If you want to hunt this fall, particularly for deer or dove, but have a limited budget or are new to the state, Texas Parks and Wildlife offers hunting opportunities through its public hunting program. In Texas, where most of the land is privately owned, and access for hunting is a limited commodity, finding and affording a place to hunt can be difficult for the average hunter. TPW provides reasonably priced public hunting access to 1.2 million acres of land that is owned, managed or leased by the department. Hunters have several options available from TPW, including application for high-end guided package hunts on private land through the Big Time Texas Hunts program, an entry into special drawings for self-guided hunts on state parks, wildlife management areas and some private ranches. In addition, hunters can pursue a variety of game throughout the season on more than one million acres of public land and 90,000 acres of leased private land’primarily for dove hunting and small game’for the price of a $40 Annual Public Hunting Permit. The annual hunting permit is available Aug. 15 wherever hunting licenses are sold. Permit holders receive through the mail a map booklet detailing available public hunting lands along with supplemental information on 137 public dove hunting areas. This year, more than 6,000 hunters will be selected to participate in special big game hunts on TPW-managed lands. Through an application process, hunters can select from among 15 different hunt categories and choose a preferred hunt date and location from 38 state parks and 29 WMAs. There’s even an option for selecting who will be included in the hunt if drawn’up to four hunters can apply together on one application as a group. Youth-only hunt categories are open to hunters between the ages of 8 and 17 at the time of application. All hunt positions are randomly selected in a computer drawing from all completed entries received by deadline. Because the special drawing deer hunt categories have become so popular, this year TPW has added two new categories, offering 200 hunters the chance to participate in a management deer hunt on private land. In one category, hunters can apply to hunt for a management buck (usually having forked antlers with eight or fewer points), while the other category offers a chance to take a spike buck and an antlerless deer. The Big Time Texas Hunts program offers some of the finest premier guided hunts in the state. Proceeds from BTTH, which offers $10 applications for special drawings for premier hunting trips, pay for additional public hunting opportunities and wildlife conservation work in Texas. Last year TPW received 79,439 entries for the 25 positions in special drawing hunt categories: ‘Texas Grand Slam, a once-in-a-lifetime package of four separate hunts for desert bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope and mule deer; ‘Texas Exotic Safari, hunts for a combination of exotic species on the Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Texas Whitetail Bonanza, 20 guided hunts of three to five days on ranches. This year, winners will be allowed to bring a hunting partner along, and both will be able to take a quality buck; ‘Texas Big Time Bird Hunt, a whirlwind series of hunts for the winner and three guests, including a two-day quail hunt, two days of prime pheasant hunting in the Panhandle and two days of dove hunting. The winner can also take one hunting partner on a spring turkey hunt; ‘Texas Waterfowl Adventure, a series of up to four separate hunts, including geese on the coastal prairie and in the Panhandle, and ducks in East Texas and along the coastal marshes. In its fifth year, the program has grown in popularity and generated substantial funding for the state’s wildlife conservation programs. “Last year, as a result of the Big Time Texas Hunts program we were able to put $400,000 into providing additional public hunting opportunity and game conservation and research in Texas,” said Herb Kothmann, TPW public hunting program director. Consequently, two additional deer hunting categories have been added to the Big Time Texas Hunts program this year, including: ‘Texas Premium Buck Hunt, with one winner and a hunting partner each getting an opportunity to take a quality buck on a premier hunting ranch; ‘Texas Heritage Hunt, offering 10 winners a chance to take a quality buck. Each hunter must also take a youth hunter (age 8 to 16) who will also be allowed to take a buck. All Big Time Texas Hunts packages include food, lodging and a hunting guide. Applications for the hunts are $10 each and are available wherever hunting licenses are sold or by phone with a major credit card at (800) 895-4248. Persons 18 and older may apply as many times as they like. As you begin making plans for the upcoming hunting seasons, there are some deadlines to keep in mind in order to participate in the public hunting program. Application deadline for pronghorn antelope hunts on the Rita Blanca National Grasslands north of Dalhart is Aug. 14. Bowhunters have until Aug. 22 to apply for special drawn public archery hunts. Entries for the general (gun) season deer hunts must be completed by Sept. 12. Deadline to apply for the Big Time Texas Hunts is Nov. 3. Application booklets will be mailed by the end of July to those who applied for the drawings for hunts by special permit last year. The booklets are available in August at some TPW offices. The map booklet will be included with permits bought at TPW offices and will be mailed within 10 days for permits bought at retail outlets. The information on drawings for hunts by special permit, as well as printable application forms, will also be available on line in August (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/). Call toll free for more information at (800) 792-1112.