The 2011 Wild Turkey Summer Observation survey data has now been completed and it could prove a watershed year for turkey biologists and hunters because the increased number of observers should generate a more accurate assessment of turkey reproduction and survival. The 2011 survey was mailed to 4,597 participants, an increase of 394 percent over the previous year.
The 2011 summer survey showed a poults-per-hen ratio of 2.0 in the coastal region, which is a decline from 2.2 in 2010 but still (barely) falls into the “fair” recruitment category. The gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.58, which was the highest for all three regions and well above the threshold of 0.50 biologists established as a benchmark to predict hunting success for the following spring. The previous year, the gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.55.
In the piedmont region, the poults-per-hen ratio was 2.3, climbing into the “fair” category following 2010, which had a “poor” recruitment ratio of just 1.7. The gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.51, showing solid potential for hunter success during the 2012 season. The previous year, the gobblers-per-hen ratio was lower, at 0.48.
In the mountain region in 2011 the poults-per-hen ratio was 2.0, a decline from 2.3 in 2010 but still making it into the “fair” category. The gobbler-per-hen ratio was 0.44. With declining mountain harvests over several seasons, the low ratio of gobblers-to-hens creates concern for hunters and biologists in the mountain region. The previous year, the gobblers-per-hen ratio was higher at 0.48.
The poults-per-hen ratio gives a gauge as to the number of gobblers that will be available as two-year-old gobblers in 2013. However, since 20 percent of the 2011 statewide gobbler harvest consisted of jakes, one-year-old birds comprise a significant number. The 2011 statewide recruitment average for all three regions was “fair” at 2.2 poults per hen, which could give boost the 2012 harvest.
The coast still has some unsaturated turkey habitat and, as indicated by the 2011 summer survey, also has excellent gobbler carryover. While it doesn’t have the extensive public lands of the mountains, it has some game lands that dependably produce gobblers.
Changes to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s harvest reporting system made it easier to narrow down the best Commission game lands because hunters were asked whether they were hunting on a game land and, if so, the name of the game land.
The coastal region’s top 10 game lands for 2010 gobbler harvest were led by Croatan, with 54. Lower Roanoke River Wetlands gave up 29 gobblers, Bladen Lakes, 19; Upper Roakoke River Wetlands, 17; Bertie County, 14; Chowan Swamp, 13; Holly Shelter, 13; Lantern Acres, 9; Suggs Mill Pond, 8 and Cape Fear River Wetlands, 8.
While most coastal game lands are small compared to the vast national forests in the mountains, Croatan National Forest adds credibility to the theory that to produce high turkey harvests, a property must contain big acreage. Croatan’s 160,724 acres in Carteret, Jones and Craven counties are open six days per week. It has plenty of pocosin habitat, which is great for turkeys, and the prescribed burns on Croatan’s upland savannahs are beneficial for turkeys.
There are food plots and several creeks with bottomland hardwood forests along the edges of Croatan. The best places to listen for gobblers are along the western edge, where several roads enter the game land from N.C. 58 and give access to Holston, Hunter and Hadnot creeks. Along the southern edge, several roads enter from N.C. 24, giving access to Pettiford and Southwest creeks. Brice Creek, which has good turkey habitat, is located at the northeastern corner and is best accessed from U.S. 70.
The 37,757 acres of the Upper and Lower Roanoke River Wetlands in Bertie, Halifax, Martin and Northampton counties yielded a combined total of 46 gobblers. This hardwood bottomland complex is open for turkey hunting by permit only and applications must be submitted by March 1. Hunters must submit applications by tract. Some tracts are accessible only by water and spring flooding can impact access and success.
(Hunters can view Game Lands Permit Hunting Opportunities and apply online at www.ncwildlife.org.)