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Kentucky Wild Turkey Update

Zak Danks, Wild Turkey & Ruffed Grouse Program Coordinator

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources

August 15, 2019


POPULATION STATUS

Kentuckians are fortunate to have wild turkeys present

throughout the Commonwealth to hunt and enjoy. A precise estimate

of Kentucky’s turkey population would be very difficult

(expensive) to obtain, but a crude estimate is 250,000 to

400,000. Regardless of the actual number, turkeys are plentiful

enough to offer hunting opportunities rivaling any state.

SPRING TURKEY HARVEST

The reported harvest during Kentucky’s 2019 spring season

was 29,495 bearded birds. This total, which includes harvest during

youth weekend (April 7-8) and the regular season (April 13-

May 5), was 8% higher than last spring, 3% lower than the

5-year average, and 7% lower than the 10-year average. Youth

harvest was up 38%. Better weather boosted harvest during

opening weekend, which helped account for the overall increase.

Harvest increased in 80 counties, decreased in 35, and was

the same in 5 counties. Harvest ranged from 66-679 per county,

with 6 counties topping 500. Logan County led in total harvest

while Green County led in harvest per square mile. Harvest increased

5-17% in 7 of 9 Commission Districts and 1-16% in the

5 Wildlife Division Regions. Most of the increase in harvest was

in the western two-thirds of the state, where for example, harvests

in the 1st and 2nd Districts were up 15% and 17%, respectively.

Ten public areas had harvests of over 26 birds.

FALL TURKEY HARVEST

Fall turkey hunting last year included an archery season

(September 3–January 16), two week-long shotgun seasons (October

22–28 and December 3–11), and 2 crossbow seasons (October

1–16 and November 12–December 31). The total reported

fall harvest of 2,369 was up 27% compared to 2017-18, which

likely reflected a better hatch in 2018 compared to 2019’s record

low. Most (1,398) turkeys were harvested by shotgun (59%), although

the bow harvest continues to account for a greater proportion

of the fall harvest (19% in 2009 to 29% in 2018).

Despite last fall’s uptick, fall turkey harvest has declined; for

example, 5,700 birds were harvested in 2009. This has been disconcerting

to some hunters, and rightfully so given that turkey

biologists in past years

cautioned against harvesting

too many hens in the

fall. However, a closer look

at the data indicates that

fewer hunters pursue

turkeys. Resident and nonresident

fall turkey permit

sales declined by 66% and

22%, respectively, from

2009-10. Some of the loss

was offset by the 25% increase in the resident Sportsman’s license,

which includes a fall turkey permit. But harvest data show

that over time fewer hunters are accounting for more of the fallharvested

birds, which likely means fewer hunters pursuing

turkeys. In 2001 (first statewide fall season) 5% of successful

hunters harvested more than one turkey. Over the past decade

this figure has increased to an average of 17%. Also, less than

2% harvest 3 turkeys and less than 1% harvest the full bag limit

of 4. This signals a decline in interest in fall hunting and that fall

harvest currently is not excessive. Trends are similar in neighboring

Missouri, and recent research there has shown fall harvests

of less than 4%. Perhaps hunters are busy chasing Boone

and Crockett bucks. With so many deer hunters hunting over bait

these days, more areas are technically off-limits to turkey hunting

anyway.

REPRODUCTION

The Kentucky Department

of Fish and

Wildlife Resources (KDFWR)

has conducted a

summer brood survey

since 1984. Staff and volunteers

record all turkeys

seen during routine travels

in July and August.

We calculate a poult per

hen (PPH) ratio to indicate overall productivity, the percentage

of hens with poults to indicate nesting success, and a poults per

brood (PPB) ratio to index poult survival. In 2018 we made available

a mobile phone app and website to report turkey observations

along with traditional paper forms.

For the 2018 survey we received 789 observations of

turkeys, 64% of which were collected via the app. Encouragingly,

indices for overall productivity, nesting success, and poult survival

increased compared to 2017. The statewide PPH ratio of 2.0 was

66% higher than in 2017 and 17% higher than the 5-year average

(1.7). The percentage of hens with a brood (69%) was 35%

higher than in 2017. The statewide PPB of 3.7 was 11% higher

than in 2017. Based on past trends, the better reproduction observed

over most of the state in summer 2018 (see below) could

lead to an even higher spring harvest in 2020.

The 2019 brood survey season began on July 1st and will

conclude on August 31st. So far, data logged by participants using

the mobile phone app indicate a PPH ratio overall 2.0, which is

encouraging in light of heavy rain during early June over much

of the state. Time and further analysis will tell, but so far news

is encouraging.

EMERGING OR EVOLVING ISSUES

In 2018 we collected 36 male turkeys from hunters in Crittenden

and Livingston Counties. Our hope was to gather baseline

information on the health of these birds. Carcasses sent to the

Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease laboratory at the University

of Georgia for necropies did not reveal any significant

conditions, which was certainly encouraging. Lymphoproliferative

disease virus (LPDV) was detected in 39% of the turkeys, which

is consistent with recent findings in other states. Although LPDV

can cause tumors in organs of wild turkeys, none were observed

in our turkeys. Also, internal and external parasites found were

expected based on previous investigations outside of Kentucky.

A full report of findings can be found on the KDFWR website. We

encourage hunters to report turkeys found dead or appearing

strange.

CONTACT US

ADDRESS

KYSCI

211 Willoughby Court

Louisville, KY 40245

CONTACT

Larry Richards

502-727-7700

© 2013, 2019 by Kentuckiana Chapter SCI. All Rights Reserved.

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