Hunters Are Noticing Fewer Wild Turkeys: Here’s Why

by Megan Molseed
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The turkey populations have seemed to dwindle over the years, with hunters all across the country noting fewer and fewer of these wild birds each season. It is nearly impossible to decipher a definitive answer as to the reason for this trend. However, some experts have offered some explanations for the dwindling numbers within the wild turkey populace.

One of the first challenges facing the popular game bird these days is weird weather patterns. Unusually wet and cold conditions have led to changes within the wild turkey population in some areas.

“Dry springs and summers—not drought—are important for nesting and brood rearing,” notes Chad Lehman who serves as a senior wildlife biologist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. Lehman adds that these conditions are likely the most prevalent factor for wild turkey reproduction – and survival- in South Dakota.

“Winter weather is important, as it can kill turkeys during the winter months,” Lehmann explains. “And mild winters also benefit wild turkeys.”

Major Weather Changes Have Slowed the Wild Turkey Population

Wyoming Fish and Game expert, Joe Sandrini agrees that weather is a major player in the wild turkey population’s well-being. In fact, Sandrini notes, Wyoming has even moved turkey season to allow for the turkeys to reproduce in optimum conditions.

“Wyoming is not historically wild turkey range, probably due to lack of winter habitat and food availability,” Sandrini explains.

“Consequently, populations cycle with weather events,” the expert adds. “Overall, when weather conditions are favorable, wild turkeys have done—and continue to do—very well.”

Next on the list is the fact that many wild turkeys seem to be “movin’ on up!” seeking a busier way of life among the deer and hustle and bustle of urban – and suburban areas. But, experts note, many of these game birds seem to be settling in a little too much. Showing aggression towards pedestrians and motorists in these areas. And, they don’t seem to realize this just makes them look plain bad.

Turkeys Are Finding Some Safety Among The Hustle and Bustle Of the ‘Burbs

“The biggest challenges facing turkeys in California are increasing negative public sentiments generated by nuisance wildlife issues involving turkeys in urban and suburban settings,” notes environmental scientist Matt Meshriy. Meshriy adds that these issues become a concern because hunting doesn’t solve the problems in the more populated areas.

Another concern facing the wild turkey population across the country is the structure of the regular turkey season for hunters. The spring season may be coming too early, slowing down turkey reproduction and breeding.

“Our research has shown that gobbling, an essential component of turkey breeding, is disrupted by hunting activity and the removal of toms from a landscape,” notes Emily Rushton, a state wild turkey biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Adequate Habitat Availability Is Very Important

Additionally, the lack of beneficial habitats and poult production has led to a decline in the wild turkey numbers.

But, this certainly does not mean that turkeys are nearing a major threat. And, experts note, time will give us the answers that we need.

“While hunters may get frustrated at the lack of instant action, they need to keep in mind that wise management takes time to get right,” notes Adam B. Butler, a wild turkey program coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “We will figure these things out in time.”

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