Conditions Prime for Outstanding Spring Turkey Season
Wildflowers are blooming against a backdrop of bright green — signs of spring. But, it's the sounds of spring that stir the hunter; like the bellowing of a mature gobbler responding to a hen's invitation.
If prognostications by state wildlife biologists hold true, there will be plenty of gobbling going on this year as conditions around the state bode well for the upcoming spring turkey hunting season.
"We've had good turkey reproduction for three years in a row in some areas of the state," said Steve DeMaso, upland game bird program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "If the weather cooperates and conditions remain as they are, we should see an outstanding hunting season."
Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens March 27 in South Texas and runs through May 2. In the remaining 119 counties having spring hunting for Rio Grande turkey, the season begins April 3 and runs through May 9. Statewide regulations allow the use of shotgun, rifle, handgun, legal archery equipment, or crossbow to take Rio Grande turkey; however, individual landowners and public hunting areas may further restrict the devices to be used. The bag limit for Rio Grande turkey is four turkeys per license year. However, regulations and bag limits vary by county, so check the regulations for the county where you are hunting. Only gobblers are allowed to be harvested during the spring hunting season. Consult the 2003-04 outdoor annual (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/annual/) for season dates and bag limits in your area.
According to Joe Herrera, TPWD district biologist for South Texas, hunters can expect to find plenty of jakes coming to call this spring. "There will be a lot of young birds in the mix because of the excellent hatch we had last year," he offered. "They'll come to call easier than the older gobblers and there's more of them in the population."
That's not to suggest the brush country doesn't have any mature birds, just not as prevalent as the jake population. "Two-year-old birds will be there but not in numbers because the year before last was slightly below average as far as production," Herrera said. "Birds ought to be in good shape and we're looking forward to a good season in South Texas. Range conditions look really good in light of scattered rainfall throughout much of the area. We had a pretty dry latter part of 2003 from November through mid February and things were looking a little scary, range-condition wise. But in the last month or so things have perked up and conditions look real good."
Conditions look equally good in the Rolling Plains region of the Panhandle according to Gene Miller, a TPWD technical guidance biologist in Canyon. "Our main turkey range in the eastern half of the Panhandle during the last two weeks received very nice rainfall across the region and the weather is warming up," he said. "If we don't heat up and blow away, we'll be starting out with good moisture conditions and those lush conditions bode well for turkey breeding and nesting. We're going into the season with a strong crop of adults and good production of young. A lot of adult toms should be available to call to the gun. We've seen a minimum of four years of average to above-average production, which means we should have a tremendous crop of old mature toms."
The spring eastern turkey season is open in 42 East Texas counties from April 12-25 and is limited to shotgun, lawful archery equipment or crossbow, with a one-gobbler bag limit.
Hunters are reminded that a Texas turkey hunting stamp is required in addition to a valid Texas hunting license.
All harvested eastern turkeys must be taken to a check station within 24 hours. A complete listing of check stations available this spring can be found online at (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hunt/regs/2004/stations/)or for the check station nearest you contact a TPWD field office or call (800) 792-1112.
Those hunters hoping to try their skills in some of the national forest lands in East Texas should note there might be some prescribed burns taking place around the eastern turkey opener. Hunters are urged to contact the U.S. Forest Service's district ranger office for each National Forest or Grassland before heading afield. Here is the contact information:
* Sabine Ranger District (409) 787-3870
* Angelina Ranger District (936) 897-1068
* Davy Crockett Ranger District (936) 655-2299
* Sam Houston Ranger District (936) 344-6205.
If you intend to hunt in the national forestlands, an Annual Public Hunting Permit (available for $48 wherever hunting licenses are sold) is needed and provides access to more than 350,000 acres of public hunting lands in East Texas.
"It appears that the stage is set for a pretty good year this year for turkey hunters in the Pineywoods," said Gary Calkins, TPWD district biologist for the Pineywoods. "We've had about three years of really good reproduction and not a lot of harvest so there should be a bunch of older birds out there. We've also had fairly good winter conditions. The acorn crop last year was a little spotty, and early winter rains were not really abundant, but late winter rains and mild temps have allowed conditions to be good this spring. I expect good hunting throughout the District."
In the Post Oak Savannah ecoregion, where some eastern turkey hunting has begun to spread, district biologist David Sierra noted, "With such a mild winter and spring shaping up well, combining with what I would consider another great hatch last year, this should make a great spring turkey season. The Post Oak has had at least three years worth of great spring and good summer conditions for hatching and raising poults. I had many reports last summer of hens with large groups of poults, so there should be a number of young birds in the woods this spring. The chances should be very good this year for a successful spring hunt."