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Status of the Wild Turkey Population in Alabama

 

Wildlife and the Outdoors

 

Status of the Wild Turkey Population in Alabama

 

Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist

 

Turkey hunting folklore often speaks of a time when setting up on a gobbling bird was second only to the challenge of picking one to pursue. With the chorus of several gobblers echoing love inspired gobbles from nearby and distant ridge spurs, the hunter had to decide which bird to tempt into shotgun range with seductive hen calls. Is this a creative hunting tale of long ago? No, numerous hunters experience these conditions every spring across the nation. The “good ole days” of turkey hunting are today.

The comeback of the wild turkey has been well documented, but worth repeating. In the early 1930s, the wild turkey was on the verge of extinction; however, early conservation movement visionaries turned the tide. By tapping into the remaining wild turkey population bastions, restocking programs were developed by state wildlife agencies to reintroduce wild turkeys back into their former range. Through restoration, protection, management, and research as well as state wildlife agency partnerships with organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and landowners, wild turkey numbers and habitat have been enhanced throughout the nation. The results of these ongoing efforts have brought wild turkey numbers from only 30,000 in the early 1900s to nearly 7 million today.

           In Alabama, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources wildlife biologists recently estimated the statewide Eastern wild turkey population to number around 500,000. This estimate is the highest ever recorded in the state. However, it must be stressed that this number is only an estimate and can vary greatly from year to year based on reproduction, survival, and habitat suitability factors. Nevertheless, the population trend has been upward in recent years. The growth of wild turkey numbers in Alabama is also reflected in the harvest numbers. Based on the annual hunter mail survey over the past few seasons, the total combined fall and spring season harvests has been about 60,000 gobblers each year. This is one of the highest reported harvests in the nation for Eastern wild turkeys.

To better understand factors that influence wild turkey reproduction and survival as well as the sustainability of current harvest levels, the Department is partnering with the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Auburn University and the Alabama Chapter of the NWTF to employ scientific methods to determine survival of wild turkey young (poults) into the fall population. The objective is to develop a method that is suitable in providing a survival index in three geographic regions of Alabama in the current pilot study that can be used statewide. By gleaning the results of this study and the development of a gobbler population harvest index, we will be better equipped to make biologically sound and responsible decisions that guide season and bag limit recommendations.

Alabama hunters are experiencing unprecedented levels of wild turkey population growth and harvest opportunities. However, we must not take these conditions for granted or become complacent. The comeback of the wild turkey in Alabama demands vigilance through management and research so future generations will continue to enjoy the “good ole days.”

For more information on the wild turkey in Alabama, contact Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, P.O. Box 247, Daphne, AL 36526; phone 251-626-5474.


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