By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The spring turkey season has begun, and hunters are entering the field to bag another catch to take home for dinner. The new season is different, however, as regulations have changed in the past year due to dwindling numbers of birds from a variety of environmental impacts affecting turkey populations across the state.
Spring turkey season is open through May 16. New regulations include only one Tom per season, both spring and fall seasons. Harvesting is only allowed with shotguns or archery. Turkeys must be registered online within 24 hours of harvest.
“You cannot hunt them with bait, such as corn,” said Kay County Game Warden Spencer Grace, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC).
Those seeking Toms can find them in open areas, especially when they are “strutting.”
“‘Strutting’ is the courtship behavior when males are trying to attract the females,” Grace said.
Populations can be found in more open areas, such as fields.
“They can be found in open areas – wheat fields, freshly-plowed corn fields, areas where the vegetation is not too tall,” Grace said.
Those seeking birds this season may be disappointed, however, as numbers have been falling for several years, not just in Kay County, but across Oklahoma.
“The turkey numbers have been declining statewide, and across the country, and have been declining for a long time,” Grace said, adding that numbers have been decreasing at least 15 years. “Over the last decade it keeps becoming more significant as (the population) drops. The current population in Kay County is estimated to be 300 or less.”
Many factors seem to play a role in their decline. One is predatory animals, such as raccoons, possums and skunks, which raid turkey nests for the eggs. Other factors are environment-related.
“There is extreme flooding, extreme heat during peak nesting season,” Grace said. “We have disease, aflatoxin in corn, which is a fungus.”
To combat the decline in turkey numbers, the ODWC enacted new regulations last year to combat those falling numbers.
“They reduced the bag limit from three Toms to one and changed the season from starting April 6 to April 16 to allow the Toms to breed the hens last fall,” Grace said.
It may take several years to see if the new regulations have any real impact on the wild turkey population, but landowners seeking to increase wildlife may be able help by increasing a habitat that supports those turkey populations.
“The use of prescribed burning helps improve the habitat, and burning at the right time is very beneficial,” Grace said. “We encourage people to trap predatory animals is also beneficial.
These are only the beginning of a recovery effort for the turkey population.
“It’ll take time,” Grace said.