You gotta love turkeys — on and off the dinner table

You gotta love turkeys — on and off the dinner table

Thanksgiving is not exactly a turkey’s dream come true. But for deer hunters it’s always nice to get lucky and harvest a turkey for the holidays. 

If it wasn’t for the Rio Grande turkeys, we wouldn’t have much of a turkey hunting season. The Rio Grande turkey is by far the most populous and widest-ranging wild turkey subspecies in our state. The other two subspecies with populations in Texas are the eastern turkey and the Merriam’s turkey.

The season on Rio Grande turkeys runs concurrently with deer season. The most abundant numbers of Texas turkeys can be found in the Hill Country and South Texas. Eastern gobblers are off limits in East Texas during the deer season.

Stocking of wild turkeys has been tried in the Pineywoods a couple of times but it really hasn’t been too successful. However, we still have an East Texas season in 15 counties. It’s open from April 15 – May 14. That’s for gobblers only. The season limit on Rio Grande turkeys is four. But check this out: Back in 1903, the bag limit was 25 per day. As turkey numbers began to decline, limits were adjusted.

The absolute best time to be hunting turkeys is during the spring when they are mating. That’s when gobblers can be called in with or without the use of decoys. If you have never hunted turkeys during the spring, you are definitely missing out on true Texas adventure. They, like quail, are a blast to hunt. The reason I mention those two birds together is because turkeys are members of the same family as the bobwhite quail.

“Turkeys appeared in Texas some 11 million years ago, according to the fossil record, yet it took little more than a century of exploitation to reduce their numbers to a few thousand,” said Larry Hodge with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “In 1897, trapping was banned, but only for five months of the year. Not until 1919 was anything close to the current bag limit imposed – three gobblers per season, compared to today’s four. With determined habitat protection and improvement by private landowners, elimination of market hunting, restricted harvests and restocking efforts by TPW, Rio Grandes number more than 500,000 in Texas today – 50 times the number of turkeys of all species found in North America in 1900.

“A persistent myth of American history is that Benjamin Franklin championed the wild turkey as the symbol for the nation’s seal. This was not the case, according to the definitive work ‘The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management.’ Franklin did complain that the artist in charge of creating one of the early images of the bald eagle for the seal produced something that looked more like a turkey than an eagle, and in a digression forgivable of an old man in his dotage, went on to enumerate the bad points of the eagle and the good points of the turkey. But this was done in a letter to his daughter in 1784 – years after the eagle came to adorn the nation’s seal.”

First half of the duck season nearing a close

The first segment of the Texas duck season will close in both the north and south zones on Nov. 26. It’ll reopen in the north zone Dec. 2 and the south zone Dec. 9. The season started off pretty good, especially for hunters on the J.D. Murphree WMA in Port Arthur, but it slowed down a good bit between cold fronts. The front we’ve got going through Southeast Texas this week should move a good number of ducks down the Central Flyway in time to provide some quality Thanksgiving holiday hunts.

Duck hunts in Southwest Louisiana have been excellent, according to reports from Buddy Oaks at Hackberry Rod and Gun Club. The first part of their season will be open through Dec. 3. I’ve hunted with these guys several times. They run some of the best and most comfortable duck hunts I’ve ever been on. The blinds are big and comfortable, and you don’t even get your feet wet. Waders are not required. Most of their hunts are on marsh ponds that attract a lot of gadwall, pintails, teal and widgeon.

“Ariel surveys done a week before the opening of our duck season estimated that we had 158 million ducks in the state,” says Oaks. “Over the first nine days, our hunters have made a big dent in that estimation. We have harvested over 1,600 birds, and each of our blinds is averaging over 14 ducks per hunt. That’s spectacular for us, and we are way ahead of any year we can remember in quite a while. Each cold front through our area continues to bring in more ducks to the marsh.

“Every year we set aside some special dates during Thanksgiving and the holidays so youngsters can come hunting with their families. The special price is $600 for the blind for two people, and that’s all-inclusive. That’s a savings of $270 a trip. The trip includes all meals, lodging, a guided duck hunting trip and more.”

For details, call (888) 862-3391.

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