Spring 2011: Worst Turkey Season Ever?

Some guys had a great spring turkey season. Some called it their worst ever. News from around the country supports some of the latter opinion. What's yours?

The Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR) tells the Strut Zone: "Preliminary estimates show that Wisconsin hunters registered 40,103 turkeys during the 2011 spring turkey season. A total of 210,059 permits were issued for the spring hunt, according to licensing officials."

To some of us, 40K is a pretty big number, but in Wisconsin, that's a 16 percent decrease from the 2010 harvest of 47,722 birds. Is weather to blame?

"Until very recently, turkeys in Wisconsin experienced weather conditions conducive to population growth," said Scott Walter, upland wildlife ecologist for the WDNR. "There was a long string of mild winters combined with the warm, dry spring weather favorable for breeding. However, weather over the last few years has been challenging for wild turkeys across the state."

Wisconsin does not attempt to estimate statewide wild turkey populations but several long, snow-filled and cold winters (2007-2010) and recent wet (2008) or cold (2009, 2011) springs have provided the perfect recipe to nudge turkey numbers downward according to wildlife biologists. Snow, wind and rain during portions of the first three 2011 spring time periods also may have reduced hunter effort and success, further contributing to the drop in kill totals.

National Wild Turkey Federation staff also weighed in on the impacts an extended spring, and late snowfalls had on the birds.

"While we don't discount the possibility of some local wild turkey winter mortality, we feel that the perception that there were fewer birds was largely because the late spring delayed winter flock dispersal and breeding activity," says NWTF regional biologist Rick Horton.

Maybe we just need an attitude adjustment? Down in Tennessee, the glass was half-full this past spring turkey season. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency "Tennessee turkey hunters again posted another successful hunt. The harvest for 2011 nears 34,000 as reports continued to trickle in."

The most recent official word set the Tennessee 2011 number at 33,968 turkeys, below the 2010 record kill of over 37,000 birds. Still this year's total is Tennessee's third highest all-time. "It was another strong year for our turkey harvest," said Gray Anderson, TWRA Turkey Program Coordinator. "We can't expect to have record harvests every year, but we are at a stable point.

So what's the deal? Is an expectation of breaking records every year too much to shoot for? Personally, my turkey season (late March in Georgia to early June in Maine, with other states in-between) involved highs and lows, tagged birds and near-kills, and the steady challenges from wind, rain, hail, heat, and yeah, some of the sweetest days I've ever spent in the turkey woods.

What's the official word in your state?