Effects of COVID-19 on Wild Turkey Hunter Satisfaction and Behavior in Tennessee

Understanding hunter satisfaction and behavior under normal and abnormal situations is important for effective management of game species by state wildlife agencies. SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) created a global pandemic that coincided with the 2020 spring wild turkey hunting season. Concern was expressed by some wild turkey researchers and biologists that COVID-19 lockdown protocols could result in increased hunting effort and unsustainable harvests because of people having more free time. We assessed how COVID-19 and associated lockdown protocols affected hunter satisfaction and behavior during the spring 2020 wild turkey hunting season by using responses from 2,000 annual surveys of wild turkey hunters (2017–2020) among five focal counties (Bedford, Giles, Lawrence, Maury, and Wayne) in south-central Tennessee. COVID-19 did not result in changes to hunter satisfaction or an increase in hunter effort or harvest of every-year hunters but did result in a 26% increase in new license holders and returning hunters (i.e., hunters that had not hunted in the last 5 yr) compared to the previous 3 yr (2017–2019). Wild turkey harvest peaked at 40,137 birds during COVID-19, 27.8% greater than the previous 3-yr average (31,407 birds, 2017–2019). Wild turkey researchers and biologists were concerned that populations might have been overharvested. However, harvest in Tennessee during 2021–2023 returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. These harvest data indicate the wild turkey population in Tennessee was sufficiently resilient to withstand a significantly greater harvest in 2020. Furthermore, the greater harvest in 2020 was potentially good for the sport of wild turkey hunting considering the increased recruitment of new and returning hunters that were just as successful as every-year hunters.


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