying for the public hunting permits has gradually increased over the past 5 years.
To the west, Chaparral WMA’s recent management hunt for youth reported good harvest numbers.
Stephen Lange, area manager, said the WMA had two antlerless hunts over two November weekends. Of 104 youth hunters, about 50 percent successfully harvested game. The results were 38 doe, 12 spikes, 13 javelinas and 2 feral hogs.
Colby Whitton, 14, was one of the youths who got a doe during the free hunt. It was his second deer since he began hunting, according to his dad, Billy Ray.
Billy said they were allowed to use corn, but the deer weren’t used to eating it. Some deer were spotted far off the first evening of hunting, but nothing was close enough to make a shot. When they returned the next day, coyotes were barking all around them in the dark, which made Colby a little nervous. Once in the blind, they waited about 30 minutes and then noticed a doe eating corn behind them. Colby was shaking with excitement. With some coaxing from Ray, he took a breath and shot the doe through the shoulder.
“He was jumping up and down,” Billy said. “Oh yeah, we’re going to do it again next year.”
Chaparral plans on holding a trophy hunt in mid December, Lange said. Last year a 172-plus class deer was taken — the second largest recorded at Chaparral WMA. The property is high fenced, but without introduced genetics or supplemental food.
“We have some real quality deer coming off public property,” Lange said.