• Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

A History of Texas Turkey: History, Hunting, and Thanksgiving Dinner

ByRobin H. Purcell

Nov 24, 2022

1861 President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that is considered the foundation of the national Thanksgiving tradition. Exactly how the turkey found its ill-fated role as the star of the celebration is a debate ranging from stories about the Pilgrim colonists sharing a meal with the Native Americans to early authors such as Charles Dickens writing about the bird doing so heart of the holiday meal.

One thing is certain: the bird has become the focus of an annual American tradition, and while a great source of birds for consumer needs is bred by farms, Texas is a significant source of several species of wild turkeys that have been a hunter’s delight to many generations.

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), Texans planning to pick 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 has impacted farms ‘ suffered in 39 states.

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

But for hunters looking to avoid the crowds and high prices, and to capitalize on Texas’ booming wild turkey population, there’s some good news.

The Texas mug

Turkey season

Texas has two seasons for wild turkeysin fall and spring, with season restrictions in each county.

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

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

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Spring also varies by regional zone, with the South Zone opening next year for the first time on March 18 and ending on April 30, while the North Zone runs from April 1 to May 14.

Conversation about Turkey

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

Overhunting is credited with causing a significant loss of the state’s wild turkey population from the 1880s through the early 20th century.

Today, populations are monitored by TPWD, and policies such as bagging restrictions and efforts to strengthen habitats and restore populations through restocking programs now allow Texas to boast one of the highest densities of wild turkey populations in the US.

Male turkeys are known as “Toms”. Adult males are known as “feeders”, females are known as “chickens” and young turkeys are known as “poults”.

Chickens nest on the ground and lay an average of 10-11 eggs, but sometimes up to 16.

Remarkably, chicks leave the nest 24 hours after hatching to follow the mother and may begin flying about 10 to 14 days later.

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

During the Hunting season 2020-2021There were 53,523 hunters in Texas who held turkey hunting licenses, and approximately 45 percent of those hunters killed 26,936 turkeys.

Hunting accounts for approximately $3 billion of the Texas economy, and revenues from hunting and fishing go to fund wildlife management and stock replenishment programs that sustain populations for the next season.

In addition to government efforts, there are numerous private organizations to strengthen and protect future wildlife populations to keep hunters in the game. One of them, the National Wild Turkey Federationhas several chapters throughout Texas and a mission dedicated to the conservation of wild turkey and the preservation of hunting heritage.