As we closed out another turkey season yesterday, I found myself thinking back over the days of the previous month and wondering a bit about what lies ahead for us.
This season of 2013 was like none we’ve had in the last 10 years. Although not quite as plentiful as what we experienced back in the 1980s or 1990s, gobblers seemed to be everywhere.
I saw far more turkeys this year than last year, which was already a significant improvement from the previous seasons.
So what’s going on with the birds? Or, better yet, what brought their initial decline?
According to biologists with our state’s Department of Natural Resources, things started a downward spiral back around 2002. This was when we started having annual droughts, which had a huge impact on the turkeys.
Extremely dry conditions result in far fewer insects, which the young birds rely on for nourishment as they develop.
Simply put, when the bugs aren’t there, the poults won’t be either – at least not for long.
As if all of those years of dryness weren’t enough, we also saw the entrance of a new predator into the area over about the last 15 years.
Any hunter or farmer can attest that coyotes have become quite a nuisance and have had a major impact on game populations.
In fact, I saw two kill sites during the last full week of the season this year.
The sites had enough feathers and bones scattered about to look as if someone had strapped a stick of dynamite to a turkey.
The final piece that was a detrimental to the turkey population was the amount of growth and development that took place during the real estate boom, which started in the mid ’90s and ran until the entire economy crashed a handful of years back.
It seemed that, in those days, every farmer received at least one offer to buy his place; many of them accepted.
Large properties were leveled. In their place grew housing developments and retail shopping centers which, naturally, displaced the wildlife that formerly inhabited the place. Birds simply died out.
Remarkably, Mother Nature always has a way of working things out; what we’re experiencing at this time is just that.
Despite our last couple of summers staying dry as they progressed, we received enough wet weather during the spring and early summer to ensure that insect life was abundant, and the annual recruitment rate of new turkeys increased substantially.
All of those birds that were running around in 2011 are now mature 2-year-olds this year, and it showed.
Could we get lucky enough to see the same thing happen this year? One can only hope.
But if it does happen, the next few seasons could get us as close as we’ll ever be to the way it was in the good ol’ days.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Another issue that came up this year seems to rear its ugly head every turkey season.
Trespassing, or poaching, has been going on for ages in every type of hunting season, but it’s particularly dangerous when going after turkeys. Although it’s not as prevalent as it once was, a small percentage of the hunting population continues with this nonsense.
When turkey hunting, we hunters are on the ground and are covered from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes in full camouflage.
This makes it easy to either get shot or shoot someone if two people happen into the same area – or if they find themselves working the same gobbler.
Despite the evident danger, some hunters still allow either greed or simple ignorance to overtake them and proceed with the illegal practice anyway.
Even though our game wardens do everything that they can to catch these criminals, not much that actually happens to offenders when found guilty.
With just the payment of a paltry fine, these rogues are able to head right back out to continue with the practice.
This is where our legislators need to get involved.
I’d love to hear someone from Columbia explain why it is that if a man is caught trespassing to hunt ducks, he loses his hunting license for a year, but he doesn’t lose it when he’s trespassing to hunt deer or turkeys.
After all, duck hunters are shooting up in a direction away from other people; deer and turkey hunters are responsible for what may or may not be in the path of their shot.
Of course, some will say that taking a hunter’s license wouldn’t make much of a difference because such people aren’t concerned about acting within the confines of the law.
This is where new laws would need to have extra teeth.
Let’s say a man is poaching on another man’s land and is caught.
Why not slap him with a minimum $1,000 fine, as well as the loss of his license for a year?
For a second offense, let’s go with $2,500, his license for five years and forfeiture as it was in the past: all of the property used in carrying out the crime, including his gun, truck, four-wheeler and anything else he brought along.
Think that would get his attention?
And just for good measure, if he’s caught hunting during the period that his license is suspended, hit him with a mandatory $10,000 – along with the aforementioned forfeitures.
Some will try to argue that these penalties are excessive.
I completely disagree, and I believe would the majority of hunters out there.
After all, it’s almost comical that we put such a great amount of legal emphasis toward minor offenses – like whether we’re wearing a seat belt in our cars or have approved flotation devices on our boats – yet we don’t do more to protect ourselves from armed people on our private lands.
Who knows? It could happen. Just think, if the turkeys can make such a comeback, anything is possible.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow him on Twitter at@BHarveyOutdoors.