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Current and Future Status of Wild Turkeys

This Turkey Tuesday is focused on the current and future status of wild turkeys. This picture is one of my favorites, a stunning picture taken by Clayton Worrell. This tom stares into your soul. His look is intense, as if he is staring through you not at you. I sometimes think perhaps he’s staring at his future, one rife with challenges. Wild turkey populations are doing well in some areas, but in many parts of the Southeast and Midwest, populations continue to decline. Productivity, measured by poults produced per hen, continues to fluctuate at levels that are not sustainable in many states. Recently, I was able to assess various datasets provided by state agencies to construct a current status assessment of wild turkeys across their range. From 2014-2019, spring harvest across the species range declined by 12%, and from 2004 to 2019 the decline was 19%. Then came the pandemic, and some states reported fairly dramatic increases in harvest – others did not. What this means for the future is unclear, it will take time to understand. Since 2004, and prior to the pandemic, numbers of turkey hunters declined by 22%, yet we saw numbers increase during 2020. Whether those new turkey hunters will remain in the hunting ranks is unclear, producing more uncertainty for managers. So how do we face the challenges laying before us as folks who cherish wild turkeys? We’ve faced challenges with wild turkeys before, albeit different ones. Turkey hunters, working with researchers, agency biologists, conservation organizations, and turkey enthusiasts were the catalyst to restore turkey populations decades ago. Restoration was accomplished using, among other tools, science, resources, cooperation, passion, dedication, and work – things that are in our fabric. If we use these same tools moving forward, understanding that we all have different perspectives, different ways of thinking, different approaches to life, different mindsets, but a common goal – well, we’ll face the challenges head on and collectively, we’ll make a difference for the bird.

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