Regulations on river hunting have changed
By Luke Clayton
Sep 30, 2023
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A new law went into effect in September that limits
rights by the public to hunting on navigable rivers in
Texas. This new law/regulation (SB 1236) was
passed just last week and blindsided most Texas
sportsmen and women. Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department had absolutely nothing to do with it but
I’m sure the game wardens were just given a
monumental enforcement challenge and a quick
learning curve to decipher this change in the way we
hunt rivers.

I’ll do my best to describe what I know about this
new regulation but keep in mind, the law is so new
that even the game wardens are learning how to
legally enforce it. Let’s begin with the existing facts,
hunting with rifle and bow and of course shotgun has
been legal on all navigable rivers in Texas with the
exception of rivers in a few counties.

Here is the current regulation that have been on the
books for some time: It is illegal to "Discharge a
firearm or shoot an arrow in or on the bed or bank of
a navigable stream in Dimmit, Edwards, Frio, Hall,
Kenedy, Llano, Maverick, Real, Uvalde, or Zavala counties. This law does not apply to persons fishing
by means of archery equipment or shotguns loaded
with shot, including buckshot. A shotgun slug is

Why only these counties? I suspect because of
wealthy landowners in these game-rich areas that
applied pressure to politicians but that is only
speculation on my part. Hunting is currently allowed
on all the other navigable rivers. By definition in
Texas, a navigable stream is “A stream which
retains an average width of 30 feet from the mouth

Through the years, I have hunted wild hogs, turkey
and ducks on the Brazos River with shotgun and
bow. I have friends that own or have owned ranches
on either of the river. The law clearly stipulates that
hunting is allowed only in the streambed defined by
the ‘gradient boundary’. I ran a survey field crew for
many years and back in the seventies attended a
class by Irving Webb, then state surveyor. Mr. Webb
did a lot of work developing the complicated formula
for determining this ‘gradient boundary’. After a few
days under Mr. Webb’s instruction I and the other
surveyors present left somewhat confused.

Determining gradient boundary is a complex thing. But for all practical purposes, the boundary between the river and private land is usually about halfway up the bank and begins where woody vegetation (trees) start.

Shoot a game animal in the river bed that runs up the
bank onto private land and the hunter has no legal
rights to trespass and recover the animal. There can
become a huge problem and the primary reason I
limited my hunting to hogs, ducks and turkey. I knew
full well that it was entirely possible for a deer shot
with a bow or rifle to make it to the top of the river
bank before expiring and I didn’t have legal access
to follow.

Beginning Sept. 1, hunting hogs or game from navigable streams with rifle or bow will be illegal. (photo by Luke Clayton)

But now, with the passing of SB 1236, the only
hunting allowed on these rivers, statewide is with
shotgun with ‘pellets’. No more fletched arrows with
fixed or mechanical broad heads for hunting hogs or
game. Bow fishing with non-fletched arrows without
broadheads and bows with reels will be allowed.

Imagine the questions that our Texas game wardens
are having to deal with or, will have to deal with
come Sept. 1 of this year. I have a friend that has
been a game warden for many years and he informed
me the legal department is currently working on
deciphering the legalities involved in regards to

I posed a few questions that the rank-and-file warden
will have to deal with. One I posed is the use of big
bore airguns. The new law mentions only firearms,
ie. rifles and shotguns with slugs and bows, no
mention of big bore air rifles that are now legal to
hunt with in Texas for game animals. What about
using buckshot for hunting hogs and deer on the rivers? After all buckshot is a ‘shot’ albeit much bigger than shot used for duck hunting. Can deer legally be harvested with a shotgun loaded with buckshot?

I’ve always been a stickler for safety regardless with
outdoor activity involving the use of a firearm. Personally, I’ve never hunted with a centerfire rifle along streams or rivers. I’ve always been concerned about the possibility of someone fishing along the shore, a landowner from the adjacent tract looking for livestock or someone simply approaching by water from around a bend in the river. I have hunted with crossbows and compound bows, air rifles and of course, shotguns for waterfowl.

Remember, there is a lot of land between the water and gradient boundary in some steam beds during drought conditions which during the summer opens up thousands of acres statewide to hunting. My personal thoughts of using centerfire rifles on rivers aside, I see absolutely no reason for banning the use of hunting bows and for not addressing the use of big bore air rifles in these waterways.

If given a chance to vote on the matter I would include the use of center fire firearms even thought I wouldn’t hunt with them myself along waterways, largely because I like prefer bows and air rifles.

It appears duck hunting regulations will not change pertaining to river hunting. Rivers and streams attract waterfowl like a magnet and provide some excellent shooting in a safe setting. Most waterfowl hunters along rivers build blinds a few yards from the water, put out decoys and shoot from stationary positions.

I guess the only questions I have that are unanswered pertain to the use of big bore airguns and whether or not buckshot can be used on shotguns for hunting hogs and deer. Much is still up in the air concerning this new regulation and I’m sure all these issues will be addressed in the next few weeks before the change new regulations
become effective.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton by email through his website