Statewide NewsTexas HistoryA Texas Turkey Story: History, Hunting, and Thanksgiving Dinner

With the fall hunting season underway, here are a few facts about the wild turkey, of which Texas has some of the best populations for hunters.
November 24, 2022
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In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation considered the basis of the national Thanksgiving tradition. Exactly how the turkey found its unfortunate part to play as the star of the celebration is a debate ranging from stories about the Pilgrim colonists sharing a meal with the Indians to early authors like Charles Dickens writing about the bird being the centerpiece of the holiday meal.

One thing is certain: the bird has found itself the focal point of an annual American tradition, and while a large source of birds for consumer use are raised by farms, Texas is a significant source of several species of wild turkeys that have been a hunter’s delight for many generations.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), Texans who plan on picking up a turkey at the grocery store may experience “sticker shock” due to inflation, which has increased operating costs for farmers, as well as severe bird flu that impacted farms in 39 states.

In addition, the TDA says many turkey farmers in Texas have left the business and closed, resulting in most store-bought turkeys being imported from states like Minnesota and North Carolina.

But for hunters who wanted to avoid the crowds and high prices and take advantage of Texas’ booming wild turkey population, there is some good news.

The Texan Tumbler

Turkey Season

Texas has two seasons for wild turkeys, in fall and spring, with seasons being subject to restrictions in each county.

Photo curtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

The fall season is presently open in 177 of the state’s 254 counties, starting on November 5 and ending on different dates in three different zones in January and February 2023.

Photo curtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

The spring also varies by regional zone, with the South Zone opening first next year on March 18 and ending on April 30, while the North Zone will run from April 1 to May 14.

Turkey Talk

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), turkeys occupy 223 of the state’s 254 counties, and three of the five wild turkey subspecies can be found in the state, including the Rio Grande, Merriam’s, and Eastern Turkeys.

Overhunting is attributed as the reason for a significant loss in the state’s wild turkey population from the 1880s until the early 1900s.

Today, populations are monitored by TPWD, and guidelines such as bagging limits and efforts to bolster habitats and restore populations with restocking programs now allow Texas to boast some of the highest density of wild turkey populations in the nation.

Male turkeys are known as “toms,” adult males are known as “gobblers,” females are known as “hens,” and juvenile turkeys are known as “poults.”

Hens nest on the ground, laying an average of 10-11 eggs but sometimes as many as 16.

Remarkably, poults will leave the nest to follow the mother 24 hours after hatching and can begin to fly around 10 to 14 days later.

TPWD says that turkeys have extremely powerful senses including vision and hearing, but if they could smell they would be “nearly impossible to hunt”. 

During the 2020-2021 hunting season, there were 53,523 hunters who had turkey hunting licenses in Texas, and around 45 percent of those hunters bagged 26,936 turkeys.

Hunting constitutes approximately $3 billion of the Texas economy, and revenue derived from hunting and fishing goes to fund the wildlife managing and restocking programs that keep populations up for the next season.

In addition to state efforts, numerous private organizations exist to bolster and protect future wildlife populations to keep hunters in the game. One of these, the National Wild Turkey Federation, has several chapters across Texas and a mission dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the hunting heritage.

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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy in West Texas. He graduated summa cum laude from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and is presently finishing a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.