The turkey hunting in Arkansas has been good in recent history with the state generally producing good hatches year after year. The spring season looks to be “another good one” despite a weaker than average number of poults last year. According to the 2016 Arkansas Wild Turkey Brood Survey, last year had the second lowest reproductive success since the survey began in 1982. However, biologists suggest that hunters likely won’t see the impacts of that poor hatch until next season.
Big Toms for Hunting in Arkansas
Arkansas is producing older birds through improved turkey management by the regulation of harvest. Jason Honey, turkey program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says most turkeys harvested are at least 2 years old, because of a fairly recent regulation change banning the harvest of jakes (immature gobblers).
“The no jakes rule and conservative seasons have allowed us to carry over a larger percentage of gobblers each year,” Honey said. “The spring turkey hunting season structure we had made it a little harder to kill a gobbler, but the conservative starting date also allowed gobblers to breed before hunters entered the woods and increased the amount of gobblers that survived to be available during the next season.”
Increased Production, More Turkey in Arkansas
Honey says the conservative turkey regulations can increase breeding success, but many factors, such as hen health, predators, poor habitat quality and bad weather can influence how many poults actually survive to the time brood surveys are done. There are lot of things can impact a nesting hen.
Fortunately, a single hen does not comprise a turkey population. Even during hard times, some hens will raise a clutch and be successful. Of course, during good nesting conditions many birds can raise many poults, so even a good year every second or third year can keep a turkey population going strong.
Arkansas’ Spring Turkey Season
Starting in 2017. Arkansas’ spring turkey season will follow a little different structure than in years past. Instead of opening the regular season the weekend after the youth turkey hunt, the Commission moved the regular season opener to April 10, the Monday directly after the youth hunt. This would allow an earlier opening day, but perhaps spread out some of the pressure and active gobbling throughout the week.
“According to our hunter surveys, we are seeing a marked increase in “gobblers seen” and more “gobbles per bird” in the last few years because of the increased carryover,” Honey said. “In terms of turkey harvest, I would expect it to increase somewhat again this year.”
The hunter surveys Honey refers to are special log books volunteers carry with them to record the amount of gobbling, birds seen and successes each day of the season. Over the years, these entries can reveal larger trends in the state’s turkey population.
Data-Driven Turkey Management
Those hunting in Arkansas can rest assured that turkey numbers are going strong in the state. After all, turkey hunting can not exist with the turkey themselves. Biologists are managing the birds to maintain flocks across the state in the face of disease and Mother Nature while also providing high quality turkey hunting opportunity. “By analyzing that data, we can keep tabs on peaks in gobbling as well as get a little better picture of the overall population structure,” Honey said.
“We’re not only seeing more mature gobblers lately, but we’re also seeing more jakes while the number of hens seen has been stable. That indicates that the population is not declining, but our regulations have allowed us to let more jakes survive to become mature birds.” And those birds will grow up fast, meaning turkey hunting in Arkansas looks good into the foreseeable future. Grab your gun, it’s almost time!