Spring Turkey Outlook: Lots of Jakes, Harder Hunting for Mature Gobblers

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Spring turkey hunters are going to see a lot of jakes and hear from even more this season, but success in finding mature gobblers will depend on hunting location.

“You might start calling and have 10 jakes run up,” says Jason Hardin, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department upland game bird program leader.

Most of the state’s spring turkey hunting activity occurs in South Texas and in the Hill Country. TPWD estimates about 50,000 hunters take part in Texas’ spring turkey season, harvesting about 25,000 gobblers.

While most of the Rio Grande turkey range experienced excellent nesting conditions this past spring and summer, after four years of little to no production across much of their territory, the number of mature gobblers will be limited in some areas. Basically, areas that have received less hunting pressure in recent years are likely home to more long-beards.

Even so, it’s shaping up to be a better season than last year, when two years of drought had played havoc with nesting success across much of the state.

“Last year we had excellent rainfall and excellent reproduction across most of the Rio Grande turkey habitat,” says Hardin. “We’ve had reports of some people saying there were more pouts last year than they had ever seen.”

The abundant rain that much of the state enjoyed last year increased nesting cover and the food supply, which led to a huge hatch. That means a lot of young gobblers and juvenile hens.

“But if you want a long-beard, it could be tough hunting this season in areas that get moderate-to-heavy hunting pressure,” Hardin says. “However, areas without a lot of hunting pressure will have plenty of mature gobblers this year. No matter where you are, if you’re in good turkey habitat, you’re going to hear a lot of activity.”

Still, Texas has the highest density of Rio Grande turkeys in the world. There will still be plenty of mature toms for harvest among lightly hunted populations.

“In late February on a ranch in South Texas that has not been hunted in a while, we saw plenty of mature toms,” Hardin says. “And at the Matador Wildlife Management area recently there were a fair number of mature toms. The eastern Panhandle looks real good because of fair hatches in 2008 and ’09.”

“So far this year we’re looking dry, which will not be setting ourselves up for good hatch,” Hardin says, “but we should be set for a couple of years thanks to last year’s hatch.”

Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens in the 102 North Zone counties on April 2 and runs through May 15. The 54-county South Zone opens March 19 and continues through May 1. Special youth-only weekends are set for March 26-27 and May 21-22 in the North Zone and  May 7-8 in the South Zone.

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. At its March 31 meeting, the Parks and Wildlife Commission will be considering closing 15 East Texas counties for Eastern turkey and pushing the season opener back to April 15, but any change would not be effective until 2012.

“We had favorable nesting conditions for Eastern turkeys this past nesting season as well,” Hardin says.  “A wet winter and early spring followed by dry conditions in May is typically a good scenario for eastern turkeys.  Anecdotal evidence also suggests good production.”

In those areas that typically show good eastern turkey numbers (Red River Valley counties) and deep East Texas counties such as Newton and Jasper should have average numbers as well, Hardin says.

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 2010 — 2011 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.