The wild turkey is widely regarded as one of the best symbols of hunt conservation in action in the Lone Star State. Although plentiful in Texas prior to the 1800s, turkey populations suffered dramatically due partly to habitat destruction and unregulated hunting. Wild turkey populations declined so much that by 1959 the estimated statewide population had dropped to under 100,000 birds. But, thanks to hunter-funded trapping and transplanting of birds and habitat restoration and protection, wild turkey populations are now estimated at over half a million birds. Turkeys now inhabit 223 of Texas’ 254 counties and can be found in every vegetational zone within the state.
One contributing factor to turkey populations hunters can’t control, however, is weather. Turkey Program Leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Jason Hardin explains:
“The Rio Grande wild turkey population can experience significant population fluctuations based on amount and timing of raining, and spring and summer temperatures,” he says. “Areas of the Rio Grande range that receive favorable spring moisture typically produce more young than areas that do not receive these moist conditions. Most of the Rio Grande range experienced favorable moisture and below-average summer temperatures in 2015 and 2016. Due in large part to these favorable conditions, the Rio Grande population boomed. That has resulted in a large number of mature gobblers across the range in Texas. Unfortunately, 2017 and 2018 did not experience similar recruitment, due primarily to hotter and drier conditions. This will lead to reduced numbers of young birds in the population this coming spring season. That said, there are and will still be a ton of mature gobblers out there to chase this next spring.”
Just as past weather affects turkey populations, so too does more recent weather ahead of this spring’s hunting season.
“One thing we cannot predict at this time is what environmental conditions will be like next spring season ; a lot will depend on when and if it rains,” Hardin continues. “Reproductive behavior, especially in hens, is triggered significantly by moisture. If it rains a week or two before opening day, then you can expect gobblers to be ‘henned up’ opening day. That is good news for growing a turkey population, but often frustrating for hunters. Most Rio Grande hens have not been bred by opening day of Texas’ liberal spring turkey season.”
Hill Country Toms
Regardless of lower-than-past populations or of the growth of populations given uncertain weather patterns ahead of the season, Texas is still a great place to hunt wild turkeys. And the best areas to do that are often in the Hill Country, with the Cross Timbers and the Coastal Sand Plains regions coming in a close second and third, respectfully. All of these areas possess an abundance of creeks, wet draws and rivers that support large tree groves serving as turkey roost and cover. These areas also provide ample food for birds.
“The vast majority of Texas turkeys are located in the central portion of Texas with the bulk being found in the Hill Country and Cross Timbers,” Hardin shares. “However, there can be tremendous numbers of birds found in the Rolling Plains and South Texas near suitable roosting cover [tree-lined waterways and near large oak mottes in the Coastal Sand Plains of South Texas]. There are fewer birds, but still huntable populations of Rio Grande wild turkeys as far west as the Pecos River and as far east as a line from Sherman, Texas south to Edna, Texas.”
Hunting will be difficult this year to say the least. Hunters that hunt hard and throughout the season are apt to garner the most success.
“It is too early to say what the spring season will look like other than to say there will not be a lot of young birds,” Hardin warns. “There will be a lot of mature gobblers across most of the Rio Grande turkey range, but numbers will be down slightly due to poor recruitment of new birds.”
The 2019 Spring Turkey Season opens throughout the state in stages with the Rio Grande-South Zone opening March 16 and running through April 28. The Rio Grande-North Zone opens March 30 and runs through May 12. Eastern Turkey runs April 22 through May 14. This year mandatory reporting is required for all turkeys harvested in East Texas. Successful hunters must report harvests either online at tpwd.texas.gov/turkey or on the mobile harvest app “My Hunt Harvest” available at iTunes or Google Play. The Spring Season is closed in Upshur and San Augustine counties.
Turkey Hunt with Game & Fish
PUBLIC LAND BIRDS
With most Texas land privately owned, finding a place to call up a gobbler can be difficult. Luckily, Texas still has ample public lands that hold plenty of turkeys.
Texas Parks & Wildlife offers spring turkey hunting by drawing on many Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) including Caddo Lake, Chaparral, Gene Howe, James Daughtrey, Kerr, Matador, Muse, Pat Mayse and San Angelo. But this abundant hunting acreage comes with bad news and good.
The bad news? By the time you read this, the drawing will have already been held, as the entry deadline was October.
The good news? Many areas have standby positions.
Try calling WMAs directly to see if spots have opened due to the need for more hunters or cancellations.
Wild turkey hunting opportunities can also be found on LBJ Grasslands, Caddo Grasslands and on several Corps of Engineers properties.
Located 15 miles east of Jefferson, Caddo Lake WMA consists of 8,128 acres of upland mixed pine hardwood forests, flooded bald cypress swamp and seasonally flooded bottomland hardwoods. Some primitive camping (no water, electricity or toilet facilities) is available onsite.
Permits / Groups 3
Success Rate NA
Originally part of a historic cattle ranch owned by the Light family, Chaparral WMA is considered one of the premier WMAs in Texas. It encompasses more than 15,200 acres of South Texas brush country roughly 100 miles southwest of San Antonio. Although primarily known for great deer and javelina hunting, April 2019 will certainly see turkey added to the list when the area hosts its first Spring Turkey hunt. (830) 676-3413
Encompassing more than 5,800 acres along the Canadian River in the Northern Rolling Plains of Hemphill County, the Gene Howe WMA features sand sage/midgrass rangeland and cottonwood/tallgrass bottomland. The area is usually ripe with Rio Grande turkeys, and primitive camping is available for hunters.
Permits / Groups 12
Success Rate 33%
Named for fallen state game warden James E. Daughtrey, the James Daughtrey WMA consists of 34,000 acres located in Live Oak and McMullen counties midway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. The area is representative of South Texas habitat and is vegetated with mesquite and other thorny shrubs. The area features ample water sources and plenty of turkey habitat, and primitive camping is available.
Permits / Groups 12
Success Rate 38%
The Kerr WMA is indicative of the Edwards Plateau ecological area consisting of over 6,400 acres of rolling hills, thick cedar breaks, numerous live springs, and mottes of live oak. The area is located at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River and is an easy drive from Austin and San Antonio. Camping is not allowed, but facilities can be found in nearby Kerrville.
Permits / Groups 12
Success Rate 15%
Located in the central Rolling Plains of Cottle County, Matador WMA features over 28,000 acres of mesquite uplands, shinnery oak rangeland and scrub brush covered hilltops and bottomland. Some areas in the WMA are accessible via 4-wheel drive only, and primitive camping is available.
Permits / Groups 18
Success Rate 24%
The McGillivray and Leona McKie Muse WMA consists of 1,972.5 acres in Brown County and is accessible only during drawn hunts. The area lies in the southern Cross Timbers and Prairies ecoregion and consists of oak-juniper woodlands and post oak-mesquite flats. No camping or fires are permitted, but camping facilities are available at nearby Lake Brownwood State Park.
Permits / Groups 4
Success Rate 33%
The Pat Mayse WMA is located in the Post Oak Savannah Ecological Region on the western edge of the Pat Mayse Reservoir roughly 11 miles northwest of Paris. The area contains almost 9,000 acres and consists mainly of abandoned fields and hardwood timber. Three permanent streams cross the area, and there are several small water impoundments scattered throughout. Pat Mayse WMA features no buildings of any kind, but primitive camping is available for hunters.
Permits / Groups 4
Success Rate NA
San Angelo SP
While not a WMA, San Angelo State Park does host a Spring Turkey hunt. The park is over 7,000 acres in size with 5,700 acres set aside for special permit deer and turkey hunting. The park straddles four ecological zones: the High Plains, the Texas Hill Country, the Rolling Plains and the Trans-Pecos. Camping facilities are available for hunters or in nearby San Angelo.
Permits / Groups 20
Success Rate 13%
TURKEYS OF TEXAS
So, here’s a question: Is Texas home to one species of wild turkey? Or is it home to five?
Turkey Program Leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Jason Hardin explains the answer this way, “There is only one species of wild turkey in North America. That is the North American wild turkey. It is common for hunters to think they are hunting multiple species of wild turkeys across the United States, but they are actually hunting various subspecies of the North American wild turkey. Texas hosts three of the five subspecies of wild turkeys: the Rio Grande, the Eastern and the Merriam’s. Although the Eastern subspecies is the most numerous of the five subspecies in the United States, the Rio Grande wild turkey is by far the most numerous in Texas.
“There are also a handful of Merriam’s wild turkeys that can be found in the Davis Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. The Davis Mountain population was stocked in 1982 and did well for several decades. However, over the past 15 to 20 years, Rio Grande wild turkeys have moved into the Davis Mountains and begun to breed with the Merriam’s population, creating a hybrid bird. It is doubtful there will be many pure Merriam’s in the Davis Mountains in the near future. The Guadalupe Mountains are part of the historic range of this subspecies, and there are still pure Merriam’s, although their numbers are very low. Due to hybridization with Rios, this population is managed just the same as the Rios that share this landscape.”
So, one species, five subspecies. Yup, got it!