Be glad turkeys canâ€™t read. If they were capable of discerning the printed word, they would probably be so depressed about their speciesâ€™ immediate future that theyâ€™d just say the heck with it and give up breeding for good!
Now, I donâ€™t mean to imply that pre-season forecasts like the one you have just begun to read and think about are a waste of time. Far from it; rather, a properly thought-out â€śexpertâ€ť analysis is a logical starting point for any hunter who wishes to take charge of the new season instead of leaving his hits and misses to mere circumstance. The problem with relying on the experts is they canâ€™t be everywhere at once, and New York is a big state.
In other words, we hunters should keep predictions and statistics in perspective.
Right now, the statewide outlook for spring turkey hunting is not encouraging, but thatâ€™s based on a wide-angle glimpse, not a close-up view. Just because state biologists and volunteers found a below-average ratio of poults per hen during the DECâ€™s most recent summer survey does not mean nest production was low in your back forty. More meaningful, by far, is the surprising number of newly bearded jakes and chatterbox jennies you bumped into during that trail hike you took a couple of weeks ago. For summer population tallies and reproduction estimates are just snapshots in time. They are interesting, for purposes of noting year-to-year comparisons and trends, but they canâ€™t foreshadow the impact of mild or harsh weather patterns through the ensuing autumn and winter months or other variables that can be game-changers for spring-season turkey hunters.
Having said all that, poult-hen ratios were below-average on a statewide basis in 2011, for the third consecutive August. The estimate came in at 2.6 poults per hen, according to DEC chief gamebird biologist Mike Schiavone. Over the previous 10 ears, the average was 3.0 poults per hen.
If nothing else, those numbers suggest there will be slightly fewer yearlings â€” both jakes and jennies â€” to confound hunters this May. But it does not necessarily indicate diminished numbers of the mature toms, or gobblers, that most spring-season hunters prefer to lure to gun or bow.
â€śFour of the past six years have seen below-average productivity,â€ť Schiavone noted.
Okay, but an optimist would say it could have been worse, since two of the last six years were marked by above average poult-to-hen ratios. If youâ€™re not an optimist, if your glass isnâ€™t half full, then what made you roll out of bed at oh-dark-thirty last May, when the woods in some parts of the state were being inundated twice their normal volume of rain? What convinced you that New York turkeys would have any nesting success at all after that soggy debacle?
Maybe it was the data, if you studied it dispassionately..
In the Syracuse area, birds, hunters, golf courses and everything else beneath the sky were drenched with 8.3 inches of rain in May. We all know heavy rainfalls are bad for nesting and tending broods and most of us assumed subsequent surveys would show abysmal poults-to-hen ratios in Central New York.
Yet when the August survey results came out, the DEC reported a tally of 3.7 poults per hen in the Oneida Lake Plains, which includes Syracuse and surrounding townships. That was the third-highest poult-hen ratio recorded, among 23 management units surveyed, in 2011. How do we explain that?
One possibility is a statistical anomaly, meaning in this case there were a misleading number of broods out and about when DEC Region 7 turkey-checkers did their thing. Itâ€™s more likely, however; that hen turkeys pounded by May rains re-nested successfully and hatched a fair number of second-chance poults in the drier weeks afterward.
In his report, Schiavone commented on that possibility.
â€śRainfall amounts declined in June,â€ť he noted. â€ś(And) drier conditions then may have resulted in improved nesting success or may have allowed adult hens whose nests failed in May to re-nest in June.â€ť
Regardless, I can assure Game & Fish readers plenty of young turkeys were stuffing themselves with waste corn and alfalfa during the fall season and on into the winter in Syracuse-area fields. How many of those birds will be susceptible to huntersâ€™ calling skills in the next few weeks? As always, we wonâ€™t know until the shooting stops.
Meanwhile, here are some of the highlights of the DECâ€™s 2011 summer turkey survey report:
*Some 429 hen-flock sightings were recorded. Thatâ€™s 16 fewer than reported the previous August.
*Statewide, the 2.6 poults-per-hen ratio was unchanged from 2010. It was the third year in a row with ratios below the long-term average of 3.0 poults per hen.
*Approximately 23 percent of observed hen flocks did not have any visible poults in tow. That compared with the 21 percent of poult-less flocks in 2010 and the 24 percent of hen flocks seen without poults during August, 2009. The recent 10-year average percentage of poult-less flocks is 19 percent.