Turkey hunters bag 9,203 birds in season | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

With the spring 2023 Arkansas turkey season concluded on May 7, the harvest results are tallied proving the highest bag count in recent years. Hunters so far have reported 9,203 birds taken in the state during the course of the season. That’s a 21% increase over the 2022 harvest of 7,583 and the first time the tally has surpassed 9,000 birds since 2017.

Last year’s brood survey bore encouraging results, as well. With two years needed for a male poult to grow into a mature tom, the 2022 hatch results look hopeful for gobblers in 2024.

With peak nesting estimated to occur around April 19, results of this year’s hatch are still pending. Jeremy Wood, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission turkey program coordinator, explained the nesting habits of turkey hens.

The peak hatch occurs from the third week in May to the first week of June, he said. Research done by William Healy in the 1980s and 1990s with wild turkeys kept in captivity showed a hen will begin laying an egg from 24 to 72 hours after first breeding with a tom. Once the first egg is laid, she will lay one a day for the next 12 to 14 days.

A hen may roost from half a mile to a mile away from her nest. She will make a big loop, coming to the nest to drop an egg about mid-day. At the end of about two-weeks, she will start roosting nearer the eggs and sit on them for the next 26 to 28 days. During that time, she turns the eggs and tends them in earnest. The hen is accustomed to inclement conditions so even in cool, wet weather, she is capable of keeping her eggs warm enough to incubate. By waiting until all her eggs are laid before sitting, it helps ensure the entire clutch hatches at roughly the same time. Most nests have around a dozen eggs.

Following the end of turkey season in May, I placed a corn-baited game-camera at three prime locations spread around the 1,000 acres in South Arkansas I customarily hunt. I harvested one 3-year-old gobbler in this territory in April. These woods are made up of an assortment of streamside management zones, mixed hardwood stands and varying aged pine-plantations cut through by the occasional gated, dead-end gravel road. What my photo survey in these locales has thus far revealed are a number of pot-bellied pregnant deer, occasional hogs and coyotes roaming at night and even one large bobcat.

In the turkey category, photos show a pair of mature gobblers, a handful of jakes and better than a dozen hens. The gobblers, surrounded by a bevy of hens, are strutting with regularity. The turkeys generally show up early morning and late evening but up to this point, more than a month since close of season, not a single poult has appeared in the pictures.

Often, young poults can’t thermo-regulate. A lot of rain makes them more susceptible to hypothermia. Because it was exceptionally cool and wet from April through May, I was concerned that this weather pattern may have impacted the turkey hatch.

Wood addressed my worries saying, “The number of jakes seen in your photos may indicate a corresponding number of juvenile hens as well. Young hens don’t contribute as much to the population in their first year and have much lower success rate than that of adult birds.”

Wood further stated, “A lot of the cool, damp conditions we saw during the incubation period into late May are much less impactful on brood success. It’s not until poults are hatched that cooler conditions become a concern. Our primary observations that the brood count is based on are conducted from June 1 through August 31.” He pointed out by that time young birds are larger and easier to spot on the landscape. “The birds we see by then are approaching four weeks in age and experience a much greater rate of survival,” he said. “Time will tell as observations trickle in over the summer but I’m cautiously optimistic at this point.”

The year 2022 was the state’s highest year of reproduction since 2012-2013, Wood said.

“It being dryer in the spring during the previous couple of years has helped poults survive their first few months,” he said. “It was just wet enough to grow good brood cover but not so much that it threatened survival rates.”

There is also the “wet hen” theory where a nesting hen damp from constant rains gives off a stronger odor making it easier for predators to locate the nest by her scent. Wood said, “Good nesting habitat with adequate cover can still overcome predator passage by breaking up the hen’s scent.”

Regarding potential loss of poults to predators seen on my game camera, Wood added, “In most cases we don’t worry much about coyotes.” He said his staff sees images on their cameras of coyotes peacefully mingling in food plots with a flock of turkeys.

“Bobcats are a much more efficient predator than coyotes,” he said. “Owls, hawks and snakes also take their toll. Rat snakes are the greatest threat to a clutch of eggs.”

Wood elaborated, “We rarely find a hog disturbing a clutch. Out of hundreds of nests observed, I’ve only ever seen one nest predated by hogs and that was because they had rooted up every piece of ground in the area. Hogs and turkeys tend to be in slightly different habitat during nesting season with hogs going to the lowlands while hens want to nest on higher, dryer ground.”

Regarding late season re-nesting, Wood said, “Nests are probably seeing some predation by this point in the year. Re-nesting is highly variable. Hens start nesting fairly quickly on the second attempt. The later hatch usually comes off from late June to early July. It drops off dramatically by the end of July to early August.”

The Wild Turkey and Bobwhite Population Survey offered by AGFC provides participants with the opportunity to record where and when turkeys and quail are seen and heard throughout the year. Wood stated how this survey is open to everyone. Public participation potentially adds tens of thousands of additional pairs of eyes and ears to monitor bird numbers and locations. This correlated information better assists AGFC in making regulations to protect the resource.

Anyone seeing birds on the landscape can go online to surveys and report time, place, relative age, sex and number of turkeys observed in a given area.

Wood concluded, “We highly encourage people to participate in our turkey survey program because the more data we have, the better picture we can construct of turkey populations throughout the state. I am an avid turkey hunter myself so I have a vested interest in seeing our turkeys thrive.”

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