Sun shines on turkey season

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Thousands of hunters will be grabbing their guns and heading for the woods next Saturday as Georgia's turkey season opens.  Special
Special
Thousands of hunters will be grabbing their guns and heading for the woods next Saturday as Georgia's turkey season opens.

But before the pros are putting for birdies, the camo crowd will be gunning for gobblers.

Georgia's wild turkey season opens next Saturday and - as of this writing - warm weather has the hens moving and gobblers already making some noise.

"If the weather cooperates this year, hunters should continue to have good success rates," said Chris Baumann, a turkey biologist for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.

Last year, 56,939 hunters killed 35,789 turkeys and the bird-to-hunter ratio - 0.63 birds per hunter - was up 12.5 percent over 2005.

"This year will likely be another good hunting season as we are still getting reports of abundant turkeys from many areas," Baumann said. "In areas where habitat needs are being provided, populations are very strong."

Statewide, Georgia's turkey flock is estimated at 350,000 birds, which is consistent with estimates from previous seasons. Before restoration efforts were launched in the 1970s, the population had dwindled to fewer than 17,000 birds in 1973.

The harvest increase in 2006, Baumann said, is likely caused by good weather.

"In 2005, our harvest estimates reflected the fact that a lot of bad weather occurred on the weekends, when most of our hunters could get out and hunt," he said. "In 2006, the weather cooperated and our hunters had much better success."

In South Carolina, where the season opens March 31 in most counties, about 45,000 hunters are expected to participate this year, said Charles Ruth, the deer and turkey supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Saturday, he added, is a special Youth Turkey Hunt day for children 10-17 accompanied by a licensed adult, though only the youth is permitted to take a bird.

The Palmetto State's 2007 season outlook is only fair for most areas, Ruth said, because of poor turkey reproduction.

Although average brood size was good with hens averaging 3.4 poults, 50 percent of hens observed had no poults at all by late summer, he said. The consequence is that fewer young birds survived to enter the adult population.

"In the Southeast, Mother Nature often plays a big role in turkey populations with heavy rainfall and/or cool temperatures during the spring nesting and brood rearing season leading to poor reproductive success," he said.

What does poor reproduction mean for the spring turkey hunter?

"With poor reproduction the last two years, the number of mature gobblers (2 years and older) available during the spring of 2007 will likely be low across most of the state," Ruth said.

"Reproduction was good in 2004, but birds produced then have been subjected to two hunting seasons in addition to other mortality factors," he said.

Not only is the number of adult gobblers expected to be down in 2007, but the survey results also indicate that the number of jakes (immature gobblers) will be low as well. This is significant because jakes can make up 25 percent of the spring harvest following years of good reproduction. The statewide turkey population is estimated at 90,000 birds, which is good, but with two years of poor reproduction this figure is the lowest in recent years.

"The bottom line," Ruth said, "is that it will likely take a couple of years of better reproduction to overcome poor reproduction the last two years."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

SPRING GOBBLER SEASONS

Georgia: March 24 to May 15; three-bird limit


South Carolina: March 31 to May 1; five-bird limit

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