Considerations for Timing of Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Seasons in the Southeastern United States

Eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris; hereafter, turkeys) are widely recognized throughout the southeastern United States as a species of ecological, recreational, aesthetic, and economic importance. As a game species, male turkeys are most popularly hunted during spring, a timeframe coinciding with breeding and nesting activities. Given this period's biological importance, wildlife managers are challenged to avoid negative population effects from harvest while simultaneously providing quality hunting opportunities. Biological considerations associated with timing spring turkey seasons include potential effects on productivity from early and high male harvest and intentional or inadvertent illegal female harvest. Turkey hunters often request spring seasons timed to maximize exposure to gobbling activity, but these sociological considerations may conflict with biological objectives. Recent declining trends in indices of turkey abundance and productivity in several states in the southeastern United States have heightened the need to evaluate potential consequences of spring hunting season timing on turkey population demographics. Herein, we review literature about turkey gobbling and nesting chronology and summarize factors state wildlife agencies should consider when setting timing of spring turkey seasons. We suggest that spring turkey season opening dates which coincide with peak nest initiation (i.e., mean date of initial nest initiation; 9-22 April) reduce risk exposure to female turkeys. This framework also addresses concerns about potential effects of early male harvest on productivity while acknowledging hunter expectations of hearing vocal male turkeys. Furthermore, we suggest state wildlife agencies conduct research to reduce uncertainty about effects of spring season timing on turkey population demographics.

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