Hunter enjoys variety and options of public lands hunting

Published on Saturday, 6 January 2018 02:36 - Written by STEVE KNIGHT/

Dennis Behee has been big-game hunting since graduating from college in the 1980s. What makes him different from most other Texas hunters is that he has never had a lease. Not once.

Instead, his hunting has been on public land either through draw hunt programs or walk-ins on federal land.

“I’ve never had a lease of my own or been on a lease or hunting club with anyone. I like exploring and scouting out new places with friends and meeting new people while I’m out hunting. Conversely I also enjoy the solitude of dawn breaking and the woods and fields as they come alive each day. I get a great deal of satisfaction from these DIY-type experiences,” the Tyler hunter said.

Behee once dropped into Colorado where he bought an over-the-counter tag before backpacking into a wilderness area to hunt. On the trail a thousand miles from home he crossed paths with a hunter from Winnsboro.

Most of his hunts have been in Texas through Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Public Lands Hunting program, which has an application program beginning in late summer each year.

“I usually apply for somewhere between 12 and 15 hunts per year through the TPWD draw hunt categories for both bow and rifle, and also at some national wildlife refuges. Mostly the $3 hunts with a few of the $10 ones mixed in for good measure,” Behee explained of his budget-hunting plan.

Through the years he has been drawn for a number of hunts including exotics, alligators, mule deer in the Panhandle, antlerless white-tailed deer, javelina, nilgai, hogs, Spanish goats and aoudad.

“I have been successfully drawn more years than not and gladly paying the additional permit fees when drawn. The hunts run from $50 to about $135 or so,” the hunter said.

Behee said he has not always been successful hunting public lands, but it does provide him the opportunity to get outdoors and to see different places he otherwise would not be able.

His most recent opportunity came last fall when his group was drawn for an exotic hunting trip at TPWD’s Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The group was drawn after collecting preference points from previous attempts to get drawn on the area located northwest of Mason in Central Texas. Previously a working ranch, the area has 14 species of exotics that can be hunted.

“Mason Mountain is an awesome place. It is well managed for both native and exotic species. Whitetail bucks were large and numerous throughout the WMA. Our hunt was a management hunt for scimitar-horned oryx. We could harvest one scimitar-horned oryx with a broken horn or with horns less than 30 inches, unlimited hogs and coyotes,” Behee said.

Considered an endangered species in their native North Africa, there are more than 10,000 scimitar-horned oryx on ranches throughout Texas along with large populations in other counties as well.

“After we received our selection notice of being drawn for the hunt, I did do some research on oryx, finding out they are grazers mainly, native to more arid desert type ecotypes and do not require much in the way of water because they get most of their water needs from the vegetation they eat. They are herd animals. They like to stick to cover until just before dark. Usually when you see one, you see 8 to 10. This was not the case for my hunt, however,” Behee said.

During a pre-hunt orientation, hunters drew for pastures and were provided information on oryx and how to determine what was a legal animal.

“Because of the stringent horn size requirements, I brought the example photo from orientation with me to the blind. That proved to be a wise move. At about 4:30 that evening, I caught movement under some live oaks off to my right about 70 yards. He stood there motionless, testing the wind. He arrived on one of the many trails that intersected near the blind. He was big,” the hunter recalled.

Behee was looking at the 500-pound animal trying to decide if this was one to take or not.

“The biologist told us that the best way to judge the size was to compare to the others around them, but there weren’t any. So I reached into my backpack and pulled out the photocopy of the oryx from orientation. Not knowing how long I’d have to judge the one in front of me, I glanced at the paper, then the bull, paper, bull. The paper showed an oryx with its head down in the feeding position. The bull lowered his head to feed. I thought to myself he looked to be within the under 30-inch category. The wind swirled and his head jerked to attention and I doubted my estimate. He was awesome,” Behee said.

When the bull lowered its head to feed again, Behee got in position for a shot and fired.

“It was a textbook shot, according to the biologist, far forward in the shoulder as recommended for African species. He ran only about 40 yards and I watched him go down,” he said.

A TPWD biologist estimated the bull to be 15 years old, well past its prime as a breeding animal. He explained to Behee that is why it was grazing alone.

As for the horns, Behee had three-eighths of an inch to spare as the long side measured 29 5/8 inches.