Every hunter wants to see the numbers. For waterfowlers those are the various summer breeding, fall flight and wintering indexes, while for turkey hunters it’s the annual summer poult survey.
The kill totals that come out after each spring season are fun to see, but it’s this summer survey of reproduction that gives turkey hunters the first glance at what our next season could be.
The correlation isn’t always immediate, though, and last year was a good example of that. The summer 2016 poult survey showed some of the worst reproduction on record, particularly on the lower Shore, yet we had a record turkey kill in the 2017 spring season. What gives?
Experienced turkey hunters know that those 2016 hatched birds, few as there were, would have only been jakes this past spring, young turkeys that many hunters pass in search of a big old longbeard. The impact of that poor 2016 hatch will be felt this coming spring, as well as the three or four following years.
Knowing that, all of us hoped for a great year for the turkeys in 2017. Unfortunately, as anyone who participated in the poult survey already knows, we didn’t get it. Too much rain, which floods out nests, kills chicks by getting them wet and also makes it easier for predators to scent turkeys, was prevalent across Maryland this year.
The poult survey details, announced last week by the Maryland DNR, show that the 2017 hatch, while better than last year, was once again below average.
Statewide, 2.3 poults were observed per hen, higher than the 2016 count of 2 per hen, but way below the long-term average of 3 poults per hen.
Only 60 percent of hens were seen with young, lower than the long-term average of 70 percent, and only 50 percent of the hens seen in July had broods, an indication of poor first nesting attempts.
The average number of poults in a brood was only 3.8, also well below the long-term average of 4.3.
For the lower Shore, which includes Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset, here are the full findings of the survey this year.
“Participants in the lower eastern shore region reported an average of 1.8 poults per hen, well below average for the region. While this was the higher than the record-low estimate of 1.2 poults per hen in 2016, it still was the lowest of any region this year. Only 52% of hens were seen with poults and 3.5 poults were counted per brood hen. Turkey numbers have declined from previous high levels in this region due to several years of poor reproduction. The last 2 years of very low reproductive output could further depress the population.”
If you’re a turkey hunter you can take from that info the fact that the next few spring seasons are going to be tough. Even on good years wild turkeys can drive you crazy and leave you questioning your sanity, but those stats lead to the fact that there should be fewer gobblers.
Yet like politics, turkey hunting is local and it all depends on what the birds have done in the specific area you hunt. One good sized brood this year can have your woods full of turkeys for years to come, while hunters just a few miles down the road are dealing with quiet sunrises devoid of gobbling.
Through Sept. 30: Maryland and Virginia early teal seasons, six daily.
Through Sept. 30: First segment of Delaware mourning dove season
Oct. 2-Nov. 24: First segment of Maryland snow/light goose season
Oct. 5-7: 38th annual Mid-Atlantic Surf Fishing Tournament, Ocean City, 410-957-4516
Oct. 6-14: Delaware early muzzleloader deer season
Oct. 10: Opening day of Delaware snow goose season
Through Oct. 14: First segment of Maryland mourning dove season
Oct. 14-21: First segment of Maryland regular duck season
Oct. 16, 20, 21, 23, 27, 28 & 30: Delaware special antlerless deer season days
Oct. 17: Opening of Virginia snow/light goose season
Oct. 19-21: Maryland early muzzleloader deer season
Oct. 21: Delaware and Virginia youth waterfowl hunts
Oct. 21-22: 18th annual Rocktoberfest Tournament, Bahia Marina, Ocean City, 410-289-7473
Oct. 23-28: Maryland early muzzleloader antlerless deer season
Through Oct. 29: First segment of Virginia mourning dove season
Through Dec. 20: Chesapeake striped bass season, main bay and all tributaries, two fish daily, 20-inch minimum, only one over 28 inches.
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