It's tough to think about scatterguns and deer rifles when it's pool and sandal weather outside, but it won't be long until the fall hunting seasons are here.

If you're among the rising number of people who would like to hunt but can't afford the luxury of a private lease, you might want to check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's draw hunt program. It is an inexpensive option that provides hunters on a tight budget the chance to hunt a variety of game like deer, turkey, pronghorn antelope, alligator and exotics for a price that won't break the bank, often on properties that are well managed and game is fairly abundant.

Earlier this month, TWPD unveiled its list of drawn hunt options for the 2017-18 hunting seasons. The odds of getting selected to participate are better this year than in previous seasons because there are more permits available.

TPWD says there will be about 9,500 hunting permits passed out in 50 different hunting categories this year. That's up more than 500 permits across the board from last year.

Selections will be made randomly by automated computer draw. In order to be eligible to participate in one or more of the drawing categories, you have to apply online by a specified deadline. Excluding youth hunts, a non-refundable application fee of $3 or $10 must be paid by debit card or credit card at the time of application. If selected, adult hunters will be required to pay a permit fee ranging from $80-$130, depending on the type of hunt.

The first draw hunt deadline falls on August 1. That deadline encompasses a series of alligator hunts that will be held on TPWD wildlife management areas, Youth Only Gun Deer/Either Sex, private lands pronghorn and an all-new dove hunt category that will award 140 permits to hunt doves with quality outfitters on private property around Uvalde, south of San Antonio near Pleasanton, north of Dallas/Ft. Worth in Young County and newly acquired opportunities in Wharton near Houston. There is a $10 application fee for the dove hunts and pronghorn hunts and a $3 application fee on the alligator hunts. Up to four hunters are allowed on an application.

The next deadline falls on August 15 for categories including archery deer, exotic and javelina. Subsequent deadlines occur on the first and 15th day of each month. The deadline for the popular gun deer/either sex category on 30 WMA's and state parks is Sept. 15.

In addition to the special permit draw hunts, hunters can apply for more than 2,000 deer hunting slots on four U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuges around the state and 2,500 antlerless deer permits for use on U.S. Forest Service lands in eastern Texas.

A full list of the draw hunt categories can be viewed online on TPWD's website under the public hunting heading. Success rates, the number of applicants from the previous season, the number of available permits and pertinent regulations are listed under each special permit category.

There are a couple of other options for hunters on a budget to get in the woods and enjoy some quality trigger time for a reasonable price.

Dove and small game hunters can take advantage of the TPWD's public dove/small game lease program. The program includes 134 different properties totaling about 48,000 acres that are under lease by the department. Most of the leases range 100-300 acres.

To access and hunt on these properties all season long you will need an Annual Public Hunting Permit ($48) and a valid Texas hunting license. Both go on sale August 15 at license vendors around the state.

TPWD's Big Time Texas Hunts program is more of a gamble than a sure thing, but the rewards can be downright awesome for a lucky few.

BTTH is run similar to the Texas Lotto. Difference is, rather than buying chances to win cash you buy chances to win high quality hunting trips for whitetail deer, mule deer, alligator, exotics, waterfowl, bighorn sheep, dove, turkey and quail on some of Texas' top private ranches and wildlife management areas.

The cost per chance depends on how you apply. Online entries cost $9 each with a one-time administrative fee of $5 for a single transaction. Chances also can be purchased by phone, mail or through a license retailer for $10 each. There is no limit on the number of chances you can buy and you are not required to have a valid hunting license to buy entries.

The BTTH program provides hunters the opportunity to enjoy extremely p high quality hunts they might not otherwise be able to afford. It also has proven be a lucrative cash cow for TPWD.

TPWD public hunting program specialist Kelly Edmiston says there were 79,000 BTTH entries sold last year that generated about $737,000. Edmiston said the funds are used to support public hunting opportunities and wildlife observation projects all around the state.

For a full list and descriptions of BTTH's on tap for 2017-18, check out pwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/btth/index.phtmlp.

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Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

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