There’s great hunting to be had in every nook and cranny of the United States--but of all them, Texas remains the most popular for hunting. The Lone Star State continues to have record sales of residential and non-residential licenses.
Texas is massive, and with more than 95% of its land privately owned, there remains a misconception that you have to know someone to hunt.
With the cost of non-residential hunting licenses reaching 12.6 times the price of residential and costing more than $315 per year, you may be surprised to hear people continue to flock to Texas for the opportunity to hunt--and many of those guns are used for whitetail deer hunting.
Rules and Regulations for Hunting in Texas
If you want to whitetail deer hunt in Texas (and we bet you will once you start doing your own research), knowing some of the state’s rules and regulations around deer hunting will make your life easier and your hunt more enjoyable. Here are two important points to keep in mind.
County regulations: Deer hunting regulations in Texas largely vary by county. Bag limits, antler restrictions, rules for special seasons--including youth season and special late season--and restricted areas are mostly determined by county. Whether or not your destination falls on this list, find out which county (or counties) you’ll be hunting in because it will determine where and how you’ll hunt.
Hunter Education Course: The State of Texas requires all resident and non-resident hunters born after September 2, 1971, to complete the Hunter Education Course. If you happen to have been born before then, congrats: You’re off the hook. Everyone who completes the course, which is offered online and in-person, receives certification, which you’re required to have on your person while hunting. The minimum age of hunters in Texas is nine years old, and anyone below age 17 is required to attend classes in person--this is something to keep in mind if you plan on hunting with minors.
Resident and non-resident hunters older than 17 who, for whatever reason, haven’t completed the course and want to defer taking it can apply for deferral for up to one year (but only once). Confusingly, a course proof of certification is not required to purchase a hunting license in Texas.
Choosing the Season for Your Hunt
Before starting on your trek across the vast lands of Texas for a grand whitetail deer hunt, you should first consider when you’d like to go--or, rather, which season you want to hunt.
When deciding on hunting season, you have a lot to consider.
Every county has its own seasons and sets its own dates, bag limits, and more. Almost every county in the state offers a season for whitetail deer hunting--252 out of 254, to be exact.
Texas divides whitetail deer hunting into five seasons: Archery Only, General Season, Youth-Only, Muzzleloader, and Special Late Season. Each of these seasons has its own set of restrictions and rules, and some run concurrently with each other. For example, Youth-Only seasons can be open at the same time as Archery Only seasons. By hunting multiple seasons, you can maximize your time in the field, tracking and waiting for your perfect shot.
Whitetail Deer in Texas
When hunting for whitetail deer in Texas, you will be chasing one of four subspecies native to the region.
- Texas deer whitetail: The most common subspecies of deer found across the broadest geographic range.
- Kansas whitetail: These deer are mostly found in western Kansas but can also be found in parts of North and East Texas. They are stockier than the more common Texas subspecies.
- Carmen Mountains whitetail: This subspecies was first discovered in Northern Mexico in the Coahuila region’s Sierra del Carmen mountain range. They can’t be hunted in certain areas, like within Big Bend National Park.
- Avery Island Whitetail: Found in East and Southeast Texas and along the Gulf Coast, the Avery Island whitetail is the smallest subspecies of the four subspecies of whitetail. They have small bodies and rut earlier in the season than other subspecies.
Whitetail deer are found throughout the nation and are the focus of many hunters. The range in size and color of the species is often associated with diet and terrain needs. Deer found on open lands such as the sand terrain in Texas will be lighter than the deer found in wooded areas with a red-tinted tan.
To the untrained eye, mule deer are identical to whitetail deer. With very different hunting seasons and regulations, shooting the wrong deer is a mistake you need to avoid.
The whitetail deer was once referred to as the Virginia Deer, playing a vital role to the original settlers for food. These deer get their name from an obvious source, their bright white tail.
While their tails are generally brown on top, they are quickly flicked into the air showing the white underside and butt as an alert signal. When a deer becomes alert, its first reaction will be to flick its tail into the air to grab the attention of nearby deer. This is important to remember when deer hunting as it could be a sign your prey is onto you. They will also keep their tail in the air when running in a panic to communicate that others should run.
Mule deer also have white on their tail. While their tails are closer to a light tan, they come equipped with a species indicator, a large black tip.
The physical size comparison between the mule and whitetail will depend on your location. In some regions, the mule deer are a bit larger, while other regions have larger whitetails. This is depending on their diet and living conditions.
While both species have similar-sized racks, a whitetail’s points will typically grow off one singular beam or shoot, while a mule deer will have 2 or 3 primary beams, each one splitting with individual points.
While there is color variation within the species, mule deer typically have a solid light-colored face, while whitetails have a darker face with light rings around the eyes.
Other exotic deer species, which were once farmed, have found their way into a state of free roam.
While whitetail and mule deer look like family, it’s important to understand the difference to avoid a costly mistake.
When hunting in Texas, there are three primary forms of land to consider hunting.
- Privately Owned
- Public Access
- Government Leased
Ninety-five percent of Texas is private land, so more than 255,000 square miles of Texas will require some form of permission before hunting. Some landowners have taken this opportunity to rent or lease property. As a local, a yearly lease on land is the chance to track and hunt game, while non-residents benefit from a weekend or week-long lease.
Hunting on private lands encourages landowners to be more cautious in terms of natural preservation. In terms of Texas, some of the world's most beautiful terrain is owned privately and off-limits, and preservation attempts are just as important as our national parks.
Five percent of this land is publicly owned through national forests, state lands, metroparks, and other forms of natural preservation. While you may not be able to hunt each of these lands, public hunting lands allow you to try different terrain, chase different games, and travel further from your back yard without needing to know landowners.
With some of the best hunting lands in the world owned privately, and many of these owners don’t hunt themselves, how can you find your way to a great hunt? The Texas government has taken a step to encourage this trade, leasing private land for public hunters.
A common method to make your way on some of the best state-controlled hunting lands is through the use of public hunting drawings or lottery systems. Texas holds a large range of hunting drawings per year, from alligator to dove, to whitetail deer. Each drawing will have a specified price and cut-off dates.
Where To Hunt
Texas is massive with 10 distinct ecosystems. Each of these ecological regions is known for its game and is often used to describe a hunting area.
- Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes
- Post Oak Savannah
- Blackland Prairies
- Cross Timbers and Prairies
- South Texas Plains
- Edwards Plateau
- Rolling Plains
- High Plains
- Trans Pecos, Mountains, and Basins
There are many regions to choose from, but only a few will give you the best whitetail deer hunting. You’re almost guaranteed a satisfying bag if you know what you’re doing.
Here are five of the best areas to go whitetail deer hunting, whether you’re a first-time hunter or an experienced ranger.
When you think of Texas, most people don’t think about woods, wetlands, and green pastures. This hidden gem can be found along the eastern edge of the state. With more than 300,000 acres of public hunting land, the Pineywoods region receives nearly 30% of the state's 45,000 deer permits each year.
This region includes the 163,000-acre Sam Houston public hunting lands.
While the whitetail deer found here are smaller in size, the sizeable population ensures you’ll have a deer in the bag each year.
Southern Texas Plains
Known as South Texas Brush Country, this region is known for large, record-breaking big bucks. It’s a popular place to go, and most require the payment of a daily fee or purchase of a multi-day hunting package.
With such high demand, getting your permits in advance can be the difference between an enjoyable hunt and a day watching T.V. at the cabin. Planning ahead is crucial for hunting in this region.
The trouble of extra planning time will probably pay off if you hunt here. Deer in this region are known to be more aggressive during rutting season, allowing you to call and rattle the bucks closer than normal. This strategy can be the impetus for an amazingly successful hunt.
Public land is available for draw through the Texas Parks and Wildlife, with the average hunter being drawn after two or three years.
The bucks in South Texas Brush Country are said to be well fed and matured to a large size. No doubt, hunting this region could end with a bigger bag than you might expect.
Cross Timbers and Post Oak Savannah
Nearly 50% of Texas’ deer population resides between these two regions.
These mid and northeastern regions are covered in grasslands and prone to large herds of medium-sized whitetail. With 18 million acres in Cross Timbers, and 8.5 million acres in Post Oak Savannah, these 26.5 million acres of wildlife are sure to keep you chasing game to your heart’s content.
Trans Pecos, Mountainous region
Throughout the northern panhandle of Texas in a region known as Trans Pecos. The deer here are plentiful and massive in size.
With thousands of hunters putting in for drawings each year, only 10-20 permits are actually given for two- or four-day hunts. While the chances of being drawn are very slim, the hunts are massive.
The panhandle is full of opportunities for other game, too, from waterfowl to quail to so much more.
When you think about beauty, rolling hills leading to canyons and natural wonders create a perfect backdrop for some of the best hunting in the world. Every year, the Edward Plateau region draws some of the largest hunting crowds around the globe for large herds of big bucks.
Found in the mid-south of the state just about the Southern Texas Plains, you can expect some of those record-breaking bucks along with large plain herds.
Texas is, without a doubt, massive. The terrain changes so vastly from corner to corner, leading to your choice of a great hunt. From the grasslands to the plains, the whitetail deer has adapted and thrived throughout Texas from mountains to woods.
Knowing where to find big bucks is only half of the battle. Proper camouflage and gear protection could help you bag that trophy buck.
The beauties of Texas are unique and accessible to you. Get out there and find yourself in nature with a Texas whitetail deer hunt. Just don’t forget to wrap up, first.