Outlook Fair for Spring Turkey Season

Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701, steve.lightfoot@tpwd.texas.gov

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Hunters should temper expectations for this spring’s turkey season after back-to-back years of dry conditions negatively impacted nesting success across much of Texas, resulting in fewer gobblers on the ground.

The good news is 2007 produced a bumper crop of birds and that carryover of mature toms in South Texas and the Hill Country, combined with excellent nesting habitat conditions this year, could result in above-normal breeding activity.

TPWD estimates about 72,000 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 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department turkey program leader Jason Hardin noted timely rainfall could give the bird population a boost.

"I expect there will be enough older birds to keep the season interesting," predicts Hardin. "All of the moisture we have had this winter is setting the stage for an early hatch. If the moisture continues I expect the population to boom in these areas and get us back on track."

Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens in the North Zone April 3 and runs through May 16. Special youth-only weekends are set for March 27-28 and May 22-23. The South Zone opens March 20 and runs through May 2, with youth-only weekends set for March 13-14 and May 8-9.

A special one-gobbler-only Rio Grande spring season is set for April 1-30 in 8 counties, including: Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, Fayette, Jackson, Lavaca, Lee and Milam counties,

The spring gobbler-only eastern turkey season is open in 43 East Texas counties from April 1-30 with a 1 bird bag.

TPWD biologist Ralph Suarez in Ballinger is based along a transitional area between the northern Hill Country, southern Rolling Plains and western cross timbers. He says that they have had near record moisture this winter and that he is seeing a lot of green weeds already. Suarez is predicting an early start to the nesting season, however, he expects the overall number of gobblers to be down this season due to the past two years of drought.

Gene T. Miller, TPWD biologist in Canyon, says that production has been better in his area of the Panhandle than farther south in Texas and he expects to have a decent crop of 2, 3, and 4-year old birds in the eastern Panhandle. Miller advises the later you hunt in the season the more productive the hunting should be.

"From what I have seen in the Rolling Plains I tend to agree with Gene," says Hardin. "We have seen a fair number of jakes over the last two years. They have not had a boom year since 2007, but they have had more moisture than the rest of the Rio range. This year is shaping up to be a boom year. We just need this moisture to continue. All this moisture should lead to great productions."

The Trans-Pecos region also looks pretty good, according to Philip Dickerson, TPWD biologist in Alpine, who commented that staff saw quite a few flocks while flying mule deer surveys and that 2008 reproduction was pretty good. "There appeared to have been good numbers of birds in 2009 on many of the ranches I contacted about turkeys," Dickerson says. "Overall the habitat conditions are very good across the region. With decent production in 2009 and the excellent wet conditions we’ve had, the hens should have no problem getting into nesting condition this spring."

Hardin notes that those ranches that adapted to the recent droughts by reducing stocking rates and maintaining adequate cover should have the most rapid and positive responses to the recent moisture. However, birds will be well distributed with an early production of forbs. Again, Rio Grande turkeys should be in excellent condition range wide.

East Texas is moving along at a usual pace, according to TPWD district biologist Gary Calkins in Jasper, who predicts a normal year. He is expecting nesting to get somewhat of a late start due to the fact East Texas actually got some winter weather this year. "We did see a fair amount of production in 2009," Calkins notes. "I think hunters will see a fair number of jakes this season."

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 2009-10 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.

Need a place to hunt? TPWD’s public hunting program offers the opportunity to participate in low cost, family oriented, spontaneous hunts for turkeys. Each year, the department publishes maps of more than 1 million acres of public hunting lands. Access for turkey hunting is provided by the Annual Public Hunting (APH) Permit.

The permit costs $48 and may be purchased wherever hunting licenses are sold, and allows an adult access to designated public hunting lands. Having purchased the appropriate Texas hunting licenses and stamps, holders of an APH Permit may take children under age 17 hunting free of charge on these public hunting lands.