Game Animals

By: Laurie E. Jasinski

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: June 9, 2020

Font size: A / A reset

Texas has a wide variety of game animals including land mammals and birds, as well as a number of game fish. Substantial populations of game animals have led to the growth of a large hunting industry in the state. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversees the regulation of hunting and fishing and for a fee issues annual licenses that expire on August 31. Additionally, special license stamps for specific types of game are sold, such as stamps for turkey, white-winged doves, and waterfowl. Texas hunters born on or after September 2, 1971, are required to complete a Hunter Education Training Course. The length of the hunting season and size of harvest is largely dependent upon the rules of each county. There is a separate archery season for the hunting of deer and turkey and also a separate muzzleloader season for hunting deer. Both require the purchase of separate stamps in addition to the general license. Some state parks and wildlife-management areas allow limited hunting. Otherwise, hunting on state parkland as well as in wildlife sanctuaries and nesting or propagation areas is unlawful. The legal time of day to hunt is one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also limits or forbids various hunting-related activities including the use of dogs, artificial light, fully automatic firearms, and silencers. It is unlawful to kill a creature listed as an endangered, threatened, or protected species. Animals in these categories include the black bear, gray wolf, ocelot, jaguarundi, brown pelican, Attwater's prairie chicken, whooping crane, and hawks, owls, and eagles. In the 1990s Parks and Wildlife also administered Operation Game Thief, a privately funded program designed to curb poaching. For each hunted land mammal there is a specific season and bag limit.

The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is one of the most important and most popular Texas game animals. In the early 1990s Texas had a population estimated at three million. During the 1992–93 hunting season 469,000 white-tails were reported killed. The hunting season generally occurs from mid-fall to early winter. For most Texas counties in 1995, for example, the season lasted from November 4, 1995, to January 7, 1996. The maximum Texas bag limit is five deer, including no more than three bucks; many counties set the limit at three deer (one buck, two antlerless). Mule deer (Odocoileus heminous) are also popular game animals, hunted largely in the northern and western sections of the state. In 1992–93, 6,500 mule deer were harvested. The hunting season follows roughly the same time of year as that of the white-tails, though the mule deer season is shorter and is relevant only to those counties with significant mule deer populations. In Pecos County, for example, the 1995 mule deer season lasted from November 25 to December 10. The bag limit was two deer, only one of which could be a buck.

The javelina or collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) is found predominantly in the central, southern, and southwestern portions of the state. In 1992–93, 21,000 were reported killed. The length of season varies from county to county. The Comal County hunting season lasted from October 25, 1995, to February 1, 1996, while Kerr County had no closed season. The bag limit was two javelinas.

The antelope (Antilocapra americana), once almost extinct, has increased in number, and limited open seasons have been held since 1944. To hunt pronghorns one must also have a special permit from the Parks and Wildlife Department. Permits are issued to landowners or their agents in certain areas of the Permian Basin, Trans-Pecos, and Panhandle and are dependent on a county's pronghorn population. In 1995 the pronghorn season was from September 30 to October 8, and hunters were allowed one animal. American Elk (Cervus canadensis), which have been introduced in the Guadalupe and Davis mountains, have no closed season. Hunting restrictions are similar to those for pronghorns. Permits must be issued to landowners. In 1995 the bag limit in Brewster County, for example, was one elk. Desert bighorn (Ovis canadensis) and aoudad sheep (Ammotragus lervia) are also considered Texas game animals. The latter were first introduced to Palo Duro Canyon in 1957. The hunting season lasts from fall to winter-November 4 to January 21 in 1995–96, for instance, when the bag limit was one sheep for eight Panhandle counties around the Palo Duro Canyon area. In 1995 no season was listed for the desert bighorn.

The Gray or cat squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and the red or fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) are classified as game animals. They are commonly found throughout the state, especially in the eastern and central sections. Many counties had no closed season and no bag limit in 1995. Others, Jefferson County for example, had a bag limit of ten a day, and the season in 1995 was during May and from October to January 15, 1996.

In addition to the officially designated game animals, licensed hunters could hunt bobcats at any time of the year. The bobcat (Felis rufus) is found across the state. There was no regulation of the hunting of the cougar or mountain lion (Felis concolor), which is found in the remote areas of West Texas, the Edwards Plateau, and the South Texas brush country. In the 1990s the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was soliciting accurate information regarding the sighting or killing of mountain lions on public or private land.

A trapper's license is required for the hunting of fur-bearing mammals, which have separate seasons and restrictions from game animals. A growing market in the state has been the hunting of exotics, non-native mammals under the control of individual landowners. These include species of deer, antelope, goat, sheep, and European wild boar. There is no closed season or bag limit, but one must have a valid hunting license and the permission of the landowner.

Alligators (Alligator mississipiensis) can be hunted in limited areas in Texas along the coastal and inland waterway tracts, depending on alligator population. One alligator may be taken with a special department tag. Limits on the hunting, possession, and sale of alligators are strictly enforced under separate regulations. In 1995 the alligator season was from September 10 to 30.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has designated a number of game birds in the state, including several varieties of quail, waterfowl, and migratory waterfowl. In Texas the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a widely hunted game bird. There were an estimated 88,000 wild turkeys killed in 1992–93. Generally there is a fall and spring season for turkeys. Hunting also requires a special turkey stamp, and the statewide annual bag limit is no more than four turkeys. During the spring only gobblers are legal game. Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) are hunted in the Panhandle and coastal areas of the state. The season generally occurs in the fall and sometimes lasts into the winter. The department requires that the feathers of the bird remain intact and attached to the carcass until the bird's final destination. Migratory game birds include ducks, geese, brants, coots, rails, and a number of doves including the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), white-winged (Zenaida asiatica), and white-tipped dove (Leptotila verreauxi). To hunt waterfowl, a hunter must have a special federal stamp, commonly called a "duck stamp," as well as a Texas waterfowl stamp. Hunters of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are required to have a special federal permit. A separate stamp is required for hunting white-wing doves. The dove season occurs in the fall and winter, and specific dates are dependent upon a particular geographic zone of Texas. In 1995 dove season in Central Texas was held from September 1 to October 17 and from December 26 to January 7, 1996. Bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus), Gambel's quail (Lophortyx gambelii), and scaled quail (Callipepla squamata) are all considered game birds. In 1995 the statewide quail season lasted from November 4, 1995, to February 25, 1995. The bag limit was fifteen a day, and the total possession limit was forty-five. Hunters were allowed a two-day season for the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) in 1995-October 21–22. The bag limit was two a day and four total. The chachalaca season in four South Texas counties lasted from November 4, 1995, to February 25, 1996. The bag limit for the chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) was five a day and ten total.

In Texas, anglers contributed $1.5 billion in direct expenditures to the state's economy in the early 1990s. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department conducted an "Angler Recognition Program" in which fishermen could apply to receive recognition in four categories: state record, water-body record, big-fish award, and lunker catch-and-release award. Fish hatcheries across the state augmented existing fish populations, improved their gene pools, and enabled the stocking of new species. As with hunting, game fishing is subject to specific regulations, size, and bag limits, as well as geographically specific rules. The use of devices such as explosives and implanted signal monitors is illegal. It is also unlawful for a fisherman to cast a net greater than fourteen feet in diameter. Leaving edible fish to die without intending to eat them or use them for bait is prohibited. The legal length of a fish is from the tip of its snout to the tip of its tail fin. For most game fish there is generally no limited season. Freshwater trout, however, are an exception. Certain bodies of water may have specific regulations also. A special license to fish in Lake Texoma allows an angler to fish in both the Texas and Oklahoma parts. Chumming is prohibited. On a certain stretch of the Guadalupe River below Canyon Dam in Comal County it is illegal to keep freshwater trout caught by any method besides fly fishing. Trotlines are illegal in certain lakes, such as Lake Bastrop and Lake Bryan. In state parks, game and nongame fish can be taken only by pole and line (including rods and reels). Game fish classified by the Parks and Wildlife Department include species of bass, catfish, cobia, crappie, drum, mackerel, marlin, pickerel, sailfish, sea trout, shark, spearfish, tarpon, trout, and walleye. A special tag is also required to catch a tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) that measures eighty inches or longer. An angler is allowed only one tag per year, and fishing is on a catch-and-release only basis.

Common freshwater game fish include a variety of black basses including largemouth (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth (Micropterus dolomieu), Guadalupe (Micropterus treculi), and spotted (Micropterus punctulatus). The daily bag limit is five, and the possession limit is ten. The minimum length for largemouth and smallmouth bass is fourteen inches; that for Guadalupe and spotted is twelve. Blue (Ictalurus furcatus) and channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) must be at least twelve inches long; the daily bag limit is twenty-five, and the possession limit is fifty. In addition to the use of a rod and reel, in most areas catfish can also be taken with a trotline, throwline, or jugline. Fishing for freshwater trout requires the purchase of a freshwater trout stamp. Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) had no size limit in 1995, a bag limit of five, and a possession limit of ten. In Texas trout season occurs during the winter. Specific dates are dependent upon trout stocking conducted by the Parks and Wildlife Department. Crappie, including white crappie (Pomoxis annularis), black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), and various hybrids and subspecies, had a minimum size limit of ten inches. The bag limit was twenty-five, and the possession limit was fifty. In the case of both crappie and trout, the bag and possession limits can constitute a combination of species, subspecies, and hybrids.

Most saltwater game fish may be taken only by rod and reel. The exceptions are red drum, spotted sea trout, and sharks, which may be fished with a sail line. To fish with trotlines or sail lines, an angler must also possess a saltwater trotline tag for each 300 feet (or any fraction thereof) of line in the water. No spear guns are allowed for saltwater gamefishing. Any saltwater fishing in Texas public coastal waters necessitates the purchase of a special saltwater sportfishing stamp. Drums are popular Texas game fish. In 1995 the minimum to maximum legal length for a red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) was twenty to twenty-eight inches, and a daily bag limit of three and possession limit of six was allowed. A red drum tag enabled anglers to keep one red drum longer than twenty-eight inches. Black drum (Pogonias cromis) have a size limit of fourteen to thirty inches, a bag limit of five, and a possession limit of ten. Spotted sea trout (Cynoscion nebulosus), another popular saltwater fish, had a minimum size limit of fifteen inches and no maximum limit in 1995. The daily bag limit was ten, and the possession limit was twenty. In 1995 sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) also had a bag limit of five and a possession limit of ten, with a minimum size limit of twelve inches. A variety of snappers were popular. There were no bag or possession limits for Lane (Lutjanus synagris) and vermilion (Rhomboplites aurorubens) snappers. Their minimum acceptable length was eight inches. Red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus) had to be fifteen inches long; the bag limit was five, and the possession limit was ten. In 1995 there were no minimum or maximum length limits for sharks, though they had a daily bag limit of five and possession limit of ten. Blue (Makaira nigricans) and white marlins (Tetrapturus albidus) had no bag limits, but had minimum lengths of 114 and 81 inches respectively. Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) had a minimum size limit of seventy-six inches and no bag or possession limits. In addition to fish, fishing licenses and saltwater fishing licenses were required for the taking of other aquatic life, including crabs, oysters, mussels, and clams.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department publishes yearly guides to the regulations on hunting, fishing, and trapping. Size and bag limits, county rules, and water restrictions are subject to change from year to year. See also FISHES OF THE GULF OF MEXICO.

William B. Davis, The Mammals of Texas, rev. ed. (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1966). Clark Hubbs et al., eds., Freshwater and Marine Fishes of Texas and the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico (Austin: Texas System of Natural Laboratories, 1994). Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds of Texas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960). Texas State Travel Guide (Austin: State Department of Highways and Public Transportation).


  • Sports and Recreation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Laurie E. Jasinski, “Game Animals,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 19, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
June 9, 2020