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Open Spaces: Texas offers affordable hunting options

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 12:42 pm

Las Palomas Wildlife Manage-ment Area wildlife biologist Sam Patten and hunter Dana Frosch stand over a map. In a parking lot at the end of Kornegay Road north of San Benito, they talk about finding white-winged doves and about a series of strong storms moving through the area.

But the first question Patten asked Frosch, the first dove hunter to arrive for a special hunt Sept. 1 at the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area—Carricitos Unit, was whether he had an annual public hunting permit.

Such a permit costs $48 and provides access to several units of Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, encompassing nearly 3,000 acres of public hunting land in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Frosch had his permit, and that’s all Patten needed to know.

And that’s also why Frosch, a manufacturing engineer, made a six-hour trip to the Rio Grande Valley from his home in Pearland, which is south of Houston. This year’s public hunting permit was the fourth or fifth he’s bought over the years, he said.

“I wanted to take a trip and I got to looking around on Texas Parks and Wildlife (website) and saw a few places here,” Frosch said as dark clouds rolled overhead. Thunder rumbled distantly.

The permit is cheap, Frosch said, adding that it makes a hunting trip to Deep South Texas more economical because he didn’t have to pay $100 to $150 for a dove lease, plus other expenses. He arrived a day early and explored areas as time ticked toward noon Sept. 1, the start to that special white-winged dove hunting season, which ended the following weekend.

“I scouted a few places yesterday, and this was the best one I saw,” he said of the Carricitos Unit, near San Benito. It’s a brushy area with fields of dead sunflowers surrounded by tree lines on all sides. Once noon arrived, the sounds of shotgun shots popped in the distance as a rain fell softly, ushering in the short season that excites hunters throughout Texas.

But dove hunting in the Valley isn’t just something hunters who come from Houston or San Antonio enjoy.

Locals also take advantage of the public hunting opportunities.

Patten said the affordable public hunting permit keeps local hunters in the region, and it helps them introduce their families to hunting opportunities and the outdoors.

“This is pretty popular because the Valley is a long way away from anything,” Patten said, “and it’s especially valuable for the weekend hunter who would normally try to find a lease in Central Texas. That’s a long drive and he’s still got to pay an exorbitant amount (on a private lease).”

In the Valley, eight parks offer public hunting. Seven of those locations are part of the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, and the other is Resaca de la Palmas State Park near Brownsville. The seven Las Palomas units run the length of the Valley from Cameron County to Hidalgo County.

The legal species in the Las Palomas Wildlife Management area include white-winged doves, mourning doves, white-tipped doves and quail. Chachalaca are legal on a limited number of the acres.

“We staff three different units out of the seven for four days (during) the two weekends of special white-wing season, and the reason we staff it is to write a daily permit for $20—because that’s all some people want,” Patten said.

So there are options for the hunter who wants to hunt just one day out of the year. And other options for the avid hunter, who might use the public hunting permit for a longer period.

“This is not only in the Valley. This is statewide,” Patten said. “When a hunter buys the $48 permit, he gets two booklets. One is a booklet for our drawn hunts, youth and stuff—separate from the public hunting program, and the other one is a map booklet of the rest of Texas. So you can go all over the state and hunt a myriad of animals with that permit.”

As for the special white-winged dove hunting seasons, the Anacua Unit is well-known to many seasoned dove hunters, Patten said, adding that many families use the permits to take the children out for a wildlife experience.

“The average Joe can afford the $48 and take his kids and wife out all the way through dove and quail season,” Patten said.

Sept. 1, Patten fielded phone calls from staff at other locations updating him about the weather and about how many hunters had arrived despite the threat of rain. Before the season even kicked off at noon, the Anacua Unit was filling up fast.

However, Patten stresses that public hunting lands in the Valley are as much for the veteran hunter as for families enjoying the South Texas outdoors.

Where there are families, there are children. But where there are children and guns—and sometimes alcohol—it’s important to be safe and follow the rules.

“You know, there are a lot of tents and the kids, they run around bushes and I don’t let people drink—no public display,” Patten said.

“If I see someone drinking, I warn them once. And if I see them throwing beer cans on the ground, they’re out, especially with the kids running around and all the families.”

People don’t have to wear fluorescent clothing, but it’s highly


“We have so many families that they go to Walmart and dress their kids in full camo,” Patten said. “And then these aren’t hunting kids, and they are running around darting around in the field in full camo and the sunflowers are taller than they are.

“And if a dove flies in low, it could be a potentially harmful situation. We haven’t had an accident yet, but the thought scares me.”

In this situation, he tells hunters to be mindful of children and to not shoot if doves fly in low.

“If I see kids running around the field, I tell them to get back in the truck, and I tell the hunters you shoot blue sky only,” he said.

For the most part, though, Patten said everyone who uses the parks is usually responsible. It’s rare that he has to kick someone out for flagrant rule violations.

“We never really had a problem. They are wonderful people,” Patten said.

“Last year, I had to run off young kids from Houston for drinking and later when they drove out I was so mad and didn’t want to talk to them. They stopped and said, ‘You know, you’re right,’ and they apologized.”

But the main reason to purchase an annual public hunting permit is to get families outside, Patten said.

“It’s an opportunity for the hunting public to enjoy an outdoor experience at a reasonable price,” Patten said as the storm brushed by the Carricitos Unit after a brief drizzle.

As Frosch got ready to head out into a field, Patten told him the rain was actually good because now the birds will be moving.

So whether it’s local hunters or people coming into the Valley to hunt, Patten said, Texas’ southernmost region is a great place to be outdoors and the $48 annual public hunting permit is there to help people do it economically.

“This is the only place you can fish for trout and redfish in the

morning, hunt for white-wing doves in the evening and go eat frog and quail legs in Mexico at night, and that’s why I live down here,”

Patten said.

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