Tough times for turkeys: Poult numbers may point to poor nesting, brood-rearing season

A lot of hunters are now beginning to ramp up their whitetail focus ahead of the rapidly approaching deer seasons, doing at the very least some low-impact scouting by glassing fields and taking a rough census of the buck population.

I do a little bit of that as well, but more as a relaxing drive around the hill each evening with Paula, as well as a pair of Labs, hanging out of each side of my truck windows. I’ll also check the mast crop, and right now it appears there will again be decent numbers of apples and, at least in my hunting spots, a good acorn crop as well.

But my real focus – and this likely comes as no surprise to those who know me or read New York Outdoor News with any regularity – is turkeys, and my annual effort to see what kind of nesting and brood-rearing season the birds have had in my hunting areas.

And right now it doesn’t look good. While some of the farmers on properties I hunt have reported seeing a few poults, they typically qualify that statement with something along the lines of, “I saw eight last week, but only three this week.” That’s not unusual; there’s a high mortality rate among poults given the laundry list of predators on the landscape.

I have yet to personally see a hen with poults this summer, which is stunning given the miles I log each evening around the hill and beyond, not only checking my hunting spots but just looking around in general on my nightly drives. It will be interesting to see how DEC’s annual Summer Turkey Sighting Survey looks as cooperating sportsmen and wildlife watchers track turkeys during the month of August, allowing DEC biologists to develop a “poults-per-hen” estimate in various regions of the state. I’m not optimistic down here in the Southern Tier.

A poor production year is usually the product of lousy weather conditions during the spring and summer-nesting and brood-rearing periods, and we have had plenty of rain this year, which is the worst kind of weather Mother Nature can deliver to turkeys.

Predation, too, has to play a huge role in poult – and even adult hen – mortality. There are plenty of egg-eaters and poult-eaters on the landscape, and it’s no coincidence that the “good old days” of turkey hunting in New York state occurred years ago when a raccoon rabies epidemic was making its way across the Empire State. I’m not suggesting a return of that problem, but it’s no secret that ‘coons take a tremendous toll on turkeys. Add in foxes, owls, hawks, coyotes, a growing fisher population, bobcats, opossums, skunks and others, and you can see it’s tough being a turkey these days.

Should the DEC’s Summer Sighting Survey confirm my observations, the low poult numbers this year will mean fewer jakes (yearling toms) on the landscape next spring, and even more importantly, fewer 2-year-old longbeards in the spring of 2020.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, New York – Steve Piatt, Turkey

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