Hunters Harvest 2,760 Wild Turkeys in 2004

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Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Service Director Paul A. Peditto announced the results of the 2004 spring turkey season. The reported harvest of 2,760 wild turkeys is nearly 12% below the 2003 near-record harvest of 3,120.

“Maryland’s wild turkey population remains strong, but the drop in harvest was not unexpected,” Peditto stated. “Two consecutive years of poor reproductive success has caused turkey numbers to fall statewide, and the lack of young birds was reflected in the low harvest.

“Hunters should not be alarmed about the 1 year drop in harvest,” Peditto added. “Wild turkeys are well-adapted to overcome challenges and the population will rebound quickly if this summer is more favorable for reproduction.”

Annual brood surveys conducted by DNR indicate that reproductive success was below-average in the summer of 2002 and even lower in 2003.

“As many as 75% of gobblers taken in a typical year are either 1 or 2 years old,” said Bob Long, DNR’s Wild Turkey Biologist. “Without those age classes, fewer birds are available for hunters and most of them are older, more wary, and harder to bag than young gobblers.”

Reports from hunters generally agree, suggesting there were fewer gobblers around than in the past and that 1-year old gobblers, called jakes, were in particularly short supply this year. Jakes only made up 22% of the harvest this season; during an average year about 30-40% of the harvest will be jakes.

Maryland’s junior hunters experienced good weather this spring during the youth hunt that took place on April 17, resulting in a harvest of 144 turkeys. This 1-day hunt allows hunters ages 16 and younger to hunt with an unarmed adult before the regular season opens when hunter pressure is minimal and gobbling activity is at its peak. Nearly one-half of the harvest (46%) occurred during the first week of the 5-week regular season.

The highest harvests were reported in Allegany (387), Garrett (325), and Washington (305) counties, confirming that turkey populations remain strong in their traditional western mountain habitats. The lower Eastern Shore counties of Dorchester (289) and Worcester (269) also supported respectable harvests, although most eastern counties dropped substantially from last year. Increases in counties such as Anne Arundel, St. Mary’s, and Harford suggest that populations are continuing to grow and expand in a few areas, providing additional turkey hunting opportunities for Maryland’s sportsmen and women.

Maryland’s turkey population has grown rapidly in the past few decades due to a successful restoration effort spearheaded by DNR with help from other conservation organizations. “What we are seeing now is the gradual stabilization of the population because turkeys now occupy most suitable habitats in the state”, Long added. “ In the future, turkey numbers and hunter success will likely fluctuate from year to year depending on weather conditions and reproduction.”