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John's Journal... Entry 236, Day 1


The Spring Forecast

Editor's Note: Long rainy periods impacted the turkey hatch in various parts of the country last year. However, most sections of the Midwest experienced a positive turkey hatch. Several western states, including Arizona, California and New Mexico reported good turkey hatches. But if you want to know what you can expect this year when you go into the woods to hunt spring turkeys, check out each state's predictions in the Hatch Report this week.

Steve Barnett of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reported that the 2003 turkey hatch decreased from the 2002 hatch results. Heavy rains fell during the May and June peak hatch periods, which negatively impacted the hatch's quality. Biologists couldn't pick the best and the worst areas for the hatch in Alabama, but Barnett forecasted an excellent number of harvestable 2-year-old birds for 2004.

Although Arizona doesn't have any ongoing research studies or marked birds to give the state's biologists specific data on the annual hatch, the biologists can speculate on the quality of the hatch each spring. "We had a decent 2003 hatch because the mild winter weather led to little weather-related mortality," explained Brian Wakeling, big-game-management supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Wakeling went on to say that the 2003 turkey hatch increased from 2002, with several flocks having four- to six-poults per hen. Dry years mean very-little cover and low nutrition for turkeys and heightened predation. While the turkeys generally have plenty of insects to eat during dry years, they'll only have a limited number of seed heads. According to Wakeling, the eastern to the central portion of the state along the Mogollon Rim seemed to have the best poult production. Traditionally regions like the Kaibab don't have the productivity of other areas. Sections of the state on the Arizona Strip, like Mount Trumball and Delembaugh, had insufficient recruitment to cause the isolated populations to rebound. Wakeling also reported that Arizona didn't estimate the number of harvestable gobblers.

For two consecutive years, Arkansas' turkey hatch decreased partly due to the above-average rainfall during late spring and early summer. "I best can classify the 2003 hatch in Arkansas as fair," Bradley Carner, of the Wildlife Management Division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, explains. "However, although poult production decreased, the decrease wasn't as large as the year before." Arkansas' 2003 brood surveys indicated a 14-percent decline in the number of poults reported from the 2002 summer-brood surveys, already down 35-percent from 2001. Wet conditions most likely contributed to the decline in poult production. According to Carner, the Ouachita Mountain region of west-central Arkansas reported the best hatch of 2.3 poults per hen. Overall, Carner classified the hatch in this section of the state as average to slightly above average. The Delta region in eastern Arkansas produced the fewest number of poults for 2003 with only 1.3 poults per hen. Flood conditions during late April and May affected the quality of the hatch there. Carner expects a fairly good carryover of adult gobblers for 2004. Some hens succeeded in subsequent nesting attempts after the early floods, and the Game and Fish Commission received several reports of small broods in September. The mild winter in combination with an excellent mast crop enabled many of these late-hatched birds to survive the winter.

California does not collect any formal data concerning the turkey hatch. However, Scott Gardner, wildlife biologist and wild-turkey coordinator for the state, believes the state had an excellent hatch in 2003, compared to an average hatch in 2002, primarily due to good range conditions. Gardner also thinks that the Central Coast and the Sierra Nevada foothills usually have the best hatches in the state. The drier areas of the state usually have a poor hatch. Unfortunately, Gardner can't provide a reasonable estimate for the harvestable number of gobblers for 2004.

Rick Hoffman with the Division of Wildlife reports the state had a poor to fair 2003 hatch, depending on the region of the state. The southwestern and southeastern parts of Colorado had experienced an extended drought for at least three years. But the 2003 hatch fared better than the 2002 hatch because all sections had drought conditions in 2002. The drought probably has had the most impact on the turkey populations in the southwest portion of the state, whereas populations in the northwest have experienced fewer difficulties from the drought. However, since the 2003 turkey hatch increased from the 2002 hatch, biologists hope for a better 2004. Still Hoffman expects an average 2004 hatch as turkey populations recover from the drought.

Connecticut experienced a fair hatch in 2003. Michael Gregonis of Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection in the Wildlife Division noted that the 2003 hatch had less productivity than the 2002 hatch. Rainfall during the spring nesting period affected the hatch's quality in 2003. According to Gregonis, biologists don't know which parts of the state have the best or the worst hatches. Gregonis has no way of predicting the harvestable gobblers in 2004.

Ken Reynolds, program manager for wildlife research for Delaware says his state doesn't have information on the 2003 hatch or predictions for the 2004 hatch due to budget and personnel cuts.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission currently doesn't conduct statewide turkey surveys to evaluate its turkey hatches. However, from general observations agency personnel, various landowners and hunters have made, they have categorized the 2003 turkey hatch as fair, with a slight decrease in productivity from 2002. "This decrease in reproductive success was probably limited by the above-average rainfall, a relatively cool spring and limited mast production during the fall and the winter in several regions of the state," state wildlife biologist Larry Perrin, comments. "Because of the drought-like conditions that persisted until 2002, we seemed to have had above-average reproductive success during that time period. Therefore, the number of 2-year-old and older gobblers available for harvest in 2004 should be average to above average."

Lee Kennamer, a state turkey biologist, said based on hunters' and wildlife biologists' reports, the state had a fair 2003 hatch, though the state didn't have as successful a 2003 hatch as the 2002 hatch. The hatch during the early spring had a good hatch, but rain fell constantly throughout the rest of the spring and early summer, resulting in no hatch activity. In the summer after the rain, the state had a good hatch, and turkeys gobbled until the end of June. Each year, the western Piedmont region ranks as the best in the state for the hatch. The east Piedmont region has the poorest 2003 hatch numbers. Georgia had no statistics available at the time of this writing, but Kennamer believed hunters harvested roughly 75,000 turkeys in 2003. Kennamer estimated that Georgia would have a turkey population of 300,000 to 400,000 birds next year, and the number of gobblers harvested in 2004 probably would range from 75,000 to 100,000.

To learn addresses and websites where you can learn more about each state's turkey hunting seasons, go to www.nighthawkpublications.com/freetips/freetips18.htm.




Check back each day this week for more about THE TURKEY HATCH FOR 2004 ...

Day 1 - The Spring Forecast
Day 2 - What to Expect This Spring for Spring Turkey Hunting
Day 3 - More States' Spring Forecast for Turkey Hunting
Day 4 - Learn More About How States' Spring Turkey Hunting Will Fare
Day 5 - See Turkey Hatch Reports from Several States

John's Journal