January 25, 2016
COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill
January 25, 2016

East Texas Needs More Turkeys

The Pineywoods region of Texas has long been a bastion of wildlife, harboring some of the best deer hunting and duck hunting in the state.

However, one outdoor pursuit that seemingly lags somewhat behind is turkey hunting, specifically hunting for the eastern subspecies that calls the pine thickets and hardwood bottoms its home. Make no mistake, the Lone Star State is the No. 1 hot spot in the country for turkey hunting, but that’s for the much more abundant and flourishing Rio Grande subspecies that calls the Hill Country, Rolling Plains and South Texas home.

In good years, notably those with plenty of timely rainfall, it’s not uncommon for the Rio Grande turkey population statewide to top 600,000, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department biologists. However, the eastern turkey population is a fraction of that, which has those same wild game managers looking for answers and ways to boost that figure for hunting purposes.

Since 1995, when Texas’ first spring eastern turkey hunting season was opened in Red River County, biologists and state officials have maintained a mostly conservative approach—a shorter season, mandatory check stations, one gobbler bag limit —to give the birds ample opportunity to establish themselves in new haunts.

Jason Hardin, TPWD’s turkey program leader, said that wildlife officials continue to monitor the eastern turkey situation carefully, using past data from check stations as “trigger points” in identifying areas of concern – specifically those counties with declining turkey numbers.

“(Historically) Just because there has been low harvest in some counties doesn’t necessarily mean those areas don’t have any birds,” Hardin said. “When we went out to our field biologists and landowners in some areas, they indicated there were still plenty of turkeys out there, but they were protecting them and not hunting them.”

Hardin said the overall turkey outlook across the state is as good as it has ever been, despite the negative connotations associated with eastern turkey hunting in some traditional hot spots.

“There was a lot of moisture this past winter going into early spring. Good moisture means early green-up, and those hens are going to be in great shape,” Hardin said. “We had a fair amount of production so we had a fair number of juvenile birds out there. And they went into the nesting season and the breeding season in great shape.”


The Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission last year approved closing spring eastern turkey hunting in 11 East Texas counties in 2016, while restructuring the season in two other coastal counties.

Hunting season for eastern turkeys is closed this year in Angelina, Brazoria, Camp, Fort Bend, Franklin, Harrison, Hopkins, Morris, Titus, Trinity and Wood counties, and on National Forest lands in Jasper County. The closures will allow biologists to evaluate the prospects for future eastern turkey restoration compatibility and restocking efforts, according to TPWD. The department’s goal is to reopen hunting should the eastern turkey populations in the affected counties become capable of sustaining harvest.

TPWD also restructured the existing 

spring turkey hunting season in Wharton and Matagorda counties. The new regulations will continue to allow for a 30-day, spring-only, one-gobbler season and eliminate mandatory harvest reporting.

Hunters are reminded that all eastern turkeys must be reported to TPWD within 24 hours of harvest via electronic reporting at www.tpwd.texas.gov/turkey or on the My Texas Hunt Harvest app. Hunters who use the electronic reporting options are issued a confirmation number upon completion of the registration process. Hunters still have to tag harvested birds accordingly.

Last year’s spring framework was the final hunting season that physical check stations were open as TPWD has transitioned from the physical checks for mandatory eastern turkey harvest reporting to electronic reporting only this spring. The harvest reporting app also can be used as a tool for voluntarily reporting and tracking harvest of other resident game species, including Rio Grande turkeys.

Email Will Leschper at

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Oyster Lake Restoration Phase 2

Ducks Unlimited recently worked with the Galveston Bay Foundation to deliver construction on phase 2 of the Oyster Lake restoration project in Brazoria County. Phase 2 built upon the successful protection of 500 feet of severely eroding shoreline between West Bay and Oyster Lake by extending the shoreline protection an additional 4,700 feet. Ultimately, we protected more than 60 acres of habitat and provided the opportunity to restore 10 acres of intertidal wetlands through future work.

Waves have long impacted the shoreline with severe erosion, resulting in vegetation and soil losses. It is estimated that since 1944, up to 650 feet of shoreline has been lost on the West Bay side and up to 150 feet of shoreline has been lost from the Oyster Lake side. Furthermore, the rate of erosion appears to be more extreme in recent years, as just since 1995, up to 175 feet of shoreline has been lost on the West Bay side and 55 feet from the Oyster Lake side.

Longer term impacts include habitat conversion within Oyster Lake. Historically, the calm, shallow waters of Oyster Lake have supported submerged aquatic vegetation and oysters. The concern is that a breach in the project shoreline would open Oyster Lake up to the higher wave energies of West Bay and likely result in conditions within Oyster Lake that would no longer be conducive to supporting seagrasses or oysters.

Installing hard structure breakwaters immediately reduces wave energy affecting the shoreline. The breakwaters will also result in sediment accretion behind the structures, building up intertidal elevations for the expansion of marsh habitat. Breakwaters also provide substrate on which oyster spat can attach and grow into matured oysters, increasing oyster habitat and reinforcing shoreline protection features. Additionally, elevations suitable for emergent marsh were planted with native marsh grasses to restore and improve marsh functions, including habitat and feeding grounds for waterfowl, fish and wading birds.

The project was conducted in phases in order to immediately address a portion of the overall site that is in most extreme danger of eroding—to the point of breaching and creating an opening between West Bay and Oyster Lake. Oyster Lake phase 2 partners included the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and Coastal Program), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Galveston Bay Estuary Program, the Texas General Land Office, Coastal Conservation Association of Texas, NRG, Ducks Unlimited and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

—Andi Cooper

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The Big Game

Hunters can show their Texas pride by entering their big game kill in this year’s Texas Big Game Awards program. The program is accepting entries through March 1.

Celebrating its 25th year, the Texas Big Game Awards is a partnership of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Wildlife Association recognizing the contributions landowners, land managers and responsible hunters make to managing and conserving wildlife and wildlife habitat on Texas’s private lands. 

Texas Big Game Awards promotes awareness about wildlife management and the role that hunting plays in habitat conservation. It also fosters cooperation among stakeholders who ensure that our state’s wildlife habitat is conserved forever.

—Will Leschper


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