Vanishing turkeys causing concern

Larry Woody • Aug 2, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Where have all the turkeys gone?

That’s the question more and more hunters in Wilson County and some other areas around the state are asking, and so far they aren’t getting any answers.

Lebanon’s Dustin Dowdy said he and two fellow hunters – one of whom is a 35-year turkey-hunting veteran -- hunted hard throughout the spring season and bagged a total of one small jake.

“It was a bad season,” Dowdy said. “We didn’t see any birds. It was very disappointing.”

Roy Denney, whose Gladeville farm in years past had been a turkey haven, also experienced a dismal spring season. Even more disconcerting in terms of the future is the fact that Denney has seen no newly-hatched turkeys this year.

“I haven’t seen a single poult for the first time in five or six years,” Denney says. “And I’m seeing maybe one-fourth of the hens and gobblers I used to see. I’m very concerned.”

Such dismal reports are not exclusive to Wilson County. A veteran turkey hunter in East Tennessee who normally limits out killed only one gobbler last spring, and his hunting partner got none.

I hunted nine times – seven times in Wilson and twice in Trousdale County – and killed one bird. That was the only shot I fired. On most hunts I didn’t see or hear a turkey.

It is not known how many turkeys were killed in Wilson County and adjacent counties. Even though the season ended in mid-May, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has yet to announce the harvest numbers because of “growing pains with the new license vendor.”

Going into the final week of the season the TWRA announced the state-wide harvest had exceeded 30,000 birds for the 13th consecutive year. Nevertheless, says nationally-renowned hunter Clarence Dies, “There is no question that around here we don’t have near the number of birds we had a few years ago. I’ve seen a steady drop-off the last two or three years.”

It was suggested at a Tennessee Game & Fish Commission meeting earlier this year that the four-gobbler spring limit should be reduced. The liberal six-bird, either-sex fall limit has already been reduced to one per county.

The motion to reduce the spring limit was rejected by the Commission. A six-year turkey study was launched last year by the TWRA in partnership with the University of Tennessee to try to find the cause of the turkey decline, and there was concern that changing the limit now would disrupt the data.

A previous three-year study by the TWRA into possible turkey diseases was inconclusive.

Although professional wildlife biologists don’t know the cause of the problem, they finally acknowledge there IS a problem; a few years ago they were in denial.

For over 25 years I have hunted on a farm in Giles County that was once covered in turkeys. About eight years ago they vanished. I told the TWRA’s turkey specialist, and he said I was mistaken. He said the turkeys were still there, I simply wasn’t seeing them.

I knew that wasn’t the case. I not only wasn’t seeing any birds, I wasn’t hearing any, or finding any droppings, tracks, scratching or dustings. The farmer who lives there used to see flocks of turkeys in fields all around his house; he said they suddenly disappeared.

It wasn’t my imagination. The turkeys weren’t there. Finally the TWRA admitted it, and discontinued the fall season in Giles and a couple of adjacent counties.

Now turkeys are vanishing in other areas and, as was the case in Giles, nobody knows why. So far the experts are stumped, and until they figure out the cause they can’t come up with a cure.

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