If you're like me, you probably saw a lot fewer turkeys in the fall during all those quiet afternoons in the deer stand.
With spring gobbler season approaching, wildlife authorities are concerned that big birds again might be tough to find.
"We know that across Georgia, the Wildlife Management Area harvests were down about 20 percent last year," said Chris Baumann, turkey program coordinator for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.
This spring, there is likely to be a continuing shortage of the 2-year-old birds that traditionally make up much of the harvest.
"Because we have had two out of three years with the worst reproduction since we've started recording reproduction, you won't have the surplus of birds we've been used to," he said.
Why such a dismal outlook?
"We can't pinpoint exactly what it is, or we'd just go out and fix it," he said.
Poult production and survival have plummeted the past two summers; the cause is probably a combination of several things.
"First and foremost, the habitat is not in good shape," Baumann said. "We're losing more and more land to development and to intensive forestry, which leaves very little browse or habitat for young birds."
Excessive rainfall also is believed to play a role.
"Research has shown that with spring rainfall, any deviation from the norm has a negative impact on turkeys," he said.
It is possible that cold, wet weather impacts poults through hypothermia, and perhaps a wet turkey has more of an odor than a dry one, making it more vulnerable to predators.
Coyotes, which are blamed for almost any change in wildlife populations, aren't believed to be a factor, Baumann said.
"Every study that's ever looked at coyotes says they are scavengers that feed on dead things like gut piles and road kill," he said. "They would eat a turkey hen, but most studies find very few bird parts in their feces."
Armadillos, which have been proven in recent studies to sniff out and destroy quail nests, are potential suspects in turkey predation, but there is no data to support or refute such activity, he said. "I don't think they are a contributing factor, though."
The decline in nesting success, and turkey population, most likely is a cycle that eventually will correct itself, he said.
"This is the first time we've looked at a possible decline in turkey numbers since we started restocking them in the 1970s," he said. "But the longer you have a population in place, the more you tend to see fluctuation cycles. But they should recover; they're very resilient birds."
Georgia's gobbler season opens March 25 and runs through May 15. The limit is three gobblers.
IT'S STILL BAITING: The Georgia Wildlife Federation is speaking out against what it characterizes as one of the worst proposals yet to legalize shooting deer over bait.
Senate Bill 612, authored by District 11 Sen. John Bulloch, would set the fine for hunting over bait at $25, a move the federation believes will inadvertently create a "poaching fee" that is just as unethical as removing the current prohibitions on baiting.
The bill has already cleared a first and second reading and was referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.
ARCHERY VOLUNTEERS: One of the largest archery events to ever be held in the Augusta area is coming to Wildwood Park on March 29-April 2, and volunteers are needed to help organizers cope with the expected crowds.
"We need help with everything from setting up ranges to parking," said Randy DuTeau, event manager at the Greater Augusta Sports Council, which is helping with the planned Archery Shooters Association tournament that will have as many as 1,400 competitors.
Accompanying the tournament and the crowds will be vendors and exhibitors with archery gear and other products and demonstrations.
"We think we'll need about 15 to 20 volunteers per day," DuTeau said.
Anyone interested in helping out can contact the Sports Council at (706) 722-8326, ext. 239.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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