As I drove the ridges and hollows of Allegany County during July and August, I kept thinking, “I’ve never seen this many baby turkeys.”
Apparently, I wasn’t the only person in the western part of Maryland thinking along those lines.
The Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service’s annual Wild Turkey Observation Summary shows that Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties led the state with 3.6 poults (baby turkeys) per hen.
The report, compiled by Bob Long, Wild Turkey and Upland Game Bird Project Manager, tells us more than 70% of the hens in the western region were seen with young birds and that brood sizes were very large, averaging 5.3 little feathered critters.
“Populations in the western region have generally been strong for many years, but declines were evident in certain areas. The excellent production seen this year should help boost numbers to previously high levels,” Long writes.
We know these things because interested citizens, along with agency staff, provide written reports of their turkey observations during those two summer months. As I looked here and there throughout the county, I was seeing large broods. One day I saw two broods foraging together. One hen had nine poults and the other had eight. My personal observation is that the poults seemed to grow quickly.
This reproductive success, followed by super poult survival and growth could very well be because the turkeys were bugged, meaning the 17-year cicadas were all around them. Young turkeys whose first summer merged with that insect smorgasbord have to be thinking, “There’s nothing to this food-gathering deal, now bring on the acorns.”
“This abundant source of protein for newly hatched turkeys may have greatly increased poult survival in western and central Maryland. Interestingly, very high poult per hen and poult per brood values were obtained 17 years ago when Brood X last emerged in 2004,” Long writes.
There was a change worth noting in this recent brood survey. The number of observers during past years has been fewer than 100. This year, though, the agency provided an online link to the general public so sightings could be easily reported.
What a difference that made with 737 participants reporting that they saw 9,164 turkeys. A year ago, as comparison, 80 participants sighted 2,430 turkeys. That greatly increased the sample size, providing stability to the survey, but didn’t change the mathematical formula used to get the results.
So, what does this mean for hunters?
Well, if you have never hunted turkeys in the fall, I suggest this would be a great year to begin. The season takes place only in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties. Participation in that hunt has dwindled significantly in the past three decades, not just in Maryland, but throughout the region. The season dates this year are Oct. 30 through Nov. 7.
It’s a glorious time to be surrounded by the oaks and hickories of central Appalachia and you just might get a wild turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner table. If you decide you want to dress like a pilgrim while hunting turkeys in the fall, that’s perfectly legal. Just be safe.
Mike Sawyers retired in 2018 as outdoor editor of the Cumberland Times-News. His column now appears every other Saturday. To order his book, “Native Queen, a celebration of the hunting and fishing life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.