Conditions Right for Prime Spring Turkey Season

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Phenomenal! Where hunting forecasts are concerned, you can't get much better for Texas turkey hunting this spring, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"This will be the year to be a turkey hunter," said John Burk, TPWD's turkey program biologist in Nacogdoches. "If you've never been (turkey hunting), this is a good time to start because it should be phenomenal."

Burk bases his optimism primarily on the observations from 2001 when turkey reproduction was extremely high throughout the state. "There will be a lot of 2-year-old birds that haven't played the game long enough to know better," he says. "As jakes last year, they got plenty of action but didn't get shot at."

At 2 years of age, most gobblers are already sporting the hardware that can draw the attention of a hunter. But unlike a seasoned old tom, these birds aren't wary enough to ignore a decoy and a hunter's call. "The season is timed perfectly this year and there are plenty of birds out there," Burk notes. "If you can't make it happen this year, you ought to consider taking up golf," he says jokingly.

Texas offers hunters the opportunity to pursue two distinctive subspecies of turkey: the Rio Grande, which ranges across the western two-thirds of the state and the eastern, a bird that has been successfully restored by TPWD to much of its historic range in East Texas.

Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens March 29 in South Texas and runs through May 4. In the remaining 129 counties having spring hunting for Rio Grande turkey, the season begins April 5 and runs through May 11. 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 gobblers per license year.

"Range conditions statewide are in great shape right now for turkeys, good enough where hopefully we can count on another good hatch, so that means some places will see three years in a row of good reproduction," Burk says. "And that means more good hunting in upcoming seasons."

The spring eastern turkey season is open in 41 East Texas counties from April 14-27 and is limited to shotgun, lawful archery equipment or crossbow, with a one-gobbler bag limit. Harvested eastern turkeys must be checked at stations set up in the counties having an open spring eastern turkey season. Brazoria, Fort Bend, Matagorda and Wharton counties will see spring turkey hunting for the first time this year.

"We've had two pretty good years of reproduction in a row and I say this every year, but where we have the habitat, we have birds," says Burk. "We're way over the hump as far as the restoration of turkeys in East Texas, and the success of the program is becoming obvious to people. This year may be the season where we see the harvest to prove it. So many people are seeing turkeys that it's getting tempting to get into the sport and the probability of success is increasing."

Unlike Rio Grande turkey hunting, the eastern turkey season doesn't offer a hunter the luxury of waiting out a mature gobbler. With a 14-day window of opportunity, persistence and skill is the key, said Burk. "We don't have ideal habitat for eastern turkeys anywhere. We have some pockets of good habitat and in those areas turkey production is increasing by leaps and bounds. Conversely, we're seeing the same level of decreases in turkey numbers in areas where habitat is being lost."

Ideal eastern turkey habitat, according to Burk, is divided into about 60 percent forested lands and 40 percent open country with a mixture of agriculture crop production. "The counties along the Red River Valley skew the production and harvest trends in East Texas because they're doing so well. Lake Wright Patman and White Oak Creek Wildlife Management Area are two spots with good turkey hunting prospects if you're willing to work at it," he says. "Some of the national forest lands in the Pineywoods also offer good hunting opportunities."

An Annual Public Hunting Permit (available for $40 wherever hunting licenses are sold) provides access to more than 500,000 acres of public hunting lands in East Texas. "If you are serious, patient and have some knowledge of turkey habitat, you can expect to have a quality turkey hunting experience on public land," Burk explains. "After the first few days, the inexperienced hunters have become frustrated and moved on and the savvy hunters have limited out so you end up with a lot of woods all to yourself."

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. For check station locations, contact a TPWD field office or call (800) 792-1112.