NWTF New Mexico chapters work for people and wildlife
With Merriam's turkeys in its mountains, Rio Grande turkeys along its river bottoms and Gould's turkeys in its southwest corner, New Mexico offers hunters the chance to see three of the five wild turkey subspecies.
Two of these, the Rio Grande and Merriam's turkeys, can be hunted, but Gould's wild turkeys are classified as endangered in New Mexico and are protected.
Jim Bates, the National Wild Turkey Federation's New Mexico state chapter president, hopes that the Gould's wild turkey will eventually be removed from the endangered species list and that a limited Gould's hunt will be held. He wants to auction Gould's wild turkey tags and use the money for restoration efforts, a strategy already effectively used in Arizona.
"The Gould's turkey is limited by geographic obstacles in New Mexico and not by hunting," Bates said. "The only suitable habitat for Gould's in New Mexico is the mountains just above Mexico."
The Gould's turkeys, along with other birds and animals, have been benefiting from rain-collecting water tanks called "guzzlers," built with support from the NWTF's Guzzlers for Gobblers Regional Habitat Program. These guzzlers have been major sources of water for wildlife in the semi-arid regions of the Southwest since the end of World War II.
Through the Guzzlers for Gobblers Program, the NWTF spent over $23,000 on water development and improvement in New Mexico during 2003.
"The availability of water is a major consideration in wild turkey habitat," said Stan Baker, the NWTF's regional biologist for New Mexico. "We do three to six major projects a year that are water related."
Since the late `80s, the NWTF's New Mexico state and local chapters have worked with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to improve wild turkey populations and their habitat. They have moved wild turkeys into New Mexico, and from within the state to boost low populations, planted trees for turkeys to roost in and to protect riparian areas from erosion damage, developed brood habitat and planted wildlife openings to improve turkey hunting opportunities.
"With the abundance of public land and the rise in turkey populations, there should be good turkey hunting in New Mexico over the next couple of years," Bates said.
A recommended place to hunt is the Lincoln National Forest in south-central New Mexico. Bates believes the area is the best public land in the state for hunting Merriam's turkeys (the Gila and Cibola National forests also contain Merriam's, but less available water concentrates the birds and makes it difficult to call toms away from nearby hens). Rio Grande wild turkeys can be found in the Middle Rio Grande Valley and along the Pecos River drainage.
In addition to restoring wild turkey populations and habitat, the New Mexico chapters offer outdoor opportunities to women and children through the NWTF's Women in the Outdoors and JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) programs, scholarships to college bound high school students and education boxes to schools so students can learn about wildlife management through the comeback story of the wild turkey.
They have also purchased All Terrain Vehicles, weight scales, surveillance cameras and gates to help the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish protect wild turkeys and other wildlife.
With around 35,000 wild turkeys in the state and hunters now allowed to purchase two turkey tags during the spring season, New Mexico offers a variety of hunting opportunities to the turkey hunter.