Rain could mean second year in a row of poor turkey production

St. Paul — Turkey production could be down thanks to the rain that’s blanketed much of the state in recent weeks.

But it’s nothing to get too concerned about, since wild turkeys have a way of bouncing back, said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife population and regulation manager.

“I don’t have any big concerns,” Merchant said. “It might mean the turkey population is going to be down a little bit. But the turkey population is resilient. It just needs to have a good year, and it can bounce back in a hurry.”

While the weather was decent during the spring hunting season in April and May, June has been a different story. Cold and wet conditions are not good for poult survival, said Rick Horton, conservation director for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

“Once those poults hatch, they are really vulnerable for the first 10 days,” he said. “Hens are good about hovering over them. That works when they are smaller. When they are bigger, it’s tough on them.”

When the poults get wet, they’re more likely to get cold, something that can cause them to succumb to exposure. Bad weather earlier in the season can be bad, too, for different reasons. Merchant noted wet weather can flood low-lying areas a turkey hen may choose as a nesting site. Turkeys that lose nests likely will try again, but the clutch size may be smaller, and the eggs may not be as hardy, since the energy turkey hens have is typically less than it was during the first attempt.

“When they are nesting in May, we worry about a wet hen giving off more scent,” Horton said. “That gives them away to mammalian predators such as coyotes.”

Should hunters be worried, considering this is the second wet spring in a row?

“Turkey have large clutches and can have a lot of young in a hurry,” Merchant said. “Having two bad years in a row is certainly not catastrophic.”

Despite last year’s wet spring, which meant a lower number of jakes this spring, hunters killed the third-most turkeys during a spring hunt in Minnesota history.

“It’s just amazing when you look at how bad the winter was,” Horton said.

And wet springs can be a good thing, too, Horton said, mentioning that they tend to be associated with lots of bugs, which provide much-needed energy boosts to young poults.

“That’s good for them growing fast and giving them enough energy to shake off the cold, if they get damp,” said Horton, who, like Merchant, thought the turkeys would be back, even if this year doesn’t turn out to produce many jakes.

“Our turkey population is always going to fluctuate based on weather,” he said. “Even if this results in a downturn, we’ll get back up when we have a couple of good years.”

In that respect, one of the biggest factors is just having the habitat in place.

“The weather could have an effect,” Horton said. “It will be hard to quantify that effect and it will probably be short-lived. As long as they have good habitat, they will always do well here.”

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