What About Those Spring Gobblers?

Joe Schuster | April 1, 2023

As winter slowly loosened its grip in the South, some warmer, sunny days reappeared in March. It sure was a nice change from seemingly endless days of rain and cloud cover. My daily drive across Lake Lanier confirms the amount of rain we’ve had. The lake is almost at full pool. With spring in view, my thoughts turn to the turkey season that runs from April 1-May 15 on private land and April 8-May 15 on public land this year. The season opened a little earlier for youth/mobility impaired on March 25-26. 

According to GON’s Turkey Special in last month’s issue, turkey populations across the Southeast have been down for quite a few years, which spurred WRD to lower the bag limit and start the season later. The delay in hunting pressure allows more breeding to take place. That allows hens to begin nesting during the peak incubation period. The decision to implement these changes was based on good science from a number of different sources. However, WRD assures the hunting public that the season changes isn’t a fix-all for the problem and that ongoing research continues to be worked.

Biologists estimated the state had about 250,000 to 300,000 turkeys in 2022. Last season, 37,568 estimated turkey hunters bagged 10,970 turkeys.

Let’s take a quick look at what turkeys have been up to since deer season. You may have noticed large flocks of hens mixed with some jakes in January. They continue to push around like that for a while around food, water and cover. Just as the shorter hours of daylight trigger testosterone in bucks during deer season, the increased hours of daylight during the spring can throw turkey breeding into action. 

Once the breeding season gets fired up, the game is on. Hen flocks will break up into smaller groups with groups of hens, a dominant gobbler and maybe a few jakes that will actually ward off other gobblers. Some hunters keep their trail cameras running through this time to get some intel on birds roaming through the area. Have you ever wondered about the home range of these birds? During the spring, gobblers can use over 4 square miles. That drops to about 2 square miles in the summer. Once a hen’s poults are hatched, the hens may keep to around 100 acres. Did you know a hen that is nesting with her eggs will stay close by the nest to ward off and fight predators? Hens that have not been bred tend to simply disperse to avoid the potential conflict. 

Well, good luck to you this season and stay safe. Remember that even if you don’t get to roll a tom, I can almost guarantee that your life will be fuller than without trying.

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