If you’re interested in bowhunting white-tailed deer at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge this fall, the clock is now ticking to get your name put into the proverbial hat.
But like most things in this strange year, putting in for one of the coveted archery hunting permits up for grabs this fall won’t look like it did last year.
That’s because while the hunt is still on at the 11,320-acre refuge on the southern end of Lake Texoma, the hunt application process is no longer being handled by workers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge in place in Grayson County since 1946.
Taking over the application process for the Hagerman NWR archery deer hunts this year will be the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which will now include the long-standing hunts as a part of TPWD’s Public Hunts System.
Instead of applying during the month of May as has been the case in years past, would-be Hagerman archers will now apply for permits through TPWD’s Drawn Hunts Catalog. The online information on the local refuge bowhunt went live on July 1 this week and the application process will remain open until the Sept. 1, 2020 deadline.
Here’s what the TPWD page dedicated to the Hagerman bowhunts actually says: (tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing/hunt-area-details.phtml?OArea=UP): "These hunts will be conducted by National Wildlife Refuge staff. National Wildlife Refuge rules and regulations will apply. Hunts may or may not be supervised. Proof of completion of Bowhunter Education will be required for al drawn hunters. Contact Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge at 903-786-2826 for more information. Hunting Compartments: Harris Creek, Big Mineral, and Sandy. No standbys available."
With a total of 233 drawn permits being awarded this fall, hunts will take place in the Harris Creek, Big Mineral and Sandy units of the refuge. Hunt segment dates — known as Hunt Segment A, B, and C in the past — are Nov. 6-8, Nov. 20-22, and Dec. 4-6.
The bag limit for this year’s Hagerman NWR deer hunt segments remains the same as the regulations that other Grayson County archers will see in place this fall. That’s a limit of up to four white-tailed deer with only two of those being antlered and only two of those being antlerless. The bucks must have an inside spread of 13 inches or greater or have at least one unbranched antler to be legal.
Online applications for Hagerman permits can include from one to four people this year with the application fee being $3.00 per adult and the actual hunt fee being $80.00 per adult (if drawn).
There is no cost for youth to apply or to hunt (if drawn), but a youth hunter must fall between the ages of 9 and 16.
While certain aspects of the annual archery hunt at the refuge remain unchanged — deer can only be taken by archery gear, no baiting is allowed, and hunters must pass an IBEP approved Bowhunter Education course — there are a few differences from last year to this year.
One change is in the means of take allowed at the refuge. In previous years — including last year according to the refuge’s online regulation page for the 2019 hunt — hunters wanting to use a crossbow on the annual Hagerman hunts had to provide the refuge with a signed statement of fact from a licensed physician.
That doctor’s statement had to document that the hunter had an upper-limb disability that resulted in a permanent loss of the use of fingers, hand, or arm in a manner that rendered the hunter incapable of using a longbow, compound bow, or recurve.
This year, however, the "means allowed" regulation at the three Hagerman hunt segments simply states "Archery Equipment" only.
Another change from 2019 to 2020 can be found by digging a little deeper into TPWD’s online tab marked "Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Hunting Regulations 2020–2021" (tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing/brochures/ALLUP.pdf).
In previous years, hunters who drew a Hagerman permit had to show archery shooting proficiency skills to be allowed to hunt. That proof came by way of a bow shooting test where the archer produced a score of 80 percent or higher on a standard 14-target 3-D archery testing course (targets featured 10-8-5-0 scoring) that didn’t have a target distance of more than 30 yards.
And this year? According to TPWD’s website, that proficiency requirement is not listed anywhere in the online hunt information. In addition to eliminating a small source of income for local archery shops and 3-D ranges, hunters will apparently not have to demonstrate any longer that they are capable of making an ethical and lethal shot on a deer.
Another change in this year’s Hagerman regulations is regarding the incentive portion of the hunt. Because the hunt was designed to help reduce whitetail numbers within the carrying capacity of the refuge, hunters who took a doe during the last several years were automatically qualified for the following year.
And with the refuge being overrun in places by destructive feral hogs — so much so that helicopter pig elimination operations have been conducted along with refuge personnel shooting the wild swine on sight — the refuge also gave a free pass to next year’s hunt when any bowhunter shot at least two pigs during a fall deer hunting segment.
This year, there is no mention of the feral hog incentive however, although unlimited feral hogs can be harvested along with the fact that there will be two TPWD drawn hunts for feral hogs at Hagerman next spring.
TPWD’s online information does say, however, that the doe harvest incentive is available in 2020 and that hunters should inquire with refuge staff for details.
While it remains to be seen if the ongoing coronavirus crisis disrupts the Hagerman hunts in some way this fall, the 2020 archery deer hunts at the local refuge will have a little bit different look and feel to them regardless.
But the fact remains that despite a lack of truly giant bucks falling at the refuge in recent years, the local hunt still remains a sure-fire bargain and one of the best ways for a Fred Bear wannabe to take a headline grabbing buck without spending a lot of money.
In that regard, the more things change, the more they stay the same at Hagerman.