Public Lands & Waters photo

Granger Wildlife Management Area
: Central Texas
Size: 10,888 acres
ZIP: 76530

Granger boasts much better draw odds than Chaparral and quality bucks that give up nothing to their more celebrated south Texas counterparts. Better than one in three applicants snags one of 100 archery permits, and a liberal stand-by policy has thus far ensured that few wait-listed hunters who show up on hunt day are turned away. This state-managed area is located only 45 minutes from Austin in flat, open black-land prairie long ago converted to farming. Antler restrictions call for a 13-inch minimum spread, and the approach seems to be working. Area manager Trey Carpenter of Parks and Wildlife says Granger has produced several bucks in the 160- to 180-class range—of the last dozen or so harvested, all but two were Pope and Young qualifiers. “Usually, if a buck is older than 2 ½, it’s going to make the record book,” Carpenter says. “It’s a rare occasion that it doesn’t.”

Sam Houston National Forest Wildlife Management Area
: east Texas
Size: 161,508 acres
ZIP: 77351

Firearms hunters looking for certain access should head to east Texas, where ample public land is open to all who purchase the state’s $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit. A good bet is Sam Houston, by far the largest WMA in the region. You’re less likely to find trophy deer, but the firearms general season (for bucks only) stretches from November 3 to January 6. Pine forests predominate on the relatively gentle terrain, with hardwoods mixed in along streams. “The forest service has really done a good job lately with burning 25 to 30 percent of the acreage each year,” says Bill Adams, project leader for the Pineywoods Ecosystem Project at Texas Parks and Wildlife, “and that encourages weeds and forbs and other early successional plants that really enhance forage availability for deer.” Sam Houston can be busy, especially on opening weekend, but the entire 160,000 acres is open to hunting, which gives those willing to work at it a chance to target more remote, low-traffic areas.