PGC has game plan for wild turkeys

Commentary

For several years now, turkey hunters have been grousing about the fact that the populations of wild turkeys seems to be diminishing. That may surprise many folks because it seems that it is turkeys you will see more than any other kind of wildlife, especially in the winter months.

However, the Pennsylvania Game Commission agrees with this contention: wild turkey numbers have decreased in recent years. They are not unduly alarmed about this, the Commission tells us but they are investigating it. In fact for decades now there have been ongoing studies conducted about turkey survival, life habits, diseases, the impact of hunting and seasons on turkey numbers. Now, the Game Commission is beginning the implementation of yet another management plan for turkeys.

The first real management plan concentrated mainly on distributing turkeys to every bit of habitat in the state that could maintain them and the Commission believes that was successful. The second management plan was to help turkeys survive and adapt in new environments.

The third management plan, being implemented now will be on decision — making policies, focusing on things like the impact fall hunting seasons especially have on turkey numbers. Research conducted in past studies will have a big impact on such things.

Ask any turkey hunters and he or she will have their own ideas about what is impacting a decline in numbers. The first thing will be the hue and cry that it is the rise in coyote and hawks, both of which prey on turkeys.

It has been proven scientifically over many years past about other species such as deer, rabbits and pheasants, that predatory activity seldom impacts any species in a negative way. I am sure the same is true for turkeys.

Wild turkeys do have a number of predators that are after them daily: coyotes, hawks, owls, snakes, and hunters. I recall a turkey hunt of many years ago I had with my late buddy Floyd “Buck” Alt.

We arrived in the woods well before daylight, heard a couple gobblers thundering, sneaked our way into the woods toward their position. We set up on them about 25 yards away from the tree in which they and some hens were roosted. When daylight came and they were about to fly down from the roost, we would ply them with sweet calls and they would walk right into our laps.

No doubt it would have worked, except that just before that moment could occur, a large coyote came racing down the mountain and tore into the middle of the flock scaring them into screeching and running/flying every direction. We could not see if the coyote actually caught one of those birds or not, because it too ran and we could not see which way it went.

Buck and I were frustrated at having our morning start that way. We picked up our gear and moved on. Should that happen these days, I would have a different response. I have since learned that to scatter a flock in the spring calls for exactly the same tactic one uses when it happens in the fall: just set up nearby, wait awhile and then begin calling to the flock. They will respond once the initial fright has worn off.

One thing we know for sure that does impact turkey and other wildlife populations is weather. For birds, from songbirds to buzzards, wet, rainy spring seasons, such as we had just last spring, are hazardous to the survival of newly hatched young. They drown, they get chilled, contract pneumonia and die and so on. Every since lst spring I have been wondering how much impact it will have on our spring season soon coming up.

Another thing that gives the impression there are fewer birds these past few years is that seems to be much less gobbling than usual. But I have long written and “preached” about the folly of calling in birds before season and educating them that their woods have been invaded by the enemy who has learned to speak their language, is a foolish idea. Hunters work hard at alerting the turkeys that enemies are everywhere in their environs. Their response: stop talking. It’s a survival tactic for them.

Habitat, of course, is always the biggest factor in any species survival. Wild turkeys like all other species need certain specific factors in their habitat to meet their needs. Even as for deer, it is found that controlled burns are often one of the best ways to manipulate habitat into producing the seedlings and other shrubs that help them survive. Controlled burning is a subject for another day but is a valuable wildlife management tool and I don’t doubt it will be used to help turkey habitat soon.

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