It’s Rio Grande turkey time in the Hill Country
Yes, it is nearly time for the general Rio Grande Turkey season. The south zone season begins on March 17. There is a special youth-only opening March 10-11 and again May 5-6. The South Texas season remains open through April 29 in 54 counties.
The 101 counties in the north zone will open for the youth only March 24-25 and again May 19-20. The general north zone Rio Grande Turkey season will begin March 31 and run through May 13.
Keep in mind that only the Rio Grande birds are legal game. The Eastern turkey season will open in 28 counties on April 15 through May 14. There are a number of counties that have both the Rio Grande turkeys and the Eastern variety. Check with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Annual to learn the status of the area where you intend to hunt. It is also prudent to know what the bag limits are in various areas.
Even with the prolonged drought, the number of Rio Grande turkeys that I saw during the deer season was substantial. In fact, my personal observation was the same as several other hunters in the Hill County. The turkey population seemed to have not been effected as much as was expected. I’m sure that last year’s nesting did feel the drought effect. However, with the large numbers of adult birds available, there should be plenty Rio Grande turkeys for the opening of the hunting season.
The Eastern variety is a completely different situation entirely. Their population seems to be spotty. There are some areas in East Texas where there are numerous turkeys and there are other nearby areas where neither the hunters nor landowners ever see one. The season for the Eastern turkeys, as you have probably noticed, comes later than the Rio Grande turkey season. So getting ready for it will still be several weeks off.
There are various methods for hunting the wild turkeys that may or may not be the correct ticket on a given day. Both the Eastern and Rio Grande birds are super wary. They seem to be all eyes and nerves. Their heads with extra sharp eyes never stop looking all around. Sometimes they will seem to be dumb and then just when you are ready to take him, he will seemingly disappear. They also have a habit that will cause long-time turkey hunters to lose their religion. For instance, in open woods when you are well camouflaged and calling them, they will come into view. The Eastern birds require shotgun or archery hunting only. That means that the bird should be within the effective clean kill range. So what will happen many times is that the turkey will come to a certain spot out of range – and stop. They will be deterred by fences, drains or sometimes things that are seen only by the turkey. No matter how much and how smooth the calling, he will not come into range. Of course, this is one of the things that makes hunting these big birds so challenging.
Some folks choose to set up well camouflaged and try to ambush a bird just coming through the area. Other folks will do the aforementioned calling either with or without decoys. Keep in mind that during the springtime, the gobblers typically gobble at practically any sound. The use of a turkey call will usually, but not always, let you know the direction he is coming from since he will answer the call.
Not all of the gobblers make sounds. They can simply show up. For some reason unknown to me, they seem to come in from the opposite direction from where your scattergun is pointing. Any amount of movement or even battling your eyes is apt to spook a wild turkey. You have a bird coming to you from one direction and you are set and ready for him and in comes one from the other direction. What’s a hunter to do? Do you try for the one that’s in range or continue to hope that the first bird will come on in? That is a question that only a turkey hunter that has been there can answer. When you are going after wild turkeys, there are definitely no absolutes.
Rio Grande turkey hunters are allowed to use the same firearms and archery equipment as Eastern turkey hunters, with rifles also being legal. It is also legal to use bait to attract the Rio Grandes, which is not legal for Eastern turkey hunting. My personal hunting preference for all wild turkey hunting is to locate a turkey area and set up beside a tree or in some brush and use a call to try to attract a gobbler to within range.
With turkey season so near, I do recommend learning to use a call and enjoy some really challenging and exciting hunting. Wild turkeys are also excellent table fare.