Through Aug. 31, wild turkey sightings by volunteers and Commission staff will be recorded and submitted to management biologists. Observation information gives an indication of annual wild turkey productivity, gobbler carryover and other population trends, all of which help the Commission manage the state’s turkey population.
Based on my own informal observations, turkey poult survival doesn’t look promising. We normally see a lot of hens with poults in the fields at work. This year I’ve only seen two. The first was from a distance of three hens in the field. One hen had three poults with her. The other two had none. Just two weeks ago a co-worker and I approached a felled oak tree with two hens standing on it. We go within ten yards and they hadn’t moved which is highly unusual.
Then we saw about six poults behind the tree. Based on their size we surmised they were early hatch birds. I’ve talked with a couple of other people who spend a lot of time in the woods at work and they’ve not seen many young turkeys either. Just this past week I saw a hen in our back yard. She only had one poult with her.To participate, new volunteers should use a survey link you can find at the Commission’s website, www.ncwildlife.org.
For the first time this season, participants can enter their observations online in the field from any smart phone or small-screen device. After new volunteers submit observations, the Commission will automatically contact them the following year to provide an opportunity to participate again.
In 2017, more than 1,200 people helped with the survey, reporting their observations of more than 35,000 turkeys. Many volunteer observers are members of the National Wild Turkey Federation — a valued partner of the Wildlife Commission in the reintroduction of the wild turkey in North Carolina.
So what happened? Again, my concern is the heavy, persistent rain in late May killed a lot of chicks. Hens that nest late usually hatch chicks in late May. Young chicks are very susceptible to the effects of heavy rain while still sporting their fuzz before feathers develop. Even in warm weather, if nights are cool they can die of hypothermia. This doesn’t bode well for grouse chick survival either. They share similar nesting habits and breeding periods as turkeys. Grouse aren’t as visible as turkeys and there are fewer of them. We’ll find out on grouse come October.
Speaking of turkeys, my own hunting experience this spring led me to speculate that it wasn’t as successful as previous seasons. Seems that is true. The Commission has published its 2018 Turkey harvest data. Let’s look at two of our local counties, Buncombe and Madison, compared to 2017. The reported harvest for Buncombe in 2017 was 294 birds, and the 2018 number was 263; an 11 percent decrease. Nearly 93 percent of the birds were taken on private property versus Game Lands. A stunning number given the amount of National Forests we have in the county.
Madison County showed a steeper decline. In 2017 326 toms were brought to the bag. That number went down to 250 in 2018, a nearly 25 percent reduction. Madison County did a little better on the public vs. private land harvest. Just over 85 percent of the birds were taken on private land. Let’s hope my turkey survival suspicions are wrong and we have a better season next year.
Another note about grouse. We’ve lamented the decline in grouse numbers in the Southern Appalachians for years. Reports from the upper Midwest indicated a less than stellar harvest years from perennial grouse Mecca’s like Wisconsin and Minnesota. We just got news that the annual spring Grouse Drumming Survey in Wisconsin (for many THE grouse hunting capital) is down by 30 percent compared to last year. The state Game Commission is even considering shortening the season because of the lower numbers.
Grouse in the Midwest are on a ten year cycle in population. Most thought they were on the climb to peak next year. Now some biologists are saying the peak was last year. If grouse numbers are declining in the Midwest that does not speak well for the rest of the country. Haven’t heard anything from my favorite haunt in New Hampshire. Guess we’ll just hope for the best!