Kreh: Why not open wild turkey season earlier?

Each year, hunters hear turkeys gobbling prior to the opening of the spring gobbler season and express interest in opening the season earlier. As a result, managers are often pressured to set earlier opening dates for spring gobbler seasons.

But, according to Kennamer’s research published in 2006, “the consequences of early hunting seasons may create scenarios that harm turkeys and turkey hunting more than hunters realize.”

Photo by Gordon Robertson Guest column by Christopher D. Kreh, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

Photo by Gordon Robertson
Guest column by Christopher D. Kreh, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

The whole premise of a spring gobbler season — of it being biologically sound to hunt gobblers in the spring — is based upon harvesting birds after breeding has occurred. Gobblers play no part in nesting or brood rearing. Their role is breeding. After breeding, they are not vital to the incubation and brood-rearing phases of reproduction and many can be harvested without negatively impacting the population.

The onset of nesting is widely cited as an important, biologically based criterion for setting opening dates for spring gobbler seasons. Obviously, breeding already has taken place. Additionally, hens are much less vulnerable to harvest during incubation because they are spending most of their time on nests. Research has shown that opening spring gobbler seasons before females have begun nesting can lead to high rates of illegal female kill. An illegal harvest of hens of only 10 percent could reduce nesting success and resulting recruitment, ultimately hampering population growth, according to research published by Whitaker et al. in 2004.

To align wild turkey hunting seasons in North Carolina with the second peak of gobbling when the majority of hens have begun incubation, Wildlife Commission biologists historically suggested opening the spring season statewide on the third Saturday of April. We concur with Kennamer’s conclusions published in 2006 that we should not gamble with the long-term health of North Carolina’s turkey population by opening the season earlier.

Since the late 1960s, North Carolina’s spring gobbler season opening date has ranged from mid-April to the fourth Saturday in April, and the season length has varied from 3-4 weeks. For most of this period, we had one statewide season. However, for the 1974-79 seasons, the eastern portion of the state opened the second Saturday in April while the western part opened on the third Saturday. Both regions of the state had a 3-week season.

To eliminate the migration of hunters and crowded conditions on some public hunting areas, the Wildlife Commission eliminated the split spring season for the 1980 season. The second Saturday in April was established as the opening date statewide and the season was lengthened to four weeks — the same hunting season that the Commission currently has in place.

For the 2015 wild turkey season, here are the dates for wild turkeys — male and bearded turkeys only:

• Youth-Only Week: April 4-10

• Statewide Season: April 11 through May 9

So, the wild turkey season for youth-only hunting in 2015 actually opens on the first Saturday in April, while the statewide season opens on the second Saturday in April. More info in our news release: http://tinyurl.com/ltxolh6.

Christopher D. Kreh is an Upland Game Bird Biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Opinion, Outdoors

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