Hunters are preparing for the upcoming start of the 2020 Georgia wild turkey season, which begins on Saturday, March 20, and runs through May 15. The eastern wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is the largest gallinaceous bird in North America. The turkey is a native of North America and their abundance made them second only to deer in value to American Indians. 

The wild turkeys in Georgia were almost eliminated from Georgia in the early 1900s. It occurred due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss caused by forest clearing. The implementation of conservation laws, advances in wildlife science and funding for wildlife restoration all played a role in the restoration of the eastern wild turkey. 

The turkey restoration efforts in Georgia have been a great success. Georgia’s turkey population currently is approximately 400,000 but is now declining in some areas of the state. Back in 1973, the population was only 17,000. Much of the restoration success is due to the work of the Georgia chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). 

The Georgia chapter of the NWTF has donated almost $4 million since 1985, and those funds have been used to benefit the wild turkey and other wildlife. They work in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other land management agencies to improve habitat, hunter access, wild turkey research and education. 

Nationally the turkey population reached a high mark of more than 6.7 million birds. That high mark has declined to between 6 and 6.2 million birds. The decline in Georgia is being monitored to see if it is long-term. Studies looking at the decline are currently being conducted by the University of Georgia and the Georgia DNR.

Some possible reasons for the decline are loss of habitat due to lack of proper land management and nest predators like raccoons and opossums, which are thought to be more of a threat than coyotes and crows to nest sites. However, production is thought to the main reason that drives turkey populations. High population densities, carrying capacity of the land and adequate vegetation impacts successful poult survival.

Many things impact a hunter’s ability to harvest a turkey. The most dreaded thing that happens when hunting turkeys is when the gobblers turn silent. Why do turkeys gobble on some days and not on others? Higher turkey populations especially when there are high numbers of 2-year-olds results in more gobbling. High populations do not always point to more gobbling, however. Turkeys just do not gobble on some days.

Weather plays an important part in turkeys becoming silent. A wind velocity above 6 mph will shut down gobbling. A temperature above 70 degrees also slows gobbling activity. Habitat and nesting activity can also impact gobbling. Most hunters pay little attention to all those factors and figure that their best chance to harvest a turkey is to be in the woods hunting regardless of external factors.

Turkey hunting is very popular in Georgia even though the number of turkey hunters has declined in recent years. Hunters are primarily interested in hearing turkeys gobble and seeing male turkeys. DNR biologists want to determine how gobbling activity is affected by hunters and natural predators such as coyotes; what areas and habitat are male turkeys using during the reproductive season; and laying and incubation behavior of female turkeys.

Wild turkeys breed in the spring. After spending the winter with other male turkeys, adult males or gobblers also referred to as toms, will disband and begin strutting and gobbling in an effort to attract hens for mating. 

Adult gobblers weigh between 17 to 21 pounds and have breast feathers. Adult gobblers have beards that grow to about 3 to 5 inches per year. Gobblers also have spurs on their heels, which can be more than 2 inches long.

Gobbling usually begins in March but can begin as early as February or as late as early April. A gobbler will mate with as many hens as possible and hens will mate with a gobbler more than one time. Young males or jakes also strut and gobble but are less successful at mating than older males. 

The limit again this year is three gobblers on private lands. 

Good hunting and see you next week.

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