Biologists seem optimistic about spring turkey outlook

The prospects for finding a gobbler willing to take your call during the spring turkey hunting season could be good, according to state wildlife biologists, given the right circumstances. Spring turkey hunting success, more often than not, comes down to timing, said John Burk, turkey program leader with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Because the season revolves around turkey mating time, the key is finding gobblers who are playing the singles game. “A tom is most susceptible when he’s searching for hens to breed,” said Burk, “and there will be a lot of looking going on this year.” Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens a week later than last year, March 31, 2001, in South Texas and runs through May 6. In the remaining 129 counties having spring turkey hunting, the season begins April 7 and runs through May 13. The bag limit is four gobblers per license year. According to field reports from TPW biologists, hunting success this spring will vary from region to region depending on recent turkey production trends, current habitat conditions and, of course, the weather. Most areas have seen below average hatches in recent years due to extended drought conditions, the Panhandle and Post Oak Savannah ecological regions being the exceptions. Poor reproduction in recent years means fewer young gobblers this spring running to a hunter’s call but also may mean fewer immature hens available to “hen up” adult gobblers throughout the season. “With the exception of the Panhandle, we’ve been under a continual drought over much of the state and as a result, reproductive trends have been on the decline,” said Burk, who went on to suggest the trend might change this year. “With the good range conditions we’re facing right now, we’re setting up for a boom hatch. The hens are coming into the spring in good physical condition because of the vegetative green-up triggered by warming temperatures and adequate winter and spring rainfall. Spring green-up not only provides critical protein and vitamins essential for egg development but also creates the vegetative structure essential for nesting and brood-rearing cover as the season progresses. I am therefore, anticipating exceptional turkey reproductive success.” High nesting rates could also be a boon for turkey hunters, he added. Because hens on the nest will not respond to gobblers, more nesting hens means more lonely gobblers working. “Most of the dominant birds are going to be with hens early in the season,” Burk offered. “When they run out of available hens in an area, they’ll move on looking for more. If your hunting time is limited, in many cases you may be better off waiting until the middle of April than going out on opening weekend hoping to entice a gobbler to a call.” While eastern turkey hunting opportunity continues to spread, the mainstay in Texas remains the Rio Grande subspecies and the Edwards Plateau region is the place to hunt. Last year, more than a third of the 69,000 hunters who participated in Texas’ spring turkey season did so in the Hill Country. Two-thirds of the 25,000 gobblers harvested came from this region. This year’s outlook in the Edwards Plateau, according to Kerrville-based TPW biologist Max Traweek, calls for fewer birds in most counties due to a decline in production last year, but the potential is there for hunter success. “Fewer birds in general might result in gobblers being a little more susceptible to calling’assuming normal conditions this spring,” Traweek said. “All areas of the Hill Country were negatively impacted by the drought last summer and there will be a shortage of young birds. Traditional roost areas in all counties and especially in our higher turkey population counties (Edwards, Kerr, Kimble, Sutton and Menard) should have adequate birds for a decent season, though.” Hunters are reminded that a Texas turkey hunting stamp is required in addition to a valid Texas hunting license.

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