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Dry Conditions Could Hamper Turkey Production, Hunting Prospects
AUSTIN, Texas — Continued dry range conditions throughout much of the state this spring could have a negative impact on wild turkey production and hunting prospects, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
If parts of Texas, particular in the south, remain parched there is concern among wildlife officials that Rio Grande turkey breeding activity and nesting effort will be greatly reduced or nonexistent. Since spring turkey hunters rely upon gobbling activity to locate and attract birds, the lack of interest by hens in breeding could make for tough hunting.
Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens in the North Zone April 4 and runs through May 17. Special youth-only weekends are set for March 28-29 and May 23-24. The South Zone opens March 21 and runs through May 3, with youth-only weekends set for March 14-15 and May 9-10.
A special one-gobbler-only Rio Grande spring season is set for April 1-30 in Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, Fayette, Jackson, Lavaca, Lee and Milam counties,
The spring eastern turkey season is open in 43 East Texas counties from April 1-30.
TPWD estimates about 88,000 hunters take part in Texas’ spring turkey season and take about 25,000 gobblers. Most of the state’s spring turkey hunting activity occurs in South Texas and in the Hill Country, where TPWD turkey program leader Jason Hardin noted timely rainfall could give the bird population a boost.
"If we can get even a little green-up there will be some breeding activity," Hardin said. "However, right now conditions look bad."
The good news for hunters is there should be plenty of two-year-old gobblers out there; birds not wary enough to ignore a hunter’s calls.
"There are lots of two year old gobblers out there," said Hardin.
According to Alan Cain, TPWD’s district wildlife biologist for South Texas, the northern portion of South Texas is currently experiencing the driest 18 months on record since rainfall data collection began in the area in1871.
"The last couple of years we’ve had a poor hatch in this area," Cain noted. "Consequently, there will be few gobblers and jakes available for hunters. Hunters should probably concentrate along the drainages where there might a few green weeds to attract birds and I would assume that as hens start dispersing they will be moving to areas with suitable nesting habitat. Overall, hunting will probably be tough as birds will be concentrated to the more desirable habitat areas this year."
The situation deeper in South Texas is not much different. TPWD wildlife biologist Randy Fugate in Falfurrias doesn’t expect to see many jakes in the populations.
"There will be some 2-year old birds in some areas," he said. "Hunters should stick close to riparian draws and other water sources."
Ballinger-based wildlife biologist Ralph Suarez also agrees that the situation is just too dry to expect very much production at this point. However, he did see a lot of jakes last year and is predicting good spring hunting despite the fact that hens are not in the best condition with the lack of green vegetation and insects.
TPWD wildlife biologist Gene T. Miller in the Panhandle is expecting a large number of "hard-gobbling" two-year-old birds along with a few trophy birds. Again, hens are likely to be in poor breeding condition and until spring rains begin to fall Miller does not expect to see much nesting activity. He predicts the latter portions of the season will produce the best hunting.
In East Texas, Jasper-based wildlife biologist Gary Calkins reported he is expecting an average year in the Pineywoods.
"In the areas we have birds, I think it will be okay," Calkins reported. "The hatch last year appears to have been average but this year’s weather is not going to make for great hunting possibly. We seem to be getting fewer birds concentrated into fewer areas and in some cases more hunters in those spots so it may be a bit crowded in some places."
For eastern turkey hunting, Hardin said there are a few hotspots he expects will continue to be productive this spring.
"As always, the northern counties along the Red River tend to take an above average number of birds relative to the rest of East Texas," he noted. "There are a few ranches in Red River County that offer package deals. Some good public areas to look into are Cooper Wildlife Management Area, Pat Mayse WMA and Caddo National Grasslands. I feel like all three are underutilized. Areas around the Angelina and Sabine National Forest also harvest a fair number of birds, but these areas are typically well utilized. Hunters should check with the managers of these areas to get more advice."
TPWD biologist Scott Mitchell in Victoria indicated turkeys are doing well along rivers and creek bottoms in the Guadalupe River and San Antonio River basins where habitat is not too fragmented.
"I predict the birds will be working harder to find ample food and good nesting cover due to lousy range conditions," said Mitchell. "Nest success could be affected due to these conditions, however, overall numbers of birds continue to be on the rise in my area. Less cover and food should equate to easier hunting for many, especially around feeders."
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 2008-09 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.
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