By RANDY ZELLERS | Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
Turkey hunters have some good news to look forward to this season. According to recent interviews featured in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Arkansas Wildlife magazine and podcast, reproductive rates have seen slow improvements over the last three years.
Last year’s estimates gathered through the Annual Wild Turkey and Quail Population Survey indicate the highest reproductive success since 2012 and 2013.
The number of poults seen per hen during the survey averaged 1.79 statewide, which is only one-one-hundredth of a poult away from the suggested target (1.8-2.0 poults per hen) to produce a stable to slightly increasing population.
“If a hen is only successfully rearing one poult, she’s only replacing herself in the population,” Jeremy Wood, the AGFC’s turkey program coordinator, said. “We want that number to be closer to two poults per hen each year, and we saw that in some regions of the state last year.”
The Delta and Gulf Coastal Plain saw the best poult-per-hen ratios last year, with 2.21 and 2.19 poults per hen, respectively. The Ozarks saw 1.64 poults per hen, while brood surveys in the Ouachitas recorded 1.46 poults per hen. Dry conditions coinciding with peak hatching times likely were responsible for the increase.
“Turkey poults can’t thermoregulate (maintain their body temperature) during the first few weeks after hatching, so good weather conditions are essential to brood survival,” Wood said.
Wood said last year’s reproduction should improve the number of birds seen by hunters this year, but it will be next year before much of the male component is legal to harvest.
“Participating in the Spring Turkey Hunting Survey and recording all the turkeys you see while scouting and hunting will really help us track this increase and monitor the population to make adjustments and guide habitat efforts to hopefully continue building on what last year’s good hatching conditions provided.”