While Old Man Winter overstayed his welcome in parts of Texas in late February and early March, this week's milder weather has given rise to the hope that spring has finally sprung.
And with spring turkey hunting seasons just around the corner, that's good news for hunters looking forward to chasing wily longbeards across the gobbler-rich Lone Star State.
If the preseason forecast from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists proves to be correct, a solid mix of young birds and old mature longbeards should bring plenty of opportunity to hunters during the 2015 seasons.
Spring turkey hunting is ready to begin in South Texas where a March 14-15 special youth-only weekend season is held for Rio Grande turkeys in the 54-county South Zone. The general season in the South Zone opens up the following weekend and runs March 21-May 3 before the region finishes up with another youth-only weekend May 9-10.
In the northern two-thirds of the state, the youth-only weekend seasons for the 101 counties open for spring turkey hunting in the North Zone are March 28-29 and May 23-24. The North Zone general season opens up on April 4 and runs through May 17.
In a portion of the central part of Texas, a special one-gobbler limit season for Rio Grande turkeys runs April 1-30 in Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, Fayette, Jackson, Lavaca, Lee and Milam counties.
In all of the above locales, TPWD is confident that the hunting will be good this spring thanks to solid numbers of two-year-old Rio Grande birds observed by hunters last spring.
With good carryover anticipated to this season, that should mean that there will be plenty of mature longbeards gobbling their way across the prickly pear cactus studded mesquite flats and the rolling hills found in much of the state.
“Rio hunters should do well this spring,” said Jason Hardin, TPWD's turkey program leader, in an agency news release. “There will be a good distribution of age classes on gobblers across the Rio Grande turkey range this season. A few jakes were observed across the Rio range last year, so there should be a good number of less wary birds out there.”
Hardin indicates that last summer’s rainfall – which was fairly generous in spots – gave the state's Rio Grande turkey population the late season production boost that it needed after several years of intense drought.
That also should help to ensure that there will be plenty of young Rio Grande jakes roaming throughout the state this spring.
As for turkey hunting prospects in the state's Eastern turkey regulation zone, Hardin indicates that growing populations north of U.S. Highway 82 along the Red River counties should lead to good hunting conditions. That includes Grayson County to the north of Dallas, which despite lying in the Eastern turkey hunting regulations zone, actually has Rio Grande longbeards within its borders.
“Reports out of the Pineywoods have been mixed and I expect we will see a bump in harvest, but nothing substantial,” said Hardin. “Landowners, managers and hunters who observed Eastern turkeys last year will be seeing them again this year.”
Eastern spring turkey hunting in the 28 counties having an open season runs April 15 to May 14. As a reminder, all turkeys harvested in this region (including the Rio Grandes in Grayson County) must be reported to TPWD within 24 hours of harvest.
A list of physical check stations across the region can be found online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/season/stations.
Hunters do have the option this year of reporting their harvests at either a physical check station in the Eastern regulations zone, online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/turkey or by way of the new TPWD My Texas Hunt Harvest phone app.
TPWD notes that this will be the final hunting season that physical check stations will be open in the Eastern turkey hunting regulations zone. The agency is transitioning from physical check stations for mandatory Eastern turkey harvest reporting to all electronic reporting in the spring of 2016.
Finally, spring turkey hunters throughout Texas are reminded that they must be properly licensed to hunt either Rio Grande turkeys or Eastern turkeys during the 2015 seasons. For residents, that will mean the appropriate hunting license plus the state's $7 upland game bird stamp endorsement. For non-residents, that will mean the $126 non-resident spring turkey hunting license.
For more information on hunting turkeys in Texas, visit the agency's Web site at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.