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Texas' 2005 Spring Turkey Forecast
Texans have discovered over the past couple of decades that there's nothing like fooling a huge old turkey gobbler into hand-shaking distance. More than 50,000 hunters pursue gobblers each spring in Texas, and fully 40 percent of them will take at least one tom.
By region, the Edwards Plateau produces the most gobblers, with about 7,500 birds taken each year. The Cross Timbers region, which stretches from Fort Worth to Brownwood, is second, with about 6,000 birds taken. These two regions also get most of the hunting pressure, with about 75 percent of the state's turkey hunters.
South Texas hunters have the highest success ratio, almost 75 percent, which represents more than 5,000 birds a year. The Rolling Plains region, extending from the eastern Panhandle south to Abilene, produces about 3,000 birds for hunters each spring.
The unique and now well-established population of eastern turkeys provides inexpensive hunting for a smaller number of dedicated turkey hunters, who harvest a few hundred eastern toms each year.
The Lone Star turkey population is in great shape, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department upland game bird program leader Steve DeMaso.
"There are a few areas of the state where we are concerned about populations declining," he said, "but we've had real good hatches the last couple of years among the Rio Grandes. Cross Timbers and Edwards Plateau populations are still doing good.
"In some areas of the Rolling Plains and Edwards Plateau, where cedar encroachment is more of a problem, we're seeing some declines. When the cedars start growing up under the big roost trees, the birds bug out of there. That cedar coming up blocks out the sunlight and has a direct negative impact on the nesting cover and poult reproduction."
East Texas has gone from being devoid of turkeys a couple of decades ago to offering turkey hunting each spring in 42 counties now, DeMaso said. Virtually all the East Texas habitat suitable for turkeys now has turkey populations. "We are pretty much out of the stocking phase," he concluded.
The one factor that's often overlooked in spring hunting success is weather. A lot of hunter success has to do with it staying cold a little bit longer, and the hens not having broken off from the big flocks yet. Additionally, if the gobblers are still henned up, and thus not responding well to calls, and the wind's blowing hard, it's hard for the birds to hear your calls.
The 2005 spring season will run from March 26 though May 1 in South Texas, from April 2 through May 8 in North Texas, and April 1-30 in East Texas.
Here's a region-by-region look at the prospects for the 2005 Lone Star turkey season.
"It's really good. We had a bumper crop of 3-year-old birds last year," he said. "We had a big hatch in 2001 -- one of the best since '97 -- so we had a lot of 3-year-old birds, most of which will carry over to this spring on properties that exercise a conservative harvest."
Turkey hunters used to think a gobbler was ancient at 3 years, but Simons disagrees. "A lot of folks think gobblers top out at 3 1/2 years," he remarked, "but it is true that rarely do we have a hatch as significant as the hatch of 2001. So we have a larger age-class of 4-year-olds than what we normally assume."
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