Thoughts on Proposed Changes to Alabama bag limits, season

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As many of my fellow Alabama turkey hunters are beginning to discover, the state is mulling recommendations from Auburn University to lower the bag limit from five turkeys to three, and most shockingly, shorten the season to April 1-April 30, based on their data from a mere 18 months into a five year study.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

Let me preface this by saying that I too was concerned about turkeys following the 2015 season, but since have seen as many turkeys as usual and feel convinced that 2015’s lack of gobbling and apparent lack of turkeys was due to a poor hatch in 2013 combined with dismal weather. As all turkey hunters well know, two year old gobblers are the catalyst for a spring season, and a healthy portion of each years’ population, gobbling, and harvests will comprise of two year olds. The number of jakes observed by myself as well as others I spoke to in 2015 was very strong, and we seemed to have followed that with an excellent hatch this past summer.

As a whole, turkeys in west Alabama and other parts of the state are not out of the woods (neither is any game animal with a short life expectancy) and I certainly acknowledge that. However, the chief factors for this ebb and flow, in my opinion, are 1) current habitat cycle on a broad spectrum via changes in the timber industry (shorter rotations, reluctance of many timber companies to burn, etc.) 2) rise in predator populations, most notably in small “nest” predators as well as probable negative impact of feral hogs. I firmly believe that in a perfect world, if great habitat were to meet a complete lack of predators, the number of turkeys would be staggering. This does not exist, so yes, we must manage the resource with the given factors in mind.

The proposed bag limit decrease is simply an impulse reaction to 2015, and I suspect this conversation will be a moot point after a successful 2016 season for the state of Alabama. One thing to consider regarding bag limits is that the number of turkeys “saved” as a result of dropping the limit from three to five is a drop in the bucket relative the number killed by those that think nothing to go over the current five bird limit. Additionally, once honest, by-the-book hunters reach said three bird limit, we would likely take buddies and clients, and the end result will likely be the same number (or possibly greater) of turkeys killed on a tract as were in years prior.

The proposed shortening of the season would be the most detrimental for those areas in the state that receive on influx of out of state turkey hunters whom either hunt with local outfitters or hunt public land, and stay in local hotels, eat at local restaurants and so forth. If the season were to be pushed back, those hunters may choose to hunt neighboring states such as Mississippi instead, and thus Alabama would suffer a sizable tax revenue decrease. Additionally, the hunting is historically the best the last week in March on a statewide level, and many years the hunting is poor the last twenty days of April. As was noted in the 2015 turkey survey, only 21% of respondents supported starting the season later, despite the dismal 2015 season.

Again, these two proposals appear to be impulse reactions to 2015. I have kept gobbling records since 2008, and 2014 was one of the best gobbling seasons on record, as a by-product of a strong crop of two year olds coupled with ideal weather on average, whereas 2015 was poor for the opposite of those reasons.

In conclusion, I do not feel it is prudent to propose these changes based on 2015 alone. If 2015 repeats itself this spring, I will be the first to propose changes, but only if proactive, call-to-action solutions including habitat enhancement and predator control are a part of said changes. Regulatory bodies must balance the critical needs of the resource with the wants of the hunter, as they are truly symbiotic.

Wild Turkey Report Staff
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