Turkey hunting doesn’t get any better than what we have in Texas. Here in the Pineywoods, the restocking of eastern wild turkeys is still struggling in many counties but going strong in others. It’s the Rio Grande turkey that makes spring hunts so popular among thousands of hunters. They are numerous and can be found just about anywhere you hunt from Central to South and West Texas.
This past weekend, I hunted Rio Grande gobblers about 10 miles north of Goliad in South Texas. We hit it just right. The gobblers were just beginning to group up with hens, so there was lots of activity. On one afternoon I stalked seven big gobblers, and shot a one that was romancing three hens. Quite a few of the Rio Grande gobblers I’ve seen were mature birds.
A couple of weeks ago I was on a 500-acre ranch in the Hill Country, not far from Blanco. The gobblers were all over the hens. I watched a trophy-class gobbler follow the same hen for three days.
Just before this spring season opened, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists said that we would probably be seeing good numbers of mature Rio Grande gobblers. Based on what I’ve seen, they were right on the money.
“We had phenomenal production in 2010, which means there should be good hunting opportunities this spring for big old gobblers,” said Jason Hardin, turkey program coordinator for TPWD.
“Going into last year, many of these hens put forth tremendous nesting effort following a mild winter and late winter/early spring rains,” he added. “This led to average to above average production, so there will also be a large number of jakes on the landscape this spring.”
“The drought of 2011 wreaked havoc on wild turkey production,” said Hardin. “There was almost zero nesting effort and the handful of hens attempting to nest were almost all unsuccessful. This will be obvious this spring with almost no two-year-old gobblers across Texas’ Rio Grande turkey range.”
On the right side of Texas, as in the Pineywoods, where hundreds of Eastern turkeys have been stocked, the turkey population remains stable but is not expanding to the degree that biologists have hoped.
“Easterns across most of Texas have not shown much growth outside of a few areas stocked in 2007-2008,” said Hardin. “Those stocked sites were part of a research project examining a new stocking strategy known as super stocking.”
This method calls for flooding the best available habitat with 80 turkeys (60 females and 20 males). The old stocking method only placed 15-20 birds per site. Following the positive results of this “super stocking” research, TPWD is now looking for large, high quality sites to be evaluated as potential future releases sites. These sites can be single ownership or a cooperative on private or public lands.
Hunters are reminded 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.
A few years after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began stocking Eastern turkeys in the Pineywoods, I had the opportunity to make a hunt for them in Polk County, not far from Lake Livingston. That’s where I called in a huge Eastern gobbler with an 11-1/2 inch beard. That bird weighed just over 30 pounds. Eastern turkeys are typically bigger than Rio Grandes. For example, the gobbler I harvested in South Texas last weekend weighed 27 pounds and had a 9-inch beard – definitely a trophy-class gobbler.
What makes spring turkey hunts so much fun is that the gobblers are strutting with full, fanned out tails. They are intent on mating. One of the finer things you’ll ever see in Texas is a gobbler trying to impress some very finicky hens. At times it can be ridiculously easy to call in spring gobblers. But if they are “hened up,” it’s awfully difficult to call them off their girlfriends.
One of the very best spring hunts I’ve ever had was at the La Fonda Ranch in West Texas. One afternoon I was the designated guide for Gov. Ann Richards. We went out one and set up on a Rio Grande gobbler that was looking for a hen. The governor and I set up against a couple of mesquite trees and waited. I was scratching out lonely hen clucks on a slate call that must have sounded pretty good. Within 30 minutes, that big gobbler stepped out of the brush at about 75 yards. He was strutting like there was no tomorrow. It was quite a show. I made a couple of sultry sounding clucks and he was on the way in when the governor shouldered her shotgun and leveled the ol’ boy at about 50 yards. It was one heck of a shot and one heck of a gobbler. That’s why we hunt ‘em in the spring.
Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.