Cumberland Times-News

September 22, 2012

Turkeys doing nicely

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— As I toured western Allegany County a bunch of times looking for turkeys during July and August, I kept thinking that the bird population is not looking good.

As a volunteer observer for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ 2012 Wild Turkey Observation Summary, I wrote down how many hens, poults and gobblers I saw. In addition, volunteers are asked to list turkeys even if they are unsure of gender or age.

My observations were down from what I had seen in 2011.

That’s why Biologist Bob Long of the Wildlife & Heritage Service depends on a larger sample.

This year, 87 volunteers eyeballed 4,736 turkeys across the state.

The Western Region, made up of Almost Maryland plus Washington County, accounted for 177 observations that added up to 1,432 turkeys.

Here is how it broke out. There were 245 hens, 872 peeps, 134 gobblers and 181 turkeys that could not be identified in any of the above categories. It can be tough trying to ID a turkey when all you see is a head or upper body moving through summer’s high grass or weeds in a variety of lighting conditions.

Long said most hens nested successfully. Warm, dry weather during the nesting and early brood-rearing period, followed by timely rains that improved insect production, likely contributed to the increased reproductive success, he wrote in his annual report.

Poult production in Almost Maryland during the past 10 years has been higher and more consistent than in other parts of the state.

There are 3.6 poults per hen in the Western Region this year.

That average was 3.1 a year ago and 2.8 in 2010. In fact, there haven’t been this many little peeps running around since 2006. Those young turkeys, though, aren’t so little now and some of them will be big enough to be confused with adults when the fall season takes place Oct. 27 through Nov. 3. Any turkey is legal game during that hunt. The limit is one.

I am always amazed that young turkeys survive.

If you see them during their first couple days on earth, they look like fuzzy, yellow ping pong balls that could not escape any predator. If momma hen can get them through the early days, they learn to run quickly and flying comes along a bit later.

I watched a hen with five poults run a grey fox the hell out of Dodge one September a few years back. The fox tucked it tail and decided to try for a safer meal elsewhere.

As I have reported here before, autumn turkey hunting participation has declined not only in Maryland, but throughout the animal’s eastern range. Turkey hunters go out mostly during the spring season. Bowhunting for deer has also robbed the woods of turkey hunters in the autumn.

The fall hunt, of course, is not a statewide proposition. Hunting is allowed only in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.

In 2010, for example, only 62 turkeys were killed in Allegany County and 76 in Garrett County. Those harvests used to be in the 200s and 300s.

Bottom line; outlook is good for this year out yonder. Fall turkey season is a classic hunting tradition that should not be overlooked. Not all trophy animals have antlers.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.