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What Percentage of the Population of Toms Should We Harvest?

This Turkey Tuesday is about a question often asked by turkey hunters – what percentage of the population of toms should we harvest? This is a complicated question, and one where “it depends” often will be the answer one gets. Recommendation back in the 1990s (2nd pic), which have been used in the years since, suggested that as long as we harvest 30% or less of the toms in a population, spring harvest should be sustainable. But there’s much to understand when considering those recommendations, which at the time, were based on the best research available. One, production (poults per hen) was more than double what is being observed across many parts of turkey range. You can clearly see this in the ratio of juvenile to adult hens in populations back then – more juveniles than adults, whereas we see far fewer juveniles than adults in many populations today. Two, these recommendations were made based on scenarios where spring harvest rate was maintained constant at 15% – ongoing research on many sites throughout the country shows that in a given year, harvest rates of toms far exceed 15% and may be >40%. Three, these recommendations were made based on the assumption that spring seasons would open when most breeding was completed (peaks in nest incubation), so as not to disrupt breeding. This 3rd point is why many states have made recent regulation changes altering season opening dates, given the recognition that timing of harvest matters. The take home is, the percentage of toms to harvest each year hinges on annual production in years prior, and likely varies dramatically across the landscape as production fluctuates through time – in other words, there isn’t a single % that applies broadly, which is why agencies continue to grapple with trying to ensure harvest is sustainable. The question becomes, since we’re not producing turkeys like we were in the 1980s and 1990s, doesn’t it stand to reason that we can’t harvest turkeys based on recommendations when times were so different?

Photo by Matt Addington.

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