UGA Professor Weighs In On Later Turkey Season Start

Georgia turkey season opens on public land this Saturday. Scientist explains the later start.

Kristen Morales | April 7, 2022

Spring isn’t just for wildflowers and pollen—it’s also a time to hear wild turkeys gobble across Georgia and much of the Southeast.

That telltale chortle is also a signal that turkey hunting season is about to open, although changes to Georgia’s state regulations kept hunters on standby for several weeks longer this year.

Researchers tag a turkey as part of the effort to discover why the turkey population is declining.

But the changes, say wildlife experts, will hopefully benefit both turkeys and hunters.

Georgia’s turkey hunting season opened on private lands statewide on April 2, and hunting on public lands opens this Saturday, April 9. This is 13 days later on private land than the previous season and 20 days later on public land. The goal is to give female turkeys more time to breed with males and then lay their eggs. A delay of just a couple weeks could have a positive effect on turkey populations, which have been declining in recent decades.

On the flipside, though, are hunters who hear toms gobbling and are eager to get out to the woods. The new regulations aim to strike a balance between hearing turkeys gobble and allowing more time for birds to breed, which will hopefully help stabilize the population.

“Agencies want to open seasons so hunters like me can go and enjoy the gobbling activity, but what that results in is birds often being harvested early in the breeding season, which researchers have known for decades may be problematic if harvest rates (percent of males harvested) are high,” said Mike Chamberlain, the Terrell Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Chamberlain’s research on wild turkeys has allowed state wildlife officials to pinpoint when female turkeys begin to nest and then compare that with trends in gobbling. This timing is key: Typically, hunters want to get out in the woods when they can hear gobbling. But if hunting season starts too early, it could disrupt breeding.

“What we’ve been able to show—frankly, what we’ve known for decades—is that gobbling starts way earlier than breeding starts. Agencies have shifted seasons to time them to when gobbling is ramping up, but that’s not when nesting is ramping up. So, that’s resulted in seasons opening up earlier than they should have, biologically,” said Chamberlain. “And that didn’t matter 20 years ago when turkey populations were exploding. But now that they are declining, agencies are looking at what they can do to have some effect on the population. And harvest is the only thing agencies can control at a statewide level.”

Georgia’s Best Non-Quota WMA Turkey Hunts For 2022

Turkeys gobble to help find a mate, as well as to assert dominance among other male turkeys. Turkeys have distinct social hierarchies, said Chamberlain, and gobbling is a key component to keeping the status quo.

His research, which is ongoing across the Southeast, tracks female turkey movements throughout the breeding season using small backpack-like devices outfitted with accelerometers and GPS devices. His research team also sets up song meters, which are small boxes that record sounds made in the area to capture when turkeys gobble.

After just a few days of collecting data, the research team has thousands of hours of audio along with thousands of data points showing turkey movements. Using special computer software, they are able to parse out the sounds to just turkey calls, then overlay that information with maps showing females returning to the same spot over and over—an indication she has laid her nest.

Additional research also shows that once hunting activity starts, gobbling declines. This also has potential to affect breeding activity, although the magnitude remains unclear. The declines in gobbling activity noted as hunting activities begin further informs agencies trying to ensure hunter satisfaction—driven by hearing gobbles—while maintaining sustainable turkey populations.

More recently, Chamberlain’s team is investigating gobbling activity across different latitudes, mapping data across a large scale.

Emily Rushton, turkey biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division, said typically the spring turkey season focused on when toms gobbled while also being mindful of peak breeding activity. The data that’s now available from Chamberlain’s lab allowed the state agency to better pinpoint key parts of the turkey breeding season.

“In particular, (Chamberlain’s) research prompted a harder look at what factors influence gobbling on our public lands, and how pressure on these areas might be affecting breeding activities,” she said.

There may still be a host of other factors affecting the decline of wild turkey populations—habitat loss, fragmentation of the landscape and poor management practices are chief among them, said Chamberlain. But being more mindful of when the birds are breeding is one way to help the population while also securing better hunting trips in the future.

“Agencies are trying to control the one thing they can control at the scale at which they manage the birds,” added Chamberlain. “That thing being the timing and rate of harvest.”

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!



  1. cmulli on May 3, 2022 at 11:17 am

    That’s a cute theory. That’s only a small part of the problem. I get that it sucks to not hear birds, especially when I grew up having 5 to 6 gobblers reeking havoc on hens every morning and then it turned to silence. Turkey hunting took off in the 90’s and many shot well over their limit. We never did, but I would often hear about somebodies cousin or uncle killing ten a year and none were from their own property. Locals loved turkey hunting during the week when leasers weren’t around. It still happens to this day. I over killing by hunters grouped with the introduction of yotes and the rule changes to killing nest raiders has all created the issue we are dealing with now. If you want to see it get back to what it was in the 80’s and 90’s then I suggest putting in the work.

    We had zero birds on our property 6 years ago. I started feeding year round in two locations that can’t be hunted, unless it’s to kill yotes, fox, racoons etc…. We also decided that when the birds came back that we would stop shooting Jakes and focus on just the old dogs, like we do for deer. We soon went from no turkeys to a flock. Within 3 years we had three good flocks sticking to our 350 acres. I was blessed to shoot my biggest Tom ever this season. This will be our 6th season on this tract of land. More importantly, we had 4 shooter gobblers that have been regulars and 3 still remain. Hopefully we can get our young member on the board before this season is up.

    Create a preferred environment for them and then do us all a favor and start hunting yotes and legal nest raiders. Then maybe it will get back to what it once was. If you’re waiting for our government to fix this issue for you then I feel you have bigger issues to worry about.

  2. Pobiddy on May 3, 2022 at 11:03 am

    Again, the wildlife biologists have painted a partial picture of the solution to the wild turkey problems. I wrote an article , maybe 2014, in Georgia’s Outdoor Adventures titled ” THE WILD TURKEY DECLINE ” . The evidence was there then and has became much worse. The worst factor in the demise of most wildlife was the collapse of the fur market and almost NO trapping for many years. The predator population exploded and turkey numbers declined rapidly. Here is my personal ranking of the worst predators ; 1. Bobcat 2. Raptors 3. Coyotes 4. Wild hogs 5. Raccoons & opossums. Bobcat numbers are much higher than most people imagine and the bobcat is an apex predator. The raptors pick off the poults faster than the hens can hatch them. The coyotes and hogs destroy everything they come across. The raccoons and opossums appear to be doing exceptionally well and their numbers are very high. There are two types of critters in the wild, those that eat and those that are eaten. There are way too many eaters in the woods.
    At least the alarm has been officially sounded and tiny steps have been implemented. An aggressive predator and invasive species number reduction program will benefit all wildlife, but this has to be ongoing with no prisoners taken!
    I am not a defender of the coyote, but the coyote is not the only problem , and yes, the coyote gets most of the blame.

  3. Morrell on April 27, 2022 at 2:01 pm

    I will try to be nice here…but this seems like someone is trying to justify some grant money. Opening the season 2 weeks later is like opening an umbrella in a hurricane. Not going to help much, if at all.

    1) predation is rampant. I would be willing to bet hogs are just as destructive to nests as coons, coyotes, opossums, predatory birds, etc. Yet nobody is discussing this. Nor is anyone with authority discussing some state (taxpayer) funded programs to significantly impact these predators who not only impact turkeys, but quail and deer (coyotes and hogs mainly here) too.

    2) reducing the gobbler tags from 3 to 1 (yes I know we went from 3 to 2) would have a larger impact to the breeding numbers than opening the season 2 weeks later. Breeding is impacted by a bunch of things, hunters are only 1 of those things. And opening the season later is only 1 of the factors hunters impact.

    3) Biologists in Georgia have been terribly wrong in the past when it came to this kind of stuff…and there hasn’t been much accountability. No offense to biologists as I love reading some of the study results. But their opinion, which can come from only a few studies sometimes, has sweeping implications to the hunting population. Maybe a more open forum of study needs to be implemented before sweeping legislation? How about include large tract owners with decades of hunting experience in the conversation? Doesn’t seem like too many of them were sought out for input. Maybe I am wrong…

    4) Turkeys can be managed similar to deer. Don’t kill the Jakes and they will turn into Toms. I know its hard to have self control when that Jake hammers at every peep you make, but maybe hold off for a 3 year old bird instead. This might step on some toes, but your facebook pics don’t lie. And stop trying to fill all 3 gobbler tags every year!

    I have been hunting for 3 decades. It seems like all my life the discussion has been one way…the government telling us how it is going to be. And when its the wrong decision, its quickly forgotten and accountability is limited. I long for the day when the hunters have more meaningful input before sweeping legislation is made by those in Atlanta that don’t hunt at all. One magazine survey held a year before the next season is not an effective method of getting real public opinion.

    Thanks for reading.

  4. kimbrel31 on April 10, 2022 at 10:30 am

    Them hens they tracking probably keep going to the same spot because they are going to somebody’s feeder ??

  5. cowhornedspike on April 9, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    First of all the season delay is ONE week later on private and TWO weeks later on public. NOT 2 and 3 like the article says so the very first paragraph pretty much turned me off as to the accuracy of the rest if it.

    Secondly, If the delay in the season start would help curb the population decline then why has it already been declining in the southern part of the state? The birds breed earlier in South GA than they do in N GA but the decline is happening in S GA just as bad as the north…maybe worse even though the entire state has been starting on the same day. That should show that the season start is not the problem.

    Third, The state did a couple of years of delay start on some WMAs and the results did NOT show that it made any positive difference in the population …. SO the state said the area wasn’t large enough for a good study and decided to do it statewide even though there is NO evidence that it helped any on the WMAs where it was tested. This is supposed to be Science?? With science you pay attention to your test results and don’t simply make excuses for them when you don’t get the desired result.

    Rant over.

    • maco_outdoors on April 10, 2022 at 10:26 am

      Great rant! I don’t want to put wrong information on here, but pretty sure turkey season opened March 20 last year and March 21 the year before, so it would have been March 19 this year without change. Two weeks later? And public land used to open same day and it opened April 9 this year?

    • Daryl on April 10, 2022 at 10:50 am

      Editor’s Note: The author’s original text did in fact say “one to two weeks later.” GON made an edit to the text to say two weeks later because this season’s opening day is 13 days later than the previous season.

      • cowhornedspike on May 3, 2022 at 8:35 pm

        The season has for many years by law opened on the first Saturday after the 19th. NOW it is the first Saturday after the 26th.(on private land) That is EXACTLY 1 week later than it would have opened otherwise. Maybe not 1 week different than LAST year because that always fluctuated anyway based on what day the 19th fell. Obviously the Author had it correct and the editor got it wrong.

  6. timwforbes on April 7, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    I personally feel baiting, deer or otherwise, has had arguably the most detrimental effect on the turkey population. This creation of an ‘artificial’ environment of food has lead to not only increased predator numbers, but the concentration of them – raccoons, pigs, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and more, who come to these baited areas looking for prey. Turkeys also come to these areas. With their noses, the predators simply follow the hens to their nest. Or, if the hen has been lucky enough to raise a few poults, the vulnerable poults are easy prey for bobcats, coyotes, and raptors.
    Baiting may lead to a successful harvest short term, but the disadvantages far outweigh these small gains for the long term.
    And while I’m at it…the two different starting dates for the season is another shortsighted attempt at game management. If it’s for the turkeys, then make it equitable. If you’d like to have different start times for north/south regions of the state, then fine. More hunters will now hunt private land, legally or otherwise, to get the chance to hunt. Private land will then become the ‘increased hunting pressure’ areas of the state. Delay the start date, three weeks, and make it the same for everyone.

    • flintlife on April 25, 2022 at 2:33 pm

      Right on. If putting out bait makes it easier for humans to kill game, you can bet it is easier for the “professional hunters” ie coyotes, bobcats, fox, racoons, etc.

  7. calvin huggins on April 7, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    I have to say this.

    If you call yourself a turkey hunter who has to hunt turkeys out of a ground bling with bait scattered on the ground, STOP!

    You are not a turkey hunter, go fishing.

    • jdcassai on April 7, 2022 at 2:09 pm

      What does your comment have to do with the article

    • LittleMar on April 7, 2022 at 2:53 pm

      I totally agree with your earlier comments on predation however you mentioned hunting from a blind over scattered bait! Blind hunting is legal and hunting over bait is not! I make wing bone calls and have had two broken noses from recoil from harvesting long beards while belly crawling over rough ground to place myself in range of a limb hanger. Not sure if I am a “Turkey Hunter” yet but I have had great pleasure while introducing youngsters to the sport while coaching them from the confines and safety of a blind.
      The true future of turkey hunting depends on the next generation of sportsmen. Encourage membership in NWTF. I am a proud member!

  8. farmsales1 on April 7, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    In the article it stated the decline a couple decades,back. Why did you wait so long to do something? Now I don’t have turkeys anymore. I saw it declining for several years and wondered what was going on. Unless you restock in my area,I will have,to go elsewhere, to hunt turkey. On a positive note,the extended the trapping and hunting, of coons and possums to year around like it used to be if the governor signs,it

  9. calvin huggins on April 7, 2022 at 12:52 pm

    An eastern wild turkey hen can store sperm for 90 days. She can go 90 days between nest builds.

    It is illegal to kill a hen.

    A gobbler can bred every hen in the woods and never open his mouth. He knows every hen and where she lives. Most of the time she will fly down and come to him with a few clucks.

    Gobbling goes in ebbs and flows, hearing them is without question, no indicator of turkey population.

    The population decline was NOT of the hunters doing. Some flu or other sickness got into the wild flock. I can take you to places where birds could not be hunted and they are gone. Something happen to your adult birds.

    I have read so much trash on this subject I have doubt if anybody other than a turkey hunter knows anything about what they write. I figure they are writing what they have been told to do.

    I know a man who took taking predation seriously. He has a flock of 3 up to 40 in 2 seasons.

    Turkeys are bred in Feb. long before the season opens. Talk to anyone who lives in the country and watches flocks in the green fields.

    I was hunting turkeys when there was no deer. You can learn something form old people if you would talk less and listen more. Turkey population goes in ebbs and flows as well. But I will give you this, this has been a great ebb.

    Do something about predation and if you want to protect something, protect the jakes and the hardwood forest.

    You look like a jeep stuck in a mudhole looking for someone to come help.

  10. LittleMar on April 7, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    Couldn’t find any eggs at the grocery store, I am glad they started opening the store later and closing early!
    Raccoon hunters are on the decline because of posted lands and the massive disappearing stacks of deer corn at Walmart since legalizing baiting may have an effect.
    My trail cameras have as many as seven raccoons in one picture, evidence they are procreating well.
    These nighttime predators break up nests during the night.
    Knock ‘em out John!!!

  11. jdcassai on April 7, 2022 at 11:54 am

    Turkey season has had the same start for the 35 years I have lived in Ga. How/why did the turkey population explode in the 80s and 90s but now they decline? Is your turkey hunting area covered with coyote droppings? Ours is but it was not 30 years ago I have seen over the years when the coyotes are there and plentiful the turkeys shut up, stay on the roost longer too but in the years that the coyotes are not as plentiful the turkeys talk more. For the pros to talk about all kinds of things that might be a problem and say nothing about predators well I think they missed the point. More coyotes/predators= less deer and turkey not rocket science. One more thing nothing to do with declining turkey numbers Ga is a long State North to South, we have different deer zones why not turkey zones maybe start earlier in the South and later in the North you know mid March in South/central Ga. might be hot and full bloom and the North mountains it is still winter just a thought.

  12. maco_outdoors on April 7, 2022 at 10:12 am

    Not one mention of predators? When do they research what is actually happening to turkey nests once a hen starts laying eggs?

    • Hollowayben on April 9, 2022 at 1:32 pm

      Your absolutely right! The predators should be the focus.. not as many people hunt predators today like in the past, including myself. you can definitely see the rise in coon, fox and coyote if you spend any time in the woods. Control the predator population and give the eggs a chance, that’s where you’ll see your biggest results. Changing the opening dates will not have as big of an impact as if controlling the predators would period.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.