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Ray Sasser: Raffle gives you shot at prime lands

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently posted on its website the details for applying for drawn hunts in 28 categories. This is a big deal because there are many Texans who would love to hunt but cannot afford a lease.

In theory, wildlife belongs to all Texans, but the distribution of land is much less equitable. Landowners view an abundance of game as a "cash cow," or "cash doe" in this case, because white-tailed deer are easily the favored game in TPWD drawn hunts.

It's hard to blame landowners for taking advantage of this resource. Unlike livestock, with values that ebb and flow, the prices hunters are willing to pay for a good hunting spot seem to never come down. The prices just keep rising.

Leases near Dallas-Fort Worth command $30 an acre or more. The good properties within commuting time of the city don't stay vacant long. Somebody will pay the price, just to have a convenient hunting lease.

It doesn't always happen this way, but the farther you go from a metropolitan area, the less expensive leases become. They're not inexpensive, and they're still beyond the financial reach of many hunters.

Last season, TPWD's drawn hunts received 139,398 applications. The application fee is $3, and there's a nominal hunt fee for those lucky enough to be drawn. Some applications were for group hunts, so the total number of applicants was 227,019. Urban hunters composed 76 percent of applicants. The average age of applicants was slightly over 40.

Retired folks are applying as well. There were three applications last season from hunters in their 90s, 151 from hunters in their 80s, 1,205 from hunters in their 70s and 3,892 from hunters in their 60s. The largest age group that applied for drawn hunts were people in their 30s -- 7,116 of them.

Application deadlines are on the first and 15th days of each month. Drawings are usually held the business day after the deadline.

When you look at the available drawn hunts at http://tpwd.texas.gov, you can mine the data and determine your best chances for being drawn. Wildlife management areas such as Chaparral, Kerr and James Daughtry are always popular because they offer the best opportunities at a trophy buck.

Most hunters care less about the size of antlers and more about the experience of being outdoors and the quality of wild meat. It took the farm-to-table movement to place an emphasis on deer and other game as a renewable meat source. Not only is it meat that you bring home through a personal experience, it has no chemical additives.

Wild game is as pure as meat gets these days -- the original organic meat. Cooked properly, game makes excellent table fare.

Texas wild game means more than white-tailed deer. There are multiple TPWD drawn hunts for exotic antelope. Some, such as the nilgai, were released on the King Ranch and expanded from there, mostly in coastal areas of South Texas.

Other exotics, such as axis deer, fallow deer and blackbuck antelope, escaped from high-fenced game ranches and spread throughout Central Texas. I don't know of any exotics that are not good to eat. I'd rather eat axis deer than prime beef.

For a hunting experience that's more upscale, try TPWD's Big Time Texas Hunts. These are drawn hunts for high-quality game on places that offer high success rates. Chances cost $10 through any hunting license vendor, or $9 online.

The applicant can pick from nine hunt categories, the most popular being the Texas Grand Slam. Last season's slam drew 22,506 entries. The winner, San Antonio's Ed Bredemyer, hunted desert bighorn sheep, trophy South Texas whitetails, trophy mule deer and will hunt pronghorn during the upcoming season.

Desert sheep permits are rare and routinely sell at auction for $50,000 or more. Bredemyer hunted at TPWD's Elephant Mountain WMA and tagged an 11-year-old ram, a surplus animal so old it was out of the breeding pool.

There's also a sheep permit up for grabs among the drawn hunt categories.

Proceeds earned from Big Time Texas Hunts go to improve the WMAs -- for wildlife habitat and for hunters -- through the construction of hunting blinds, camp shelters, campsite improvements and improved roads. A total of 79,141 BTTH chances were sold last season. This year's chances are on sale through Oct. 15.

Calendar

July 20-23 -- DFW Boat Expo at Market Hall, 2200 Interstate 35E in Dallas. Visit www.dallasboatexpo.com.

Aug. 11-13 -- Texas Trophy Hunters Association's Hunters Extravaganza at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Visit www.ttha.com.

Aug. 15 -- New hunting and fishing licenses for 2017-18 become available.

Aug. 31 -- Most hunting and fishing licenses for 2016-17 expire.

Sept. 1 -- Dove season begins in the North and Central zones.

Sept. 30 -- Archery season begins for deer and Rio Grande turkeys.

RAY SASSER is a special contributor to the Denton Record-Chronicle. If you have an area outdoors event or big-catch picture, e-mail drcsports@dentonrc.com.