Establishing Opening Season Dates for Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Seasons

This white paper was prepared by the Wild Turkey Working Group of the Wildlife Resources Committee for the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. This document is not intended to be a binding document, but provides technical information and recommendations for consideration in establishing opening dates for spring turkey seasons. This document was adopted by the Wildlife Resources Committee on October 16, 2016 and was subsequently adopted by the SEAFWA Board of Directors on October 18, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo; hereafter, turkeys) are widely recognized throughout the southeastern United States as a species of ecological, recreational, aesthetic, and economic importance. As a game species, turkeys are most popularly pursued during the spring, a timeframe coinciding with the bird’s breeding and nesting activities. Given this period’s biological importance, managers are challenged to avoid negative population impacts while simultaneously providing quality hunting opportunities. Biological considerations associated with timing spring turkey season frameworks include the potential effects of early and excessive male harvest on productivity and the tendency for intentional or inadvertent illegal female kill to occur earlier in the reproductive season. Turkey hunters often request frameworks to maximize exposure to gobbling activity, but these sociological considerations may conflict with biological concerns. Recent declining trends in turkey reproductive indices, abundance, and harvest in several southeastern states have heightened the need to evaluate potential consequences of spring hunting season timing on turkey population demographics. In this report, the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Wild Turkey Working Group (SEAFWA-WTWG) summarizes factors state wildlife agencies should consider when setting the timing of spring turkey seasons. Based on this literature review, the SEAFWA-WTWG suggests spring turkey season opening dates that coincide with peak egg-laying (i.e., the mean date of initial nest initiation) are biologically sound and may reduce illegal female kill. This season timing also addresses concerns surrounding potential effects of male harvest on productivity, while acknowledging hunter expectations of hearing vocal male turkeys when hunting. Furthermore, the SEAFWA-WTWG suggests state wildlife agencies should place emphasis on research to reduce uncertainty surrounding this important topic.