Spring turkey season opens in a few weeks and once again, many of us will be out in the field in hopes of bagging a longbeard gobbler. Much of the Lone Star State has been in dire need for moisture for the past year and, after visiting with several biologists with TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife); my guess that last year’s turkey hatch was less than optimal was verified. Turkeys need moisture for their eggs to hatch and moisture for plants that serve as food and cover for the poults. We simply did not get it last spring and early summer. With little rainfall through this past fall, range conditions throughout the winter were also below average. But, on the bright side, Texas is home to the largest population of Rio Grande turkeys in the world and our eastern birds that were first re-introduced a little over 2 decades ago are increasing in numbers throughout much of their range. Even in a bad year, turkey hunting in Texas is much better than in most states.
My friend Mike Ford up in Red River County on the Rio Rojo Rancho and biologists from that region report an excellent hatch of eastern birds last spring in counties along the Red River. “We’re seeing a lot of year old Jakes as well as plenty of mature gobblers. This looks to be one of the best spring turkey season we’ve had.” says Ford. Turkey hunters in Central Texas and across much of the Crosstimbers and Rolling Plains will see fewer younger birds but turkey numbers are traditionally high in these areas and a lack of young birds really shouldn’t affect hunting this year. Most turkey hunters target three year old birds, or older, not the year old Jakes that that are in short supply this season. Granted, the loss of a year class of birds, will have a negative impact on the number of mature gobblers in a couple years but Mother Nature has her way of balancing things out.
I’m often asked by out of state hunters the best area of the state to experience sheer numbers of birds. My answer is always the western counties of the Edwards Plateau. I’ve hunted turkey a lot in Schleicher County and often witnessed over two hundred turkeys working down a draw during late afternoon in route to their roost in live oak trees. I was once hunting with an out of state hunter and we both took nice gobblers during the morning hunt. About an hour before sundown, I told him to leave his shotgun in the cabin and join me with his video camera in a ground blind situated on the side of one of the big draws common to the country. During the last hour of daylight he kept the camera rolling as flock after flock of turkey passed within sight of our blind, heading to roost. Later we reviewed the video and estimated 250 birds had walked by. There were probably that many more that traveled to roost on the other side of the draw that we could not see.
Jack County, situated only 60 miles northwest from Ft. Worth is another bright spot for turkey hunting. I was there on the 15,000 Richards Ranch recently and saw lots of birds, including plenty of Jakes as well as mature gobblers. It was obvious last year’s hatch went well here. Ranch owner Brent Hackley reported turkey numbers were never higher on his ranch. The Richards has plenty of water and in periods of below normal rainfall, it stands to reason the wildlife benefits from the many ponds, creeks and small lakes on the place.
I hunted the Holt River Ranch near Graford in Palo Pinto County during deer season and saw plenty of mature gobblers but few Jakes. Ranch manager John Bryan reports the hatch was down last year but there are plenty of ‘carry over’ birds this Spring. While on bow stand back in December, I observed one bachelor group of 5 gobblers eating corn at the feeder, all of them sported beards around 10 inches in length. I’m making plans to be in a ground blind here with my bow in a few weeks with a couple of hen decoys out front, in hopes one of arrowing on those boss gobblers!
The Texas Panhandle is an often overlooked turkey hunting hotspot. Granted, the number of birds in many areas is not as high as in Central Texas but hunting pressure is extremely light. I hunted near Memphis in Hall County a couple years ago with my friend outdoors writer Bob Hood and we both saw plenty of birds and harvested big gobblers. Turkeys in this country seem to prefer the big, wide draws that are often edged by agricultural fields or CRP land.
Several of the WMA (Wildlife management areas) offer hunts for spring turkey. Hunters have already been drawn for this spring’s hunts but there are usually a few ‘stand by’ openings for hunters that show up. The national forests in Eastern Texas also provide public hunting for eastern turkey. For more information on public hunting opportunities in the state, check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife Web site at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild and visit the subtopic “public hunting”.
So, if you’re like me and anticipating spending time in the turkey woods soon, take heart, there are plenty of birds out there to hunt and the below normal hatch last spring, shouldn’t damper your spirits or chance for success one bit!