Texas eastern turkey, pronghorn restoration efforts highlight wildlife stocking

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Texas hunting and fishing news and updates

Texas has a long and documented history of hunting and fishing excellence.

However, sometimes it helps to stack the odds in our favor, something that officials from Texas Parks & Wildlife and other agencies and organizations have done for decades. And while those efforts mostly have been aimed squarely at a variety of fish such as striped bass and hybrid stripers, the newest pair of grand undertakings include pronghorn antelope and eastern turkeys, a pair of species that certainly could use a little aid from the helping hands of humans.

Spring turkey hunting for the Rio Grande variety of birds has long been a staple in Texas, but the hunting opportunities for the eastern subspecies hasn’t gained the same fame, mostly because the population of birds isn’t on par with those out in the Hill Country and West Texas.

However, efforts are aimed at improving those figures, with help from out-of-state transplants from Alabama, Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Dozens of those birds have been introducted at the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area near Tennessee Colony as part of a “super stocking” program focusing on restoring more adequate numbers of the birds to their traditional range. The overall plan calls for roughly 250 of the birds to be stocked at the WMA and other sites in East Texas, with a ratio of three hens to one gobbler in hopes of spurring the birds to breed and ultimately multiply.

Jason Hardin, the turkey program leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, noted that the effort comes in the wake of other stocking programs in the 1980s and ’90s in more than 50 Texas counties. Those efforts didn’t bear as much fruit as wildlife officials would like, with only 28 counties in East Texas open to turkey hunting as of last season. The initiative will be as much a study in overall stocking efforts as it is a scientific barometer in what has led to such a drastic decline in eastern turkey figures. The states also are reimbursed $500 for each turkey they provide, with that funding coming from the department’s upland game bird stamp program.

Texas’ overall pronghorn population also has seen a staggering hit, with less than 3,000 animals roaming the vast Trans-Pecos region, a place known mostly for some great mule deer hunting. At one time that pronghorn figure was closer to 17,000, according to wildlife officials. However, another alliance of organizations is hoping that moving animals from the Panhandle, which has no shortage of “speed goats,” to far West Texas brings more desired results. The Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Restoration Project progressed with another successful relocation of almost 100 pronghorns during the winter, helping to bolster a regional population hit hard by a number of factors.

Last year 125 antelope were captured from the Dalhart area and released on ranches near Marathon, and TPWD estimates that about 80 percent of the transplanted pronghorns remain, with an impressive fawn crop of at least 70 percent. The initiative includes testing for diseases and more than 50 of the animals were geared up with GPS collars designed to collect hourly location data. Those collars will drop off after a year and be collected, providing vital data for researchers.

It doesn’t take long to see that Texas remains a great place for anglers and especially hunters, and if past indicators lay the foundation for future success, we’re in for continued greatness when it comes to outdoors pursuits for generations to come.

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Will Leschper is founder of The Texas Outdoor Digest. He has been recognized for Excellence in Craft by the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Texas Outdoor Writers Association. He is Conservation Editor of Texas Fish & Game Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Journal of the Texas Trophy Hunters, in addition to writing for plenty of of now-defunct publications.

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