Changes in Hunter Behavior, Success, and Satisfaction in Relation to Wild Turkey Season Opening Dates and Season Length

Many states throughout the range of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have delayed their spring wild turkey hunting seasons to allow reproductively active males more time to breed before being harvested and to potentially increase population fecundity rates. Six states in the Southeast recently delayed their spring hunting season by 7 to 14 days. However, there are no published data indicating their previous season frameworks had a deleterious effect on wild turkey reproduction or that delaying the season increased fecundity. In addition to potentially affecting turkey reproduction, changing the season framework may impact hunter behavior (effort and efficiency), success, and satisfaction. Our objective was to see how hunter ef- fort, success, efficiency, and satisfaction changed upon implementing a two-week season delay and a two-week reduction in season length to the spring wild turkey hunting season in south-middle Tennessee. We surveyed 2000 hunters in five focal counties from 2017 to 2022 to document effort, success, efficiency, and satisfaction among hunters. We surveyed the same respondents for all six years and received a total of 2539 surveys with a 22% response rate. We used a two-level structural model with generalized linear models for panel data to assess changes in hunter effort and experience, and then determined how the shift in season framework affected satisfaction. Hunter effort in the delayed counties declined 42% after the delay, and the average number of gobbles heard per trip decreased 39%. Harvest was not affected by the season delay, but hunter efficiency improved 37% following the delay. Hunter success, hunter efficiency, and gobbles heard were strong positive predictors of hunter satisfaction. Our survey highlights how hunter satisfac- tion should be considered when setting spring hunting season regulations because changes could have a negative impact on satisfaction and therefore, potentially impact agency goals related to hunter participation, retention, and recruitment.

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