Turkey sightings are happening across Henderson and Anderson counties, and these are no accident.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation has teamed with the National Wild Turkey Foundation in a “super stocking” effort to bring the bird back to East Texas.
On Thursday, 10 hens were released in the Brushy Creek area of Anderson County, just a few miles south of the Henderson County line near Poynor. More hens are expected to be released late Friday to bring the total released at the 10,000-acre site to 53.
“We are hoping to establish a suitable environment for the longterm, so that we will achieve our ultimate plan of having a huntable, sustainable population in three-to-five years,” Gary Costlow said. “What I am doing is what I hope will make a difference for the future.”
Two of the hens released Thursday are equipped with a transmitter, while all the turkeys released are tagged with metal ID leg bracelets.
“It is a cooperative effort between the National Wild Turkey Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Brushy Creek Co-op. The Brushy Creek Co-op is a cooperative effort of the landowners in this area,” Costlow said. “This year, this is the only stocking for the Texas Parks and Wildlife. They just finished one between Jacksonville and Maydale. There was also a release in the Cayuga area. We are trying to join up with them, in what they call the Neches River corridor, where we hope the turkeys will link up through here and start a good colony of birds.”
Prior to the “super stocking” efforts that started in 2014, Henderson County was void of turkeys, according to Costlow.
Renee Dowell, owner of the Barber Shop in downtown Athens, is the vice president of the Henderson County Chapter of the NWTF. She said since the release of the turkeys, there have been spottings in Malakoff and other locations across the area.
The hens released Thursday quickly flew out of the boxes, and into the woods in the Brushy Creek area. All 10 were from West Virginia. Friday’s release will include turkeys from Iowa.
According to the TPWD, birds are captured from states with a heavy population, and transported to a TPWD facility in Tyler, where they were inspected, tagged with metal ID leg bracelets, and fitted with GPS tracking devices.
Researchers will use the GPS transmitters to track movements of the birds, effectively “ground-truthing” the models biologists have created to identify preferred turkey habitat needs throughout the year. This data will help in assessing future stocking sites.
The “super stocking” plan calls for stockings of 80 turkeys on each of the three sites – three hens for each gobbler — about 240 birds in total.
The initial release of the birds was at the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area in Tennessee Colony in 2014. The Brushy Creek site needs just 27 more birds to complete the stocking program.
“It’s the same old story,” TPWD Upland Game Bird Specialist Jason Hardin said. “The birds were essentially wiped out by subsistence and market hunting, along with extensive habitat loss in the later parts of the 19th century. But with the help of the NWTF, we have been able to bring the birds back all across the country. Although more than 50 counties in East Texas were stocked during the 1980s and 1990s, only 28 counties are open for turkey hunting today. So we had to start looking at why we were not as successful in keeping the Eastern wild turkey population flourishing as other states in its historic range.”
The NWTF’s Texas State Chapter plays a significant role in footing the bill for transferring the birds. Help with the gas bills and plane tickets have been a real boost, Hardin said.
“We couldn’t do what we do without NWTF volunteers and employees. This is all part of NWTF’s new Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt Initiative. Hopefully, one of these days we’ll have enough birds, so we will not need to rely on other states for our Eastern wild turkey restoration efforts,” Hardin said.