As the 2023 spring turkey season approaches in New Mexico, hunters in the state can look forward to new hunting opportunities thanks in large part to years of conservation efforts benefiting the Gouldian wild turkey.
The removal last year of the Gouldian wild turkey subspecies from the list of endangered and threatened species in New Mexico was a significant conservation achievement. After being on the list since 1974, the deletion of the subspecies demonstrates successful conservation management and preservation of the turkey population in the state.
Following a thorough evaluation of the 2017 Gould’s recovery plan in New Mexico, the previously threatened subspecies was successfully delisted. The decision was made unanimously by the New Mexico State Game Commission, based on careful consideration of habitat concerns, future habitat availability, and management goals outlined in the plan. One of the main goals was to maintain a population of 175 Gouldian wild turkeys; however, the numbers have consistently remained above that goal, with approximately 225 turkeys registered in the last four years. It is worth noting that the counts exclude populations of Gouldian turkeys residing on private property, which are not included in the official count or management objectives.
For hunters, this Gould restoration in New Mexico presents a rare opportunity to hunt the subspecies. In the past, the New Mexico Game Commission issued only two conservation (improvement) tags for the Gouldian turkey, with the intent of generating maximum funding for Gould conservation through raffles and auctions.
However, with the successful removal of Gouldian turkeys, the state offered an additional four once-in-a-lifetime public draw tags for hunting during the spring 2023 season (in hunting units 26-27), November 1-31. of May. the chances of getting a tag for this hunt were relatively low (the deadline to apply was February 15), officials may adjust tag numbers in the future based on population responses to the new pressure hunting.
In 2014, the NWTF and the NWTF Arizona Huachuca Gould Chapter helped trap and move 60 Gouldian turkeys from Arizona to New Mexico. The NWTF also provided turkey boxes for the transfer. The New Mexico Game and Fish Department was able to obtain these birds by trading 41 New Mexico pronghorn with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, with the help of the NWTF. This trade, along with efforts made through the 2017 recovery plan, catalyzed the return of a healthy population of Gouldian turkeys in New Mexico.
The NWTF supported both the 2017 Gouldian turkey recovery plan and delisting efforts in 2022. In addition, the NWTF also provided information on tag assignment numbers after subspecies delisting. Keeping track of populations is crucial when considering game tags, and each spring NWTF members assist with Gould counts in both New Mexico and Arizona to help keep informed on subspecies numbers.
The Gould’s turkey is among five subspecies of wild turkey found in North America, and is one of three subspecies that call New Mexico home, along with Merriam’s and the Rio Grande. Gould’s turkey is considered the rarest subspecies and also the largest, averaging 18 to 30 pounds for males. These turkeys are unique to the southwestern regions of New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and Mexico.
This conservation success story is a testament to the enduring importance of continued conservation efforts and the influential partnership between wildlife organizations and government agencies.