Wildlife Managers Changing Gears On Turkey And Deer

Editorial-Opinion - March 2022

Daryl Kirby | March 1, 2022

Those who drive our wildlife management bus in Georgia are shifting the gears a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a manual transmission, but it wasn’t so long ago that I don’t remember how obvious it was when it was time to shift. If the engine is stalling out or you’re revving the RPMs, the shift is overdue. 

When driving a truck, the gear you need to hit next is obvious. When it comes to deer and turkeys, the next gear isn’t that clear cut—no pun intended—although timber cuts might just cure what ails some wildlife, like deer and grouse in the north Georgia mountains.

Turkey hunters are about to feel the impact of a shift, and it’s going to sound like we went from fourth gear to second and forgot to use a clutch. Turkey season will open two weeks later—not until April 2 this year. The season limit was dropped from three gobblers to two, and the days of doubles or even a triple with one shot are history as the daily limit is now one gobbler. 

For the diehard turkey hunter, those are dramatic changes. They say drastic times call for drastic measures, and turkey hunters are about to get ’em. Turkey populations in general are down across Georgia, and in fact turkeys are down—in general—from the Southeast to the Midwest and across the country. Unfortunately, “in general” management and regulation also impacts landowners who have more turkeys than ever. 

The good news is there are some super smart biologists who are also turkey-hunting addicts who are leading the research into what is impacting our turkey populations. I’m hopeful they come up with some recommendations in the near future that go beyond the standard Management 101 step of limiting hunters and harvest.

Then there’s the deer season issue in southwest Georgia. You want to stir up a hornet’s nest? Start talking about deer season dates. Or limits. Or doe days. Or quality management regulations. You name the topic, and there’s a deer hunter with another viewpoint, and things could get sideways real quick.

There’s not much civility left in this world, certainly not when it comes to folks having differing opinions. You’re either on the right team or the wrong team, and there’s little room for acceptance or love for the other side. The popular term for it now is tribalism. I remember when the only serious tribal vitriol we experienced was against other SEC teams during college football season. But even then we came back together during bowl season to root for each other against the Big 10.

In the grand scheme of things, the hunting tribe generally sticks together. But then a regulation proposal comes along, the little sub-tribes form, and some ill can boil to the top.  

Back when the madness of COVID first began, I wrote in this Editorial-Opinion column that I felt managing the virus could best be handled from the bottom up, not from the top down. I’m not particularly fond of a President—or, say a Canadian Prime Minister—mandating with a heavy hand how people deal with a respiratory virus. These things are probably best handled from the bottom up—like in your house. And then maybe between you and your relatives or neighbors, and then maybe if things get real bad, in your community. 

I believe this concept applies also to managing deer and turkeys. That’s not saying that as a hunter you do whatever you please. You kill a dozen ducks over corn, you’ll end up on the previous page of this magazine. My point about bottom-up management means that even on a small tract of hunting property, the hunter can make an impact. When we rely on a hammer from the top, for example with a far-reaching regulation with a wide impact, that hammer hits everyone on the noggin—the folks it might help and the folks who don’t need any top-down help.

Do I need a statewide bounty on coyotes and raccoons to do something about the turkey nests on my property not producing any poults? Do I need a state law mandating we improve nesting habitat by leaving field edges and letting our winter food plots get tall and ugly with headed-out wheat and oats?

Hunters have always been the first and best conservationists. 

Now, if you feel yourself getting sideways, that’s OK. Just remember to pull it back together at the end with your big hunting tribe… bowl season could be coming up soon.

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