There is evidently a turkey decline in Georgia, as well as in the Southeast as a whole. This has state agencies considering changes to the turkey season regulations that utilize some of Aldo Leopold’s classic game management strategies – lowering the bag limit and opening the season later. South Carolina is opening the season later, to avoid the peak breeding period. Alabama is also considering changes.
Georgia’s DNR has not proposed any changes, but Georgia Outdoor News, which is the voice of the sportsman in Georgia, surveyed their readers in January, and the results are revealing. Of the 1,400 responses to the survey, 55.2% supported lowering the bag limit to two per season. 18.9 percent wanted no changes. Support for starting the season later was 16.1%. Support for a one gobbler limit in the first ten days of the season was 17.4%. Support for a one gobbler per day limit was 22.5%. (The season bag limit is currently three gobblers.)
This support for lowering the bag limit is surprising, because what hunters generally support is higher bag limits and longer seasons. I’m not too surprised that starting the season later did not get as much support, as turkey season has opened on the last Saturday in March for some years now, although it is actually opening earlier this year, on March 20th. (Some years ago, it usually opened on either the last or the next to last Saturday in March. Sometimes it coincided with the opening day of trout – when we had a trout season – creating a bit of a dilemma for sportsmen.)
It feels right to me that they are declining in our area, as I seem to see fewer than I used to, and it has been perhaps five years since I’ve heard gobbling from my porch when the mating season starts. The easy answer would be to blame the coyotes, as turkey nest on the ground, and I believe coyote predation of the young is probable very significant. While the old “broken wing routine” once fooled a very smart bird dog of mine, I doubt it fools a coyote. I don’t think they can do much with an adult turkey, but a guy who hunts every day of the season once told me they could because they are so fast.
The most interesting comment attached to the survey was one that blamed timed feeders and legal baiting for deer. The feeders dispense corn, and his belief was that nest predators like raccoons were following the turkey back to the nests and destroying the eggs. He made the claim that more raccoons were showing up in trail camera shots than before the legal baiting of deer. Well, baiting for deer. I think my father would have said, “If you can’t kill a deer without baiting, you don’t deserve one.” But it would be interesting to know if the decline in Georgia coincides with the legalization of this practice.
Here’s the perspective of a research biologist, Mike Chamberlain, on the “Things to consider when setting regs for spring wild turkey season,” from the Georgia Outdoor News.
This is a fascinating article that makes a number of interesting points, among them the fact that the toms are ready to mate about 45 days before nesting peaks. That’s when they start gobbling. Also, turkey have a complicated breeding system that relies on pecking orders established before breeding begins, which means that the removal of a dominant tom before he breeds his hens is a significant disruption of their system. Although he acknowledges that hunters want to be in the woods when the toms start to gobble, he ends up saying that the best strategy would be to delay the season until peak incubation has occurred.