The lyrics of a Vern Gosdin song from the 1980s, more recently popularized by country outlaw Jamey Johnson, ask for B24 to be played on the jukebox again and again. “Set ’Em Up Joe” is a tribute to Ernest Tubb, as B24 was his country classic “Walkin’ the Floor Over You.” Well, turkey hunters and officials at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have definitely been walkin’ the floor while trying to devise solutions to our state’s declining turkey population.
Unfortunately, the turkey outlook is a story of same song, second — or third — verse for this spring. That doesn’t mean, however, there are no hotspots for you to bag a big bird.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
A combination of factors has led to the recent downward trend in turkey numbers in The Natural State. Now charged with understanding and counteracting those effects is Jason Honey, who took over the role of turkey program coordinator late in 2011 after the retirement of Mike Widner in December 2010.
Honey has been quickly moving up the ladder at AGFC, beginning his career there as a part-time wildlife technician on Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek WMA in White County in the early 2000s. He then graduated from Arkansas Tech University in 2004 and later that year became the WMA manager at Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek. From there, he shifted to the private lands biologist program. All that experience, he asserted, has readied him for heading the turkey program at the agency.
“My time in central Arkansas as a private lands biologist has allowed me to grow into a more mature professional wildlife biologist. I have had my hand in planting more than 1,000 acres of native, warm-season grasses, administering the various Farm Bill programs on the ground to provide quality habitat, specifically for ground-nesting birds, and helping hundreds of landowners reach their habitat goals.”
LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
So, what has Honey been doing since sliding into the turkey program coordinator spot?
“I have been analyzing the brood survey information, reviewing the upcoming turkey season regulations for 2012 and 2013, writing the 2011 turkey harvest report and being brought up to speed about our ongoing turkey research projects in the state,” Honey said.
Looking over that paperwork, he said, revealed both good and bad for the turkeys — and the hunters.
“Due to the implementation of the no-jake harvest, gobbler carryover has improved,” Honey noted. “In 2010, there were more poults observed. Hopefully, these birds were recruited into the population as well as the jakes from 2011, thus projecting a harvest similar to the 2011 season. Depending on weather, somewhere around 6,000 to 7,000 turkeys should be harvested.”
While good gobbler carryover will likely mean similar harvest totals, the weather has been a hindrance.
“Due to another year of poor weather conditions, reproduction was generally poor across the state, according to our 2011 brood survey. Periods of extreme weather, such as droughts and rainy, cold days have negative impacts on nesting success and the number of poults that survive.”
That, he said, coupled with the “poor physical condition of hens” has resulted in “late nesting and poor nesting effort in most cases.”
In that regard, Honey then turned the conversation specifically to the Arkansas Delta.
“The recent major flooding that occurred during the nesting season along the Mississippi River and several other river systems in the Arkansas Delta region will have a major impact on future turkey harvests, especially in 2013. Very few broods were observed in the Delta during the 2011 brood survey.”
In the brood survey, south-central Arkansas’ Zone 9 and Zone 6 from the Ozark foothills westward through the Arkansas River Valley both showed good success in regard to reproduction. Both Zone 1 in the northwest and north-central part of the state and Zone 7 in the northern reaches of the Ouachitas, meanwhile, noted above-average reproduction. All other zones registered average to poor reproduction based on reported sightings.
Regarding gobbler carryover, Zone 2 in the Ozarks and Zone 7 both showed good numbers, while Zones 6 and 9 came in at above average. The remainder of the state, particularly much of eastern Arkansas, did not fare nearly as well.
Another statistic among the various indices that are revealed in the brood survey is the poult-to-hen ratio. After peaking in the 1987 survey at greater than 5 poults per hen, observations in 2010 had dropped precipitously to 1.4:1. From there, the index slid further to 1.1:1 in 2011.
So, what do the findings of the brood survey mean for our 2012 turkey season?