As the 2023 spring turkey season in New Mexico approaches, hunters in the state can look forward to new hunting opportunities thanks in large part to years of conservation efforts to benefit the Gould’s wild turkey.
Last year’s delisting of the Gould’s wild turkey subspecies from the threatened and endangered species list in New Mexico was a significant achievement in conservation. After being on the list since 1974, the subspecies’ delisting demonstrates successful conservation management and preservation of the turkey population in the state.
Following a thorough assessment of the 2017 Gould’s recovery plan in New Mexico, the previously threatened subspecies has been successfully removed from the list. The decision was reached unanimously by the New Mexico State Game Commission, based on careful examination of habitat concerns, future habitat availability and management objectives outlined in the plan. One of the primary objectives was to maintain a population of 175 Gould’s wild turkeys; however, the numbers have consistently remained above that goal, with approximately 225 turkeys recorded over the past four years. It is worth noting that the counts exclude the populations of Gould’s turkeys that reside on private property, which are not included in the official count or management objectives.
For hunters, this restoration of Gould’s in New Mexico presents a rare opportunity to hunt for the subspecies. In the past, the New Mexico Game Commission issued only two conservation (enhancement) tags for Gould’s turkey, intended to generate maximum conservation funding for Gould’s conservation through raffles and auctions.
However, with the successful delisting of Gould’s turkeys, the state offered four additional once-in-a-lifetime public draw tags for hunting during the 2023 spring season (in hunt units 26-27), from May 1 to May 31. While the chances of drawing a tag for this hunt were relatively low (deadline to apply was Feb. 15), officials may adjust tag numbers in the future based on population responses to the newly added hunting pressure.
In 2014, the NWTF and the Arizona NWTF Huachuca Gould’s Chapter assisted in trapping and translocating 60 Gould’s turkeys from Arizona to New Mexico. The NWTF also provided turkey boxes for the transfer. The New Mexico Department of Fish and Game was able to obtain these birds by trading 41 New Mexico pronghorn with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, with assistance from the NWTF. This trade, along with the efforts put forth through the 2017 recovery plan, catalyzed the return of a healthy Gould’s turkey population in New Mexico.
The NWTF supported both the 2017 Gould’s turkey recovery plan and the delisting efforts in 2022. Additionally, the NWTF also provided input into the tag allocation numbers after the subspecies’ delisting. Keeping track of the populations is crucial when considering hunting tags, and each spring, NWTF members help with Gould’s counts in both New Mexico and Arizona to help stay informed on the subspecies’ numbers.
Gould’s turkey is among the five subspecies of wild turkey found in North America, and is one of the three subspecies that call New Mexico home, alongside Merriam’s and Rio Grande. The Gould’s turkey is considered the rarest subspecies and also the largest, with an average weight of 18 to 30 pounds for males. These turkeys are unique to the regions of southwest New Mexico, southeast Arizona and Mexico.
This conservation success story is a testament to the enduring significance of continuous conservation efforts and the influential partnership between wildlife organizations and government agencies.