Youth turkey hunt tops seven-year slump
April 12, 2023
Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — Excellent weather and receptive birds welcomed Arkansas’s youth hunters last weekend, and the young guns did not disappoint. According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s online checking system, hunters aged 6-15 harvested 1,068 turkeys during last weekend’s two-day youth hunt, the first time the harvest has exceeded 1,000 since 2016.
The harvest eclipsed the 2022 special youth hunt harvest of 887 by 19 percent. This continues the upward trend from 821 turkeys harvested during the same hunt in 2021.
Jeremy Wood, AGFC turkey program coordinator, said the harvest increase was welcome news and follows the same trend as last year’s turkey brood surveys.
“Even though last year’s reproduction really won’t come into play until next season when those birds are adult gobblers, there was still improved reproduction the year before and light winds gave us a great opening hunt,” Wood said. “You couldn’t have asked for better weather.”
Wood said the online checking system may still record a handful of birds from late checks, but the majority of the checked harvest has been tallied.
“It typically takes two days for the different checking methods to be compiled and loaded into the system, so I’m pretty confident we’re going to be pretty close to the final number for the hunt now,” Wood said.
Youth hunters checked 756 turkeys on Saturday and 312 turkeys on Sunday. Although a few complaints arose about the hunt occurring on Easter weekend, the decline in harvest followed the same pattern as most youth hunts. The drop between the first and second days is common during the hunt for two reasons, Wood said.
“That first morning, hunters have had a couple of days to scout and be prepared to work an unpressured bird, so they’re going to see greater initial success,” Wood said. “Also, because youths are only allowed one turkey during the youth hunt, those who were successful on day one aren’t going for a second bird until the regular season opens next week.”
Although the timing may have been unfortunate for a few hunters, the hunt is based on the biology of the birds. Turkeys do not reach their peak breeding window until mid-April across most of Arkansas, and the regular season needs to occur after that point to allow as many hens to be bred as possible before hunting disturbance begins. Timing the youth hunt nine days before the regular season is needed to allow the birds some rest to again resume normal activities before opening day.
“Ideally, we don’t want any harvest before the peak of breeding and nest initiation, but the youth hunt is very important for recruiting young hunters and allowing them to get some success early in their hunting careers,” Wood said.
If this season follows recent harvest trends, turkey fanatics have a lot to get excited for. According to Wood, the youth hunt typically accounts for 10 percent of the overall season harvest. A good youth hunt may indicate increased harvest throughout the regular season, weather permitting.
Wood said the vast majority of the birds harvested so far have been mature gobblers, which also bodes well for the future.
“About 90 percent of all immature gobblers harvested in a season usually come from the youth hunt because youth hunters are the only ones allowed to take them,” Wood said. “A large portion of last year’s hatch should still be on the ground at the end of this season. Those will be mature gobblers next year and beyond.”
Two young hunters
Cousins Heston and Griffin Arens both had successful youth turkey hunts.
Girl with turkey
Reese Welch tagged this beautiful bird on the second day of this year’s youth hunt.
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