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Theories posed on turkey trends

Larry Woody • Aug 17, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Hunters in some areas of the state – including parts of Wilson County -- are concerned about an apparent decline in turkeys, although figures indicate only a slight drop in the spring harvest.

Lebanon’s Tim White, a veteran wildlife biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, recently provided a chart showing 610 turkeys were killed in Wilson County during the 2017 spring season.

That’s only 18 fewer birds than were bagged in the county in 2016 (628).

The most turkeys killed in Wilson County in the 12 years covered by the chart were in 2010 when 666 gobblers were bagged.

The fewest killed were 461 in 2009.

This spring marked the eighth straight season in which over 600 turkeys were taken in the county. That number has been exceeded in 10 of the past 12 years.

That up-and-down trend in Wilson County reflects a similar trend statewide. Although the numbers have fluctuated, in each of the past 13 years Tennessee’s harvest has exceeded 30,000 birds.

There is concern within the Agency that the harvest figures do not reflect the total number of turkeys killed. Since most hunters nowadays check in their turkeys and deer on-line or with mobile apps, the reporting is basically on the honor system. One TWRA biologist believes the kills are vastly under-reported, but says there is no way to know by how much.

Back to the turkey concern: there is no question that populations have declined drastically in some areas. That decline prompted the TWRA to cancel the fall season in some counties, and to reduce the fall bag limit in all others while it conducts a study to try to find the problem.

White says he doesn’t doubt reports from hunters that they are seeing fewer turkeys in some areas, and offers some theories about why that is:

+ Maybe some of these long-time hunters don’t spend as much time hunting as they did in years past.

+ Maybe the areas they hunt are the same places year after year, and flocks are changing their patterns and moving onto other places with less pressure.

+ Maybe there are more turkey hunters out there nowadays, and although the harvest is mostly stable, success per hunter is going down.

Another theory is that baiting is becoming more wide-spread. Turkeys can be lured off a given property by baiting, which is legal 10 days prior to hunting.

Some believe that an increase in the predator population – especially coyotes, feral cats and nest-raiding raccoons – is taking a toll on turkeys.

There has been speculation that diseases were spread to wild turkeys through commercial poultry farms and the use of chicken manure for fertilizer, but biologists have been unable to substantiate it. There is no known disease that can infect turkey flocks, the way diseases sometimes do with deer herds.

So far nobody knows for sure what the problem is, but the search – and the theories -- continue.

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