Why Turkey Hunting is Best in The Spring | Turkey Hunting Season
By: Dylan Hayward
Why Can’t We Turkey Hunt Now?
This is a question almost every turkey hunter has asked themselves as turkey season approaches. It's very common, especially here in the midwest to hear turkeys gobbling their heads off weeks before the turkey season starts, and sometimes depending on the year, as soon as the season starts, the gobbling and daylight activity seems to crash. Why can’t we hunt earlier? Hunters have put pressure on the state's DNR for years, begging for turkey season to start a few weeks early, but when you dive deep into the history of the North American turkey, it’s easy to understand why this particular species is so protected.
History of the Wild Turkey
Early settlers in North America saw an abundance of wild turkey, in most habitats across the country, residing in 39 of US states, as well as some parts of Canada. This included all of the 5 species of turkeys, Easterns, Osceolas, Merriam’s, Rio Grande Turkey, and Gould’s. Wild turkeys were a main food source for settlers and thus were hunted essentially year round, without much regulation. As the early settlers started on the eastern shore and pushed westward clearing forestland and hunting for food, turkey populations were nearly wiped out completely. By the start of the 1900s, the wild turkey population dropped all the way to roughly 30,000 birds. However, with habitat reform, set hunting seasons, and numerous other conservation efforts, the wild turkey is considered to be one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time, with populations today reaching close to 7 million turkeys in North America. In 1991, spring turkey hunting seasons opened in every state in the US other than Alaska, leading to what would be one of the most beloved and pursued wild game animals in the world.
Turkey Season Dates
Referring back to why there is a specific and very important date for turkey hunting season, it has everything to do with protecting the population, and assuring that we can enjoy the pursuit of wild turkeys, for decades to come. The spring turkey season is based upon the time of hunting to be after breeding has already occured, which is another reason why only male turkeys are to be taken during the spring. Toms and Jakes have nothing to do with the nesting of turkey eggs, thus it falls solely on the hen. This is why harvesting several male turkeys during the spring would have very little impact on the turkey population as a whole. Nesting is a vital factor when considering season dates for turkey hunting. Because a majority of the hens are staying close to their nests, it makes it far less likely that they will be harvested during the spring as well, which ensures more male harvests. Research has concluded that earlier turkey seasons would result in far more female turkey harvest, which is illegal. This study was done by Darroch Whitaker in 2004 and was wildly impactful on hunting season dates.
Spring turkey season is one of the most enjoyable hunting seasons in North America. The cat and mouse game that we as hunters play with a Tom brings a level of excitement that isn’t matched by much else. But as hunters, we are all conservationists, so it’s important to realize how precious our resources are, and how they need to be protected in order to preserve them for as long as we can. In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold stated, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”