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Texas' 2005 Spring Turkey Forecast
According to Pineywoods biologist Gary Calkins, the restocking program has served its purpose. "We've pretty well wrapped up the last couple of years," he said. "We've made a few spot releases into some places that still had some good potential and did not have birds, but we're pretty well done."
East Texas offers the greatest hunting bargain in Texas: great eastern turkey hunting in vast tracts of public land. "That is one of the things that is kind of unique out here," Calkins said. "We do have a bunch of public land, with all the national forests and several management areas. Access to them is a lot easier."
Four national forests offer public hunting for eastern gobblers: Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Angelina and Sabine.
Unlike other regions of the state, where many spring hunters come from out of state, most Pineywoods turkey hunters are local, says Calkins. "By and large, the folks hunting easterns are local," he offered, "although we are getting a few out-of-staters."
It's difficult or impossible to count turkey populations, so East Texas biologists use hen/poult counts to estimate reproduction success, plus reports from volunteers in the field of what they're seeing.
All East Texas turkey hunters are required to check their gobblers in at a state checkpoint in order that biologists can monitor harvest numbers and composition. In 2004, Pineywoods hunters checked in 143 toms, all but 19 of them mature birds.
"We're shooting adult birds," Calkins said, adding that since few banded (released) birds have been harvested, hunters are collecting birds born in these woods.
Flooding can be a concern here, as can fire. "We were scared when we got all that rain in May and June, when we were afraid it was flooding them out," Calkins acknowledged, "but we're getting pretty good counts now. And a good acorn group should have set the birds up in good shape for winter."
Steve DeMaso reports that a recent court case attempting to ban burning on Texas national forestland would have had a detrimental effect on the eastern turkey populations. Calkins concurs.
"Prescribed burning is a big component of that (East Texas) system to keep the mid-story hardwoods knocked back," he said. "If you take fire out of that system, the yaupon and everything will come up, and you'll lose nesting and poult-rearing habitat.
"One of the bright spots we have as far as turkeys is the public land in terms of our ability to do prescribed burns. The picture, especially on public lands, is really bright for turkeys."
"The last two years, 2003 and 2002, South Texas had very reversed seasons as far as turkey hatches," Herrera explained. "It was very dry in the spring. The summers, on the other hand, were very wet. That's very unusual. So consequentially the important nesting period was below average. But then in 2004, the stars must have all been aligned just right. Conditions were excellent all the way around. We had a typically wet -- good -- spring, and those conditions continued throughout summer, which is unusual. And we had very few days with double-digit high temperatures. So climate conditions were excellent for turkey production and nesting.
"As a result," he continued, "what we're seeing and hearing from landowners is that they're seeing turkeys in areas where they haven't been seen in a long time.
"The good news for hunters in 2005 is that there'll be a lot of jakes, obviously, but also a lot of 2- and 3-year-old birds that survived from these good conditions. So it should be an excellent year for turkeys."
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