Laguna Atascosa sets dates for refuge hunts

HARLINGEN — For Valley big-game shooters, the hunt begins.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge officials have released their big-game hunt dates for white-tailed deer, nilgai and feral hogs.

Three archery hunts will be held in November and December, and seven firearms hunts will be held in December and January.

New this year are mandatory orientation sessions before each of the archery hunts begins, similar to what firearms hunters have been doing in previous years. Each bowhunter must attend an orientation the day before the hunting session begins.

“It’s been recommended to me by our law enforcement officers for several years, because they have noticed that there’s a major difference between our firearms hunts, which have an orientation, and our archery hunts which have not had an orientation,” Refuge Manager Boyd Blihovde said.

Blihovde said the sessions would allow bowhunters to become familiar with the rules regarding refuge hunts, which can be complicated.

“Also during that orientation, we’ll have hot dogs, hamburgers, some refreshments and make it a nice event,” Blihovde added. “It’s not for us just to be there and ram a bunch of rules downs their throats.”

Despite the perception of Laguna Atascosa being a refuge for wildlife, both nilgai and feral hogs are non-native game animals which can be highly destructive to habitat. While white-tailed deer are a native species, they have few predators in South Texas, and the hunts are necessary to maintain a herd balance at the refuge.

Permits for both archery and firearms will be awarded through Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Public Drawn Hunt System. All refuge hunters are selected by lottery via applications submitted online at the TPWD website.

Archery permits are $130 each, and firearms permits are $80, although some additional administrative fees are added to those costs.

Hunters with mobility impairments who need special accommodations must contact the refuge’s wildlife biologist by Oct. 31 to obtain application forms.