Paula and I can't wait to hit the road for a return trip to Kansas in a couple weeks, for a lot of different reasons.
For starters, we simply love it out there; the country, the people, and obviously the talkative Rio Grande turkeys. There's nothing better than to get away for 5-6 days, away from deadlines and headlines, and focus on nothing but spring gobblers.
Too, we know our New York and Pennsylvania seasons will be somewhat shortened this year, but for nothing but good reasons. We're scheduled to pick up a Labrador retriever puppy in mid-May, and our spring gobbler pursuits will take a bit of a back seat to having fun with the little yellow furball, getting her accustomed to her new surroundings, and setting the stage for some early training. We'll still manage to jump out here and there, but it will probably be a tag team-type approach where I'll hunt some and Paula will hunt some, always with one of us staying home.
But there's another big reason we're looking forward to Kansas: bird numbers back here are down. Way down.
You don't need to be a wildlife biologist to see that, although DEC has been studying it to try to pinpoint the cause of the steep decline in wild turkeys. The general theory is it's a combination of factors, but primarily due to a run of poor nesting and brood-rearing seasons.
I don't dispute that, but I think the impact of predation on hens, poults and turkey eggs is understated. All you need to do is sit down and jot down a list of egg-eating predators (fox, skunks, opossums, weasels, fishers and it goes on and on) then list the hen and poult killers such as hawks, owls, coyotes and even bald eagles these days. Bottom line, it's tough being a turkey these days.
Throw in habitat loss and you've got a recipe for the plummeting turkey population across much of New York – and in other states as well, including traditional gobbler hotspots such as Mississippi and neighboring Pennsylvania.
I'll toss another factor into the mix: liquid manure on many of today's farming operations. It used to be a manure spreading operation was a magnet for wild turkeys, who would pick through the stuff and feed on the leftover corn and respond to the tractor as if it were a dinner bell. Which it was.
Many of today's farms, however, have gone the liquified manure route, leaving nothing for the turkeys to hit during the long winter – and the last two winters in the Southern Tier have been just that.
Our own turkey hotspots have changed dramatically, if not dried up completely. I got a call from a turkey hunting buddy last night who duly noted about 15 birds on a riverbottom where we annually watched a flock – it used to be over 100 – before the spring breakup. The miles we log on the backcountry roads ahead of each season told us what biologists already know – turkey numbers are down.
So we're excited for the Kansas trip. And we'll get after 'em back here as well. It's just that the "Good Old Days" weren't so long ago.