Exploitation And Restoration Of Turkey In Texas

The pre-Columbian population of 2 million turkey in Texas (Schorger 1966) had declined to less than 100 thousand in 1928 (Anon. 1929). Written accounts of early explorers, travelers, and hunters noted numerous flocks of turkey and equally massive slaughter for food and ornamentations. Encroachment of civilization in the mid 80's, changes in land use, and indiscriminate hunting practices caused a drastic decrease in turkey numbers between 1840 and 1880. Game laws to protect turkey were initiated in 1881 and subsequent laws imposed stringent bag limits and protected hens. During the late 40's, Rio Grande turkey (Meleagris galopavo intermedia) were restricted mainly to Central and South Texas in remant flocks. The "Big Thicket" in southeast Texas held an estimated 125 Eastern turkey (M. g. silvestris). Trapping and transplanting reached a feverish pitch in 1942 when 1,005 Rio Grande birds were wild-trapped and moved to depleted turkey ranges in 36 counties. This activity continues and to date, 9,435 Rio Grande and Eastern turkey have been transplanted to approved areas in the State. The 1968 estimate of 575 thousand turkey is indicative of an all-out effort to restore turkey to their ancestral range in Texas and to educate landowners and sportsmen toward modern turkey management and harvest. The original range of the Rio Grande turkey covered all of Texas except the mountains and basins of the Trans Pecos, the western High Plains, and the timbered regions of East Texas. Eastern turkey inhabited all of East Texas east of a line from Clay County to the mouth of the Brazos River (Figure 1). Merriams turkey (M. g. merriami) were established in the Franklin, Hueco, and Guadalupe mountains of West Texas where habitat was limited. The pre-Columbian turkey population for the geographical area presently comprising Texas has been estimated at 2 million birds (Schorger 1966). As farming and ranching settlements sprang up in the mid 80's, the wild turkey became part of the abounding food supply, and no doubt played an important role in the settlement of the country. As is the nature of Man, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of turkey was exploited.

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