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April 22, 2013
Turkey Hunting: What the Biologists Can Teach You - 0
A new generation of wild-turkey researchers is seeking to answer questions about turkey population declines, habitat preferences, and geographic distribution. Their findings will influence turkey management for decades to come. But hunters can learn from them right now about where and how to hunt our most evasive gobblers.
Turkey biologists aren’t quite calling it a crisis, but significant population declines in some regions of the country have them wondering why, after decades of growth, turkey numbers are flat or nose-diving. What they are finding is that, in some areas, the trend is predictable: After filling all available habitat, turkey populations have reached a sustainable plateau.
But in other regions, population slumps have been sudden and unexpected. A new generation of researchers is being tasked with discovering reasons for these declines, and their work is changing the nature of biological inquiry, moving away from the study of individual behavior and life-history projects and toward the investigation of population dynamics.
“We are at an interesting time in the evolution of turkey research,” says Mark Hatfield, a staff biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation. “We’ve had a lot of studies looking at things like gobbling peaks and food preferences, and at how turkeys use various habitat components. Now we’re moving to bigger-picture projects, looking at how populations work over wider landscapes.”
Rethinking the Hatch
“Originally, seasons were set according to peak incubation,” says NWTF’s Mark Hatfield. “The idea is to open seasons when at least 50 percent of hens are nesting, which ensures that most breeding has taken place and gobblers can be considered surplus.”
The NWTF is funding research that looks at whether early seasons disrupt nesting hens and leave unhatched eggs vulnerable to predators.
“We always want to increase opportunity,” says Hatfield. “But we have to do it sustainably.”