May 3, 2017
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
Turkey hunters in The Natural State checked 10,066 birds during the recently concluded season in April. This year’s season featured 16 days for all hunters and two more days at the front end of the season for the annual statewide youth turkey hunt. The regular season also features an earlier start, by five days, from the 2016 season, but leaving no quiet period between the end of the youth hunt and the beginning of the regular season.
Last year, hunters harvested 11,853 turkeys.
“We were expecting the harvest to be down a little because we’ve had fairly poor hatches the last couple of years,” said Brad Carner, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s chief of wildlife management.
Youth hunters checked 958 birds, down from the 1,336 birds checked during 2016. However, unexpected complications with a new checking system affected the ability to check birds during the youth hunt and first day of the regular season. Some youth hunters had trouble reporting their turkeys via telephone checking because the system for reporting required a conservation ID number, which hunters under age 16 aren’t required to have, Carner said. Youth were able to check turkeys through online and the AGFC’s smartphone app, however. After correcting the phone system checking for youth, some glitches arose for adults trying the check game on opening Monday, but that problem was corrected quickly, Carner said.
Some hunters who couldn’t check birds over the first three days eventually called in over the next few days, he said. The total harvest likely exceeded the 10,066 birds, but “we don’t know how many we missed with the first weekend glitches in the checking system,” Carner said.
Jason Honey, the AGFC’s turkey program coordinator, said the AGFC listened to hunters’ urgings last year to move the opening of turkey season a week earlier than last year’s opening day. To mitigate the effect on the harvest, however, the AGFC went with a Monday opening day, coming immediately after the close of the statewide youth hunt. Last year, there were five non-hunted days between the end of the two-day youth hunt and the opening of the regular season.
A restriction on hunting jakes, or juvenile male turkeys, now in its seventh year, appears to be helping population numbers, allowing the jakes to grow into 2-year-old birds. But ultimately, overall numbers depend on a good overall hatch, Carner said, and the AGFC biologists have seen reproductive results drop recently in state.
“We depend on a great hatch to get the jakes on the ground,” Carner said. “We’re two years into a three-year research project to monitor survival of jakes. We have put transmitters on jakes and we’re monitoring the survival of those as they hopefully move into adult age classes.
“We’re monitoring that now and we’re just about halfway through, so it will be a year or two before we have final results.”
Arkansas’s turkey harvest reached a record total of 19,947 birds in 2003 before steadily declining to fewer than 7,000 birds harvested in 2011. To combat the decline, the Game and Fish Commission implemented a more conservative turkey season, setting a shorter season with a later opening date. Another major change was the 2011 adoption of the no-jakes regulation, which prohibited adult hunters from harvesting juvenile male turkeys.
Weather conditions typically have a significant effect on turkey harvest, and hunters saw mostly favorable conditions throughout much of the 2017 season, with the exception of rainy and cool weather during part of the final weekend of hunting on April 22-23.