There is no animal hunted, written about, photographed, or fetishized more than the whitetail deer. So much so that you would need a pair of top notch 12x binos to see whatever game animal came in second. This is largely due to the vast range of habitat they can survive in, their home range spanning across most of North America. Their ability to adapt to human presence in the ever-expanding urban encroachment.
Here in Texas like many other places, Whitetails are king. Texas is home to an estimated 3.6 million whitetails. With the size of Texas and the diverse landscape within its borders, hunting differs from region to region. Hunting whitetail to someone from Amarillo likely looks much different than hunting that takes place in the piney woods of east Texas. There are many regions in Texas, some I have not had the privilege to hunt yet. But for Whitetail, the princely deer so many pursue, my favorite regions to hunt them are first, the hill country, south Texas, and second, the piney woods of east Texas.
The Gem of Texas, The Texas Hill Country
There is no place in Texas that draws more hunters from more locations than the Texas hill country. It is perhaps the prettiest region of Texas sporting rolling hills and occasional rough canyons. The canyons are dotted with oaks and juniper with winding cold creeks running throughout. While the big bucks are less abundant here, the deer numbers are good. This land is predominantly private land but generally more affordable to lease for hunting than other more “trophy” areas in the state.
A bonus is that much of the hill country also holds free ranging populations of exotics. These have no closed season and can provide a nice off-season hunting experience. This is usually included in year round hunting lease situations in the area. These animals include Axis, fallow, black buck, aoudad, sika and more. The Kerrville, Leakey, Rocksprings area is absolutely loaded with exotics. I have hunted here my whole life and while I do not live in the hill country, in many respects it’s my home.
South Texas, The Land of Dreams
When I think of south Texas I think of oil, cattle, cactus, mesquite, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and of course lots and lots of big whitetail. I have hunted south Texas off and on for around ten years now. It’s what it’s cracked up to be. High deer numbers, generally a healthy age class, and plenty of mature bucks are all found in south Texas. High fences are common here but if that’s not your thing don’t despair as there are plenty of free range ranches.
One of the special things about south Texas is the rut. The deer down south rut harder than anywhere I have experienced. If you hit it right, usually late November and peaking in mid to late December, you can rattle up aggressive rut crazed bucks to your hearts content. Likely due to the high deer numbers, the general season is liberal running from November through mid-January. Properties enrolled in MLD management having the general season from October through February. Leases here can be pricey. Many larger ranches are commonly leased to corporations for employees and client entertainment. This perhaps drives the cost upward.
But for the hunter on a budget there are actually some viable public land options. They are primarily on a draw through the Texas Parks and Wildlife draw system. Some will take years to draw while others can be drawn every two or three years within reason. In four years of applying I have drawn one of the Laguna Atascosa archery hunts twice. While I can’t say I was successful in tagging a deer on those hunts I saw the biggest buck I have ever seen in the wild there. I hope to draw one of those tags again soon.
The Big Thicket, Piney Woods of East Texas
East Texas cannot boast the deer numbers that the hill country or south Texas. It can however compete as far as age class and quality of deer it hangs with the best of them. The piney woods are perhaps the only region hunting from a tree stand is your best bet. Here, more than any other region, woodsmanship and knowledge of deer habits and biology will come into play. East Texas deer are notoriously nocturnal as well as pressured and the thick forest can make for a challenging hunt.
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East Texas ranks high on my list due to it being the most accessible to the budget-conscious. Leases are affordable here and many are very large and well managed on timber company lands. East Texas also boasts more public land open to hunting than anywhere else in the state. This includes The Sam Houston National Forest, The Davy Crocket National Forest, and the Sabine National Forest. Hundreds of thousands of acres are open to hunt with little more than a permit and a license.
Texas Whitetails are by no means limited to these regions. West Texas presents big, open expanses dotted by mountainous scenery that whitetail call home. The grasslands and farm land of the panhandle holds a spot in my heart from my time chasing pronghorn. However those crops and open places are home to some fine whitetails as well. Wherever you find yourself in Texas there will likely be great deer hunting. Finally, Texas is primarily private land. If you prefer the solitude of private vs public land and a Texas whitetail is on your list for next season, now is the time to search for a lease opening.