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“ Texas wildlife officials have been stocking turkeys since the 1930s.
So what’s next? With 15 counties removed from last year’s list of 43 counties allowed to have a spring Eastern turkey hunting season in 2012, will that ever change or are the birds in those counties and possibly additional counties gone forever? What’s next will be a more determined effort by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and, hopefully, more landowners involvement to improve the stocking procedures and land use practices to give the birds their best chance at survival and reproduction. What is hoped to change is greater populations of birds in the best available habitat and re-openings of Eastern turkey hunting seasons in many counties that basically lie east of the Trinity River where the bird’s former native range is located. But, that won’t happen without a price, about $45,000 per stocking. Texas wildlife officials have been stocking turkeys since the 1930s including Rio Grandes, Floridas, Easterns and RioGrande-Eastern hybrids. The early efforts basically involved pen-raised birds, which were failures. Later, block stockings of wild-trapped Eastern birds from various Southeast states worked well in some East Texas counties, not so well in others. “We used block stockings that involved releasing three gobblers with 12 hens at one site, and we did that at 10 sites in a county,” said Jason Hardin, wild turkey program director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Some areas did well but we had high mortality and poor production in other areas. There were a large number of reasons for the failures and not just a single silver bullet that caused them. We didn’t stock high enough numbers and there was a lack of land management after the stockings. “ Red River County was and remains one of the top Eastern Turkey hunting counties in the state. “We really intensified the reintroduction of Eastern turkeys in 1979 but it wasn’t until the 1990s that it really took off,” Hardin said. “Red River County was the first to have a spring Eastern turkey hunting season in 1995.” Historically, Red River County has been at the top of the chart on Eastern turkey harvest figures, Hardin said, but it yielded to Grayson County last spring. Unlike
Rio Grande turkey hunters who simply are required to attach a tag from their hunting license to a harvested bird, Eastern turkey hunters must take their bird to a check station in the county where it was harvested within 24 hours after bagging the bird. Also, Eastern turkey hunters are allowed to use only shotguns or archery equipment and the limit is one bird per season, not four as for Rio Grandes elsewhere. Last spring, Grayson County recorded a harvest of 41 birds compared to 32 by Red River County whose check station reports were down from 53 the previous year. Because Grayson County also has a population of Rio Grandes, too, that number may contain some Rio Grande-Eastern turkey hybrids. “The highest total harvest we have ever had was in 2005 when 443 Easterns were taken to check stations, including 132 from Red River County,” Hardin said. “That was our peak year and the numbers have been on a decline ever since. Last year’s F i s h
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overall total was 221 birds.” Any success involved in the re-introduction of a wildlife species is dependent upon adequate stockings, good land management practices and a helping hand from Mother Nature. With two of those things solely in the hands of wildlife managers and landowners, Hardin is hoping more wildlife cooperatives such as the Red River Eastern Turkey Association and similar organizations in Montgomery and Anderson counties step forward to help provide the birds with the best habitat possible. “We have received wild-trapped birds from numerous states throughout the southeast and from Missouri and Ohio but our latest birds have come from Tennessee and South Carolina,” Hardin said. “They cost about $525 per bird. “Instead of doing block stocking, we now do super stockings which involves releasing a total of 80 birds at one site. That’s 60 hens, with 20 gobblers at $525 per bird. When you add staff time, gas costs and other factors it comes out to about $45,000 per stocking.” Yes, that may seem like a hefty price to some people but remember: it is hunters and landowners who are not only footing the bill but also reaping the rewards for their efforts. I haven’t seen a similar program anywhere supported by anyone outside the realm of hunting and true wildlife conservation. When birds are purchased from states like Tennessee and South Carolina, they are transported to Texas inside waxy cartons. The cartons are made to contain up to two turkeys but Hardin said only one is placed inside a single carton headed to Texas. “The process takes three days; one day for shipping them here, one day for us to do our required testing for diseases, and one day for them to be taken out and released,” Hardin said. “They do OK in the crates for three days but they can become stressed after longer periods.” The crates the turkeys are shipped in are provided free of charge to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by the National Wild Turkey Association. And that’s just another example of a hunting organization helping wildlife.
Photo: Bob Hood
2/8/12 1:47 PM
Published on Mar 1, 2012
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