Split Season May Harm N.C.’s Turkey Hatch

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The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will offer 42 proposed changes to hunting, fishing and trapping regulations for the 2005-06 seasons during its annual series of January public hearings.

Most of the proposals shouldn’t generate much heat; one probably will.

The WRC will ask hunters to consider a split, east-west spring gobblers-only wild turkey season. The proposed eastern N.C. season (east of Interstate 95) would the earliest in history, starting the first Saturday in April and running through the fourth Saturday thereafter. The western season (west of I-95) would begin the second Saturday in April and end the fourth Saturday thereafter.

East and west seasons still would be four weeks (including five Saturdays). For instance, if the proposal were in effect this spring, eastern season dates would be April 2-30, while western dates would be April 9-May 7 (which is actually the 2005 statewide season dates). If a hunter chose, he could hunt east and west and enjoy a five-week season (but still couldn’t harvest more than two birds per year).

However, season length isn’t at the heart of a potential problem. The problem might come in breeding success, and it could be worse in counties with relatively few birds.

Mike Seamster, the WRC’s upland bird/wild turkey specialist, said this change, if adopted, may make it more difficult for eastern N.C. wild turkeys to breed and produce offspring.

The proposal, which originated with a District 4 (eastern N.C.) WRC commissioner, was in response to earlier gobbling by male birds in eastern counties during the spring.

However, opening the spring season too early may take gobblers out of the population before they have a chance to mate with hens - creating a potential negative effect upon the spring hatch and possibly lowering turkey reproduction.

“The whole concept of a spring gobbler season is based on the biology of letting the hens get bred before you harvest the gobblers,” Seamster said.

He said several advantages exist in allowing gobblers and hens to get together before opening hunting season.

“If hens are allowed to breed with gobblers, they’ll be on the nests and not likely to get accidentally shot during the hunting season,” he said. “Statistics have shown the earlier the (spring gobbler season) opens, the more likely hens are to get shot.

“Also, if you have an area with a low density of turkeys and allow the male birds to be hunted, reproductive success can become an iffy proposition.

“For instance, what if you open the season in an area where there’s only three gobblers per square mile, and you harvest one gobbler and your neighbor harvests one. You could end up with unbred hens (and a depressed hatch).”

Seamster said in eastern N.C., some areas have thriving wild turkey populations while others don’t have many birds.

“Biologists looked at 58 studies (of wild turkeys) in 33 states and came to the conclusion the best (hunting-season approach) was to go with the biological concept of harvesting gobblers after the hens were bred,” he said. “They put together the average incubation dates and created a map to show across the entire range of wild turkeys when that occurred.

“When they compared it to the season-opening dates, they found most states already were opening their (spring) seasons a little too early.”

The WRC’s public-hearings schedule for comments on changes in game laws is: Jan. 11, Southwestern Community College, Sylva; Jan. 12, Morganton, Municipal Auditorium; Jan. 13, Boonville, Starmount High School; Jan. 18, Elizabethtown, Courthouse; Jan. 19, Graham, Courthouse; Jan. 20, Norwood, S. Stanly High School; Jan. 25, Edenton, Swain Auditorium; Jan. 26, New Bern, Courthouse; and Jan. 27, Nashville, Courthouse.

All hearings will begin at 7 p.m.

Sportsmen, who must include their full name and address, also may send written comments to: NCWRC, 1701 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1701.

To comment on-line, go to http://www.ncwildlife.org, then to “Press Releases/What’s New” and click on the release headline “Commission Schedules Public Hearings On Proposed Regulations Changes” and follow the prompts.

For the latest in outdoor features, news and columns, subscribe to North Carolina Sportsman magazine by calling (800) 538-4355 or visiting http://www.northcarolinasportsman.com.

By Craig Holt

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