Spring season outlook for turkeys called great


At this point, aside from the possibility of torrential rains o extremely cold weather over the next month, the outlook for the spring turkey season that opens April 18 "is great," Josh Sandt, director of forest game programs for the Department of Natural Resources, said last week.

"The birds have come through the winter in excellent condition," Sandt said. "We have had very little winter mortality."

Sandt said it is likely a state record will be set this spring, mainly because of the addition of hunting lands in five counties, bringing the total counties with spring hunting possibilities to 12 of the state's 23.

Somerset County, Dorchester (south of Route 50), Queen Anne's (east of Route 301), Kent (east of Route 301) and portions of Howard have been added.

"We don't expect a whopping big harvest from any one of the [new] counties," Sandt said. "We'll probably get 10 or 12 birds from each of them, although Queen Anne's we may get a couple of more from."

The new counties are the latest areas to benefit from the state's restoration plan, which has trapped turkeys in various areas of the state and transplanted them.

Crowding of hunters is a legitimate concern, because hunting spring turkeys involves heavy camouflage and imitating turkey calls to draw the birds in. The danger is a hunter might call in another hunter instead. Spring turkey hunters are not required to wear hunter orange.

"But even with that sort of guideline, every time you open a new county, you're going to get a bunch of new people in there," Sandt said. "So what we have tried to do is to look at the county, and if we don't have opportunities to move birds within the zone that we are opening,then we will go ahead and open that county as soon as the birds have distributed themselves."

By trapping and transplanting turkeys, Sandt said, more recreational opportunities are created, and, at the same time, the hunting pressure is spread out across the state.

That hunting pressure, Sandt said, seems to have little effect on the population of turkeys in the state, because hens are able to store sperm for up to three weeks after they mate.

"We time our season to open after most of the hens have completed laying their eggs or are in the final stages of laying their eggs," Sandt said. "Even if we took every gobbler out of the population, those hens are laying one egg a day rather than mating every day."

So, even without a gobbler around, the egg still can be fertilized with stored sperm.

The timing of the season also is designed to accommodate the nesting habits of the hens, Sandt said.

"Most of the hens will start nesting about the same time [normally by the first of April], but then for various reasons the nest will be disturbed -- predation, weather, people bumping into them," Sandt said. "What we try to do with the season is get it late enough in incubation so that if the hen happens to be disturbed, chances are the hen will come back to the nest."

The weather, of course, is something that cannot be so easily arranged. Cold, heavy rains or drought can have a severe impact on the new members of the turkey population.

"Wet more so that drought," Sandt said. "Drought will affect survival of the chicks, but heavy rain will, a lot of times, flood a nest out. Or you may just get enough dampness in the nest that it will chill the embryo and it will die."

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