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Arkansas Sportsman

Turkey futures look bright after successful season

By Bryan Hendricks

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 2:05 a.m.

After three years with an index under 10,000, turkey futures experienced a sharp uptick last spring as hunters killed 12,072 birds in Arkansas.

That's a 24-percent increase over 2013, when hunters bagged 9,122 gobblers. It's also the first time since 2011 that we killed more than 10,000 turkeys. That year was the low-water mark, with a spring kill of only 6,713 turkeys. Youngsters killed 919 of those during the two-day youth season.

Since 2011, turkey hunting success has crept upward until this year's relative leap. Jason Honey, the turkey biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said despite the upward trend, it's premature to declare that the state's turkey drought is finished. He said this year's success was probably based on an excellent hatch year in 2012. It was the best reproduction year in a long time, and it resulted in a lot of 2-year old birds in the woods this year.

"We had a lot of additional gobbler carryover from the year before due to the no-jake rule," Honey said. "That and good weather added up to a good season."

The AGFC restricted the killing of yearling gobblers, or jakes, for adult hunters beginning in the 2011 season. Youth aged 15 and under may kill no more than one jake.

The 2013 hatch was OK, but not great, and Honey hasn't yet seen data to assess the success of this year's hatch. However, the weather during this year's nesting period was very good, so it's not unreasonably optimistic to believe this year's hatch was as good or better than 2012. As the song goes, two out of three ain't bad.

"This season just kind of shows what one year of good reproduction can do," Honey said.

As in 2013, we had a 16-day season this year that ran April 19-May 4. Half of the 2013 season was rainy, cold and windy. Weather for the entire 2014 season was gorgeous.

Youths killed 1,319 turkeys during the two-day youth season on April 12-13. That's a 3-percent increase over 2013, when the youngsters killed 1,282 turkeys. The kids accounted for 4 percent of the statewide kill, compared to 7 percent in 2013 and 2011, and 5 percent in 2012. The youth season accounted for 17 percent of the statewide kill in 2010.

As usual, the Ozarks was the best region for turkey hunting this year, but there was a slight shift. Sharp and Fulton counties usually yield the most turkeys, but Newton County took top honors this year with 440 turkeys. Fulton County was a close second with 435 birds, followed by Sharp County with 418, Izard County (409), Stone County (390), Van Buren County (366) and Cleburne County (365).

Those six counties comprise the traditional "turkey belt" of the eastern Ozarks, but productivity steadily decreases going southward.

The same trend appears in the next tier of Ozark counties to the west of the "turkey belt." Hunters killed 285 turkeys in Baxter County, and 275 each in Marion and Searcy counties, and 261 in Pope County.

The top counties in the Ouachita Mountains were Scott (289), Montgomery (250), Perry (226), Garland (216), Yell (209) and Polk (200).

Except for Union County, a traditional hotspot where hunters killed 296 turkeys, harvest numbers in the Gulf Coastal Plain were consistent. Hunters killed 196 turkeys in Dallas County, followed by Calhoun County (192), Clark County (189), Ouachita County (183). Bradley, Hot Spring and Grant counties yielded 176, 175 and 173 birds, respectively.

Despite its modest yields, the Gulf Coastal Plain is the state's quiet giant for turkey hunting. Most of the land is leased and behind locked gates. With all the clearcutting that timber companies have been doing for the past three years, turkey habitat is outstanding in this region. The clubs emphasize deer hunting, and few people hunt turkeys. The birds are flourishing, and they aren't much bothered.

Some hunters complain about the season starting so late in April because they believe turkeys have mostly stopped gobbling. I hunt mostly in Grant County, where I have been blessed to kill a longbeard two years in a row. I also lived and hunted in Missouri during its heyday in 2001-2004, and the past three years in Grant County compared favorably with that era in terms of the number of gobblers I heard and saw.

Nowadays, I feel like I have a chance anytime I'm in the woods in Arkansas. It wasn't like that for a long time. It's a great feeling.

Sports on 08/03/2014

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