Turkey hunters took advantage of comfortable hunting conditions this spring, judging by the preliminary registration total of 42,612 turkeys, a 6 percent increase over the spring 2011 turkey season. A total of 201,984 permits were issued for this year’s hunt, down slightly from the 2011 total of 210,384.
Unseasonably warm weather characterized much of the season, in stark contrast to last year when snow, wind, and rain hindered hunters during the early time periods.
“It really was an amazing contrast, weather-wise, from last year’s hunt,” said Scott Walter upland wildlife ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. “Last year, there was snow on the ground, below-freezing temperatures, and high winds during the first time period. This year, spring was at the other extreme, probably two or three weeks ahead of normal, and the green-up was already quite advanced by the first week of May. Those who hunted later in the season definitely had denser vegetation and more mosquitoes to deal with than they likely expected.”
Zone 1 again produced the highest overall turkey harvest at 12,075 birds, followed by Zones 2 and 3, where hunters registered 10,486 and 10,283 turkeys, respectively. The highest hunter success was in Zone 2 with a preliminary success rate of 26 percent, followed by Zone 3 at 21 percent and Zone 1 at 20 percent. Success rates were between 16 percent and 19 percent for Zones 4 through 7. Overall, the statewide success rate was 21.1 percent, up from 19.1 percent last year.
The very different weather conditions during the 2011 and 2012 seasons may also have influenced how hunter effort was distributed throughout the season. Harvest during the first time period was 29 percent higher in 2012 than in 2011, but tapered off more steeply throughout the season.
“After the first time period, I was expecting a big jump in overall harvest,” Walter noted. “We did end up 6 percent higher than last year, but we actually harvested fewer turkeys during the last two periods than we did in 2011.”
Turkeys spread quickly from the initial 1976 stocking in Vernon County, and today are found statewide in areas with suitable habitat. As the number of both turkeys and turkey hunters increased in the state, so have annual harvests. Turkey populations have now stabilized across the state, and Walter says hunters should expect to see annual harvest levels nudge upward and downward from year to year in response to factors that tend to regulate turkey populations; weather is one such influence.
“Successful reproduction by turkeys is dependent upon suitable conditions during the May nesting and June brood-rearing periods, and turkeys in the northern part of the state can be impacted by severe winter weather,” stated Krista McGinley, assistant DNR upland wildlife ecologist. “Given dry spring weather and mild winters, turkeys can increase quickly in number, but wet springs and harsh winters can slow population growth from one year to the next. Hunters should expect to see this sort of annual variation in turkey numbers and annual harvests now that turkeys have saturated the available habitat.”
“With the weather cooperating as it did, the 2012 spring season was exceptional in the opportunities it created for camaraderie with friends and family,” Walter said.
That was reflected in a 16 percent jump in the number of turkeys registered during the two-day Youth Hunt.
“The legion of folks out there who served as mentors or in other capacities to introduce folks to hunting this spring really deserve credit,” Walter added. “They really cast hunting in its most positive light. Their actions serve not only to introduce people to the outdoors, but also to the experiential, spiritual, and community-building aspects of hunting that are all too often neglected in the public’s eye. The National Wild Turkey Federation and its members perhaps best exemplify this emphasis, through their strong support of hunter education and Learn to Hunt programs around the state.”