Spring Turkey Harvest on Pace for Record Season

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Last year’s mild winter and strong acorn crop have poised Kentucky turkey hunters for a memorable spring season this year. With less than one week remaining in the 2006 season, current numbers are on pace for a potential record spring harvest.

“The harvest now is almost 25,000 birds,” said Steven Dobey, Turkey Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). “At this rate, and depending on weather conditions, it is likely we could see in excess of 28,000 birds taken by the closing date of May 7.”

After three years of slightly declining spring harvests, this increase is a welcome sight to most turkey hunters in the Commonwealth. These fluctuations in numbers, however, are typical of growing or expanding wildlife populations that are approaching carrying capacity in some portions of their range.

Wild turkeys are extremely sensitive to food availability and weather conditions. These two factors have played important roles in Kentucky as summer brood surveys have documented moderate to poor reproductive success among turkeys since 2003. The result of this low reproductive output will be fewer jakes and 1.5 year-old birds available for harvest during the spring and fall seasons, respectively.

“The effect of last year’s poor reproduction is now evident as jakes have comprised only 14% of all birds taken to date”, Dobey said. “What this means for hunters is that while many birds remain available for harvest, you will likely be chasing older, more wary gobblers”.

While the daily numbers thus far are comparable to the record 2002 season, a new record harvest may come down to hunter success over the last two days of the season. This “extra” weekend at the end of the season is the result of action taken by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission at its August, 2005 meeting. This regulatory change was made to increase opportunities, and should have negligible impacts on turkey numbers.

This year’s excellent spring season, preceded by several years of moderate to poor reproduction, is a strong indicator of the overall health of Kentucky’s turkey flock. Given last year’s poor reproductive success, however, it is likely that fewer birds will be available for harvest next year. As evident over the past 5 years, fluctuations in harvest will likely be the norm for Kentucky as the turkey population stabilizes.

Complete information about spring turkey hunting is available in the 2006 Kentucky Spring Turkey and Squirrel Hunting Supplement, which can be obtained from license dealers or by calling the KDFWR Information Center at (800) 858-1549.