Dry Conditions Could Affect Spring Turkey Hunting

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Despite dry conditions across Texas, prospects for this year’s spring turkey season remain promising, thanks to a carryover of mature gobblers, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.

Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens April 1 and runs through May 14 in 153 counties. The spring eastern turkey season is open in 42 East Texas counties from April 1–30. Special youth-only weekends are set for March 25–26 and May 20–21.

“We have a decent carryover from previous years, which means there should be some older birds out there,” said T. Wayne Schwertner, TPWD turkey program leader. “Despite dry conditions across most of the state, I’m not concerned about the overall health of our turkey populations going into the spring hunting season. We had a fairly warm winter so the birds have not been stressed from a temperature standpoint.”

What hunters could see this spring are lean birds due to a lack of food supplies as habitat conditions continue to deteriorate from lack of rainfall. “The drought is not resulting in serious adult mortality, but turkeys are not going to be rolling butterball fat, either,” Schwertner noted.

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. Regulations and bag limits vary by county, so check the county specific rules where you are hunting. Only gobblers are allowed to be harvested during the spring hunting season. Consult the 2005–06 Outdoor Annual for season dates and bag limits in your area.

Eastern turkey hunting is limited to shotgun, lawful archery equipment or crossbow, with a one-gobbler bag limit. All harvested eastern turkeys must be taken to a check station within 24 hours. To find the check station nearest you, contact a TPWD field office or call (800) 792-1112.

Hunters in East Texas hoping to try their skills in some of the national forest lands in should note some areas may still be inaccessible due to debris from Hurricane Rita, which could create challenges and opportunities for hunters as birds find new haunts.

“Hunting will be tricky with the dry conditions and just accessing the woods right now will be challenging,” said Gary Calkins, TPWD district wildlife biologist in Jasper. “Some of the areas are going to be miserable, like on the Angelina (Neches/Dam B Wildlife Management Area). The Big Thicket took a lot of damage; there weren’t a lot of birds up there except on the fringes to begin with. The Sam Houston did not take much damage and they’ve got a lot of birds up there.”

Calkins cited reports indicating some shifting of birds in the aftermath of the storm. “Some areas in the southern end of the Pineywoods have definitely seen some shifts from traditional areas and birds may be using marginal habitat because of the loss. We didn’t have much of an acorn crop to begin with and the storm put a hurt on turkeys.

“Overall, other than the access issue, hunting is going to be pretty good,” he predicted. “The birds are big and healthy so the drought has not affected their health and that’s a bright side. I don’t feel like we’re at risk of losing birds.”

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, a TPWD Annual Public Hunting Permit (available for $48 wherever hunting licenses are sold) is needed and provides access to several hundred thousand acres of public hunting lands in East Texas.

Last year marked the first full month spring season for eastern wild turkeys in Texas, but according to TPWD district biologist David Sierra in Tyler, a majority of the harvest still occurred during the first part of the month. “It’s like deer season, no matter how long you make it, most of the harvest still takes place early on.”

What that means for serious hunters is less pressure on the birds after the opening week. Sierra said hunters looking for opportunity should try the Caddo National Grasslands or explore standby hunting on one of the department’s wildlife management area drawn hunts, like at Pat Mayes WMA.

As to prospects in his district, which covers the Post Oak Savannah ecoregion of East Texas, Sierra expects there will be fewer jakes available due to poor hatches last year, but still plenty of “uneducated” 2½-year-old gobblers to call up.

“We had a good mast crop here and there so birds that ranged could find enough food to carry them over,” he noted. “Body conditions should be in good shape overall.

Hunters are reminded that a Texas Upland Game Bird Hunting Stamp is required in addition to a valid Texas hunting license. The stamp endorsement is included in the Super Combo and Lifetime Hunting license packages. Non-residents who purchase the Non-resident Spring Turkey License are exempt from this stamp endorsement requirement.