Tough times for turkeys, and don’t expect that to change anytime soon
It’s pretty common knowledge among the turkey-hunting fraternity that in New York, as well as several other states, the “good old days” are no longer.
And those days, when turkey numbers were at their zenith and it seemed like we always had gobbling longboards to play with, weren’t really so long ago. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, turkey numbers were at their highest, and it was a rare spring morning when we didn’t have some talkative toms to keep our adrenaline running.
Not so these days. Last spring’s harvest in New York was the lowest since the early 1990s, and with back-to-back years of poor turkey production (a product of lousy weather during the nesting and brood-rearing periods), things aren’t likely to get better any time soon. Sure, we’ll still be out there, and about 20,000 toms will be tagged this spring – maybe fewer. But it’s clear turkey hunting isn’t nearly what it once was in New York state.
While turkey numbers are clearly driven primarily by production in the spring and Mother Nature, there are other factors playing into the decline:
- Predation: It doesn’t take a wildlife biologist to see that predators are impacting turkey numbers. All you have to do is write down a pair of lists, one for egg eaters and another for poult eaters. Some, like foxes and coyotes, are on both lists. But don’t discount the impact raccoons, opossums, hawks, owls, eagles, skunks, fishers and even house cats allowed out of the house have on turkey numbers. Raccoons top my list; it’s no coincidence some of our highest turkey numbers occurred when the ’coon population was hit hard by rabies. Toss in the fact that fur prices have plummeted and fewer trappers are out there running a line, and you can see this is a snowball rolling downhill.
- Access issues: It’s not as big of a factor as it is for deer hunters; some landowners simply don’t care about turkeys and allow you on. But shrinking access to hunting land does two things – it keeps some potentially huntable gobblers off limits to the camo-clad gang, and also funnels more hunters into those areas where we can pursue toms. This, in turn, pressures those birds and makes them more difficult to lure into range.
- Liquid manure: Don’t laugh. Changes in farming operations where liquid manure is now applied to fields have left wild turkeys without corn to pick through. Over the years, “regular” manure has helped birds through the winter and, as one veteran biologist labeled, served as “the hot lunch program” for turkeys.
Bottom line, don’t expect turkey numbers to rebound any time soon. This is the new normal, and we need help from Mother Nature this spring and summer and several springs and summers beyond.
We’ll still be out there in May, no doubt, remembering the good old days and hoping to tag a longbeard or two.