Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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New turkey season shows changing populations

Oklahoma City (AP) – Spring turkey season opened recently, and
the population of birds in western Oklahoma is thriving. East of
Interstate 35 is a different story, especially southeast.

The population of Rio Grande wild turkeys, which dominate the
western and central portions of the state, is strongest in western
Oklahoma but down slightly in east and central Oklahoma, said Rod
Smith, wildlife biologist of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife
Conservation.

But there has been a sharp reduction in Eastern wild turkeys.
That sub-species of birds, predominantly found in southeastern
Oklahoma, has declined to the point that state wildlife officials
are contemplating shortening the season or decreasing bag limits in
the future.

“We haven’t had an early hatch since 2004,” said Jack Waymire,
the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Eastern turkey
guru.

The number of gobblers taken by hunters in southeastern Oklahoma
last year was less than half of what it was in 2004, Waymire
said.

The decline is due to the weather. Drought-like conditions in
2005 and 2006 meant fewer seeds to attract insects for turkey
poults (chicks).

“If there are no bugs, they don’t survive,” Waymire said.

Cold and wet springs haven’t helped either. A predator can smell
a wet hen, making it easier for predators to find a clutch of
turkey eggs for a meal, he said.

A turkey hen will try to make as many as three nests, but the
later the nests the less chance of survival, Waymire said.

Oklahoma is not the only state seeing a decline in Eastern wild
turkeys. There are fewer birds in southeast Kansas, southern
Missouri, Arkansas, western Mississippi, Louisiana and east Texas,
Waymire said.

Those states are also contemplating shortening seasons or
reducing bag limits until the population recovers, he said.

“Just one good early hatch and we would recover,” Waymire
said.

Both Waymire and Smith suggest hunters first scout that areas
where they found turkeys last year. Hens normally return to the
same area where they nested last year.

However, many flocks were disrupted by the recent cold snaps,
Smith said.

“Those winter flocks got displaced or moved around with the ice
storms,” he said. “We have seen good numbers of birds in places
that we haven’t before and received reports of smaller numbers in
areas where they have been good in the past.

“I wouldn’t quit on the old honey holes. I would assume they
will break up in the spring and get back to their old haunts.”

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