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Turkeys Have Been A Hatchin'

Poultsva_1"Hear that?" the May email read as the sound of thunder still echoed among the concrete and steel of Manhattan's tall buildings, "It's the sound of baby turkeys dying."

The email had just popped into my inbox from Gerry Bethge, executive editor of Salt Water Sportsman. Despite his current job where a person would think all he does is fish, the dude is a total turkey hunting fanatic. He hunts in both New York and Massachusetts where poult survival has been lackluster the last couple of years. The storms hitting New York City on the late spring afternoon were part of a two-week barrage much of the Northeast suffered right about the time turkey's should have been hatching.

Generally, rain and colder-than-normal days spell doom for days-old turkey poults, whose body temps plummet in the conditions. As a result they simply die.

For fall hunters, that can spell a bleak fall season coming up, where young jakes and jennies are often part of the excitement. For spring hunters, look for a bummer season two years away. Poor poult production in one year means that there won't be as many 2-year-old gobblers two years later. The 2-year-olds often provide the most gobbling and work best to the call.

Either way, hunters want to consistently see a lot of little birds trailing hens come mid to late June. By then, poults have grown larger, can often fly and are better able to survive bad weather and predators meaning their odds to reach adulthood are extremely high.

In conversations I've had with a few hunters of late, the word so far is that there has been decent production in Pennsylvania and actually, in New York as well, where the storms where such a big concern. In other parts of the Northeast, initial reports are not so rosy. There is even some word of concern arising out of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri where production was said to have suffered.

Virginia Poult Count

Virginia appears to have faired okay according to The Roanoke Times outdoor editor Mark Taylor who writes, "Many hunters are already thinking ahead to 2008 as they try to gauge how this spring's hatch went. (State turkey biologist Gary) Norman said he's getting decent brood reports. Heavy prolonged rain can cause high poult mortality. But Virginia didn't have much rain until the end of June, when many poults should have been old enough to handle it."

That wasn't the case in 2005 though when the state's poult production was down, a fact that has some Old Dominion hunters (including myself) a little concerned. On a side note though, Virginia hunters can celebrate the past spring's harvest totals, which saw a whopping 20 percent increase over the previous season's totals. Turkey hunters reported 17,195 kills this past spring. Be sure to read all of Taylor's article on the state of Virginia turkey hunting if you live or travel there.

Doomed by Drought

Meanwhile, across the Rio Grande subspecies's range in Texas, the persistent drought has reportedly completely crushed poult production proving that it's not only heavy rains and cold temperatures that threaten newly hatched turkeys.

Shannon Tompkins of the Houston Chronicle writes,"Also, this year's turkey hatch in much of the Rio Grande subspecies' range took a dive. Many hens came out of a dry winter and early spring in such poor physical condition that they didn't nest.

"Rio Grande hens that did nest faced problems because of lack of ground moisture, a factor in keeping eggs viable during nesting. Also, lack of ground cover increased predation on nesting hens.

"Poults that hatched generally had a tough time finding green vegetation and insects. They grew slowly, and that put them at increased risk of mortality. Poult deaths are highest between the time the turkeys hatch and the time they grow large and strong enough to roost with adults in trees. The poor forage base meant poults took longer to grow big enough to roost off the ground and out of harm's way."

Reports are much the same out of San Antonio where the San Antonio Express reports that while overall populations are still plentiful, reproduction this year was quite poor.

Optimism Abounds

As Wisconsin prepares to make available the most fall turkey permits ever, part of the reasoning is that a good season is expected.

The Appleton Post Crescent quotes Scott Hull, turkey biologist with the DNR:

"We are offering more fall turkey permits than ever, and everything points to a pretty good season," Hull said. "We're just starting to get reports back from field personnel, and the early brood surveys look good. We've had reports of some broods with 6-7 poults. That's pretty good."

Ben Moyer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that in Pennsylvania "brood survival this summer appears excellent," reversing a trend in recent years, while in New Hampshire, Bob Washburn notes in the Concord Monitor things could be much worse.

Broods actually survived the heavy rains of late spring much better than anticipated. He writes, "A sample of 16 hatches in June totaled 16 hens and 90 poults, for an average of 5.62 poults per hen."

This news could bode well for my friend Gerry and other New England hunters.

I'll have more reports from other states and regions as the week continues. Stay tuned and let us know what you're seeing out there as you begin to do a little preseason deer scouting and putting up those stands.

It's hard for me to comprehend that if I were still living in South Carolina right now as I did before coming to NYC, I would be actually sitting in a deer stand hunting in another nine steaming days. For those of us non-South Carolinians who deer hunt (which I bet there are a lot of us) the season still seems a good ways away. It actually isn't though and fall turkey seasons will also be upon us in know time.

(Photo courtesy of VAturkey.com)