Biggest Threats to Wild Turkey Populations in 2013

With springtime rapidly approaching, it can only mean one thing — turkey time is upon us.

In many ways there's no time like the present to get a gobbler in your sights. As bird numbers continue to rise, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) reports there are an estimated 6.4 million wild turkeys spread out across the U.S. and Canada. Missouri, which is the top wild turkey producing state, had 58,421 birds taken last year alone. Alabama, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were not far behind, with 142,000 wild turkeys harvested between them.

On the other hand, there's never been a time quite like the present to worry about the future of wild turkeys, in particular, and hunting in general. Regarding habitat, the NWTF is seriously concerned about the amount of acreage lost each day to urban sprawl and development. While it has invested nearly $415 million to reclaim 17.3 million acres of habitat, there's still plenty to worry about as suburban communities and highways expand at an incredible pace.

The other major factor is the current political climate, which has been fueled by recent anti-gun legislation. Tom Hughes, assistant vice president of conservation programs at NWTF, said it's an unwelcome situation every hunter has got to face.

"As hunter's rights advocates, we wouldn't be true to the people we represent if we didn't stand up for the Second Amendment," Hughes said. "This is about a whole lot more than guns. It's about a way of life that hunters embrace."

Rapid Habitat Loss

In addition to the rapid urban sprawl that contributes to the loss of 6,000 acres of wild turkey habitat each day, there are other factors that will likely have a negative impact on bird numbers in 2013. First, rising corn prices have motivated farmers to clear Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land — prime wild turkey habitat — to increase their level of production. This is becoming more and more common, according to Hughes, because the increase in profit for farmers exceeds the penalty for removing the regulated CRP land. As corn prices continue to skyrocket, more and more CRP land will disappear.

Another big issue is the maturity level of many of the forests across the U.S. As the amount of logging has decreased due to an active environmental consciousness, many forests have become overly aged, which in turn takes away ideal brooding conditions for wild turkeys. The NWTF works with the U.S. Forest Service to promote wise forest management, but the impact of those efforts don't come to fruition until years later.

Two other major factors continue to affect wild turkey populations — the drought and the feral hog explosion in the South. Especially in areas like the Midwest and Texas, the lack of rainfall has been extremely harmful to the production of wild grasses that turkeys feed on. It's a simple equation — no rain means no food, and no food means no turkeys.

In a lot of the same areas where drought-caused food shortages are a sad reality, there is an ongoing invasion of feral hogs. It is estimated that feral hogs do about $1.5 billion in damage in the U.S. annually, destroying the same habitat wild turkeys call home. In Texas alone there are 2.5 million feral hogs that destroy precious habitat, compete for scarce food resources and threaten nesting turkeys.

Political Climate Change

The most dangerous threats to turkey hunting in 2013, however, don't have anything to do with habitat or predators. According to Hughes, the biggest concern for 2013 is the anti-gun, anti-hunting sentiment that has metastasized into new legislation that threatens our way of life.

"The zealous gun control advocates are the kind of folks who don't distinguish between a semi-auto AR and a semi-auto shotgun. It's all the same thing to them. It's the same for turkey, doves, you name it," Hughes said. "A lot of turkey hunters may not be aware, but this threatens our hunting heritage, not just our Second Amendment rights."

The NWTF was at the center of the gun debate recently after it pulled out of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., because Reed Exhibitions, the event organizer, banned AR's and high-capacity magazines from the show. As Hughes said, hunters have to band together to protect their way of life.

"We all need to be concerned about legislation like this," Hughes said. "We want there to be a hunting heritage to protect and enjoy tomorrow, but there won't be if we don't do something about it."



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