Sitka Gear
Decline of wild turkeys - from an expert
Turkey
Contributors to this thread:
SaddleReaper 21-Apr-21
JohnMC 21-Apr-21
Habitat 21-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 21-Apr-21
Bou'bound 21-Apr-21
Squash 21-Apr-21
Joey Ward 21-Apr-21
Bowfinatic 21-Apr-21
Shuteye 21-Apr-21
'Ike' (Phone) 21-Apr-21
SaddleReaper 21-Apr-21
longbeard 21-Apr-21
midwest 21-Apr-21
SIP 21-Apr-21
Rob in VT 21-Apr-21
Keith 21-Apr-21
Habitat 21-Apr-21
Pop-r 21-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 21-Apr-21
Medicinemann 21-Apr-21
wildwilderness 21-Apr-21
longbeard 21-Apr-21
Medicinemann 21-Apr-21
Medicinemann 21-Apr-21
TRnCO 21-Apr-21
Beav 21-Apr-21
KY EyeBow 21-Apr-21
Matt 21-Apr-21
Medicinemann 21-Apr-21
Medicinemann 21-Apr-21
Bake 21-Apr-21
lewis 21-Apr-21
longbeard 21-Apr-21
PushCoArcher 21-Apr-21
ROUGHCOUNTRY 21-Apr-21
Pop-r 21-Apr-21
Teeton 21-Apr-21
Squash 21-Apr-21
GhostBird 21-Apr-21
tonyotony 21-Apr-21
Reload 21-Apr-21
TREESTANDWOLF 21-Apr-21
lewis 21-Apr-21
Jims 21-Apr-21
Hawkeye 22-Apr-21
petedrummond 22-Apr-21
Olink 22-Apr-21
KSflatlander 22-Apr-21
Huntcell 22-Apr-21
PushCoArcher 22-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 22-Apr-21
tobywon 22-Apr-21
Timbrhuntr 22-Apr-21
darralld 22-Apr-21
SaddleReaper 22-Apr-21
SaddleReaper 22-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 22-Apr-21
Sivart 22-Apr-21
KSflatlander 22-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 22-Apr-21
Blue Buck 22-Apr-21
BigOk 22-Apr-21
Shiloh 22-Apr-21
Missouribreaks 22-Apr-21
swampbowman 22-Apr-21
Will tell 22-Apr-21
EmbryOklahoma 22-Apr-21
Paul@thefort 22-Apr-21
Mad Trapper 22-Apr-21
Olink 22-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 22-Apr-21
Bake 22-Apr-21
Squash 22-Apr-21
Old School 22-Apr-21
BOHNTR 22-Apr-21
keepemsharp 22-Apr-21
Jaquomo 22-Apr-21
Pop-r 22-Apr-21
Tracker 22-Apr-21
SteveB 22-Apr-21
Paul@thefort 23-Apr-21
Shiloh 23-Apr-21
MQQSE 23-Apr-21
Stringwacker 23-Apr-21
newfi1946moose 23-Apr-21
Medicinemann 23-Apr-21
longbeard 23-Apr-21
longbeard 23-Apr-21
thedude 23-Apr-21
Mad Trapper 23-Apr-21
bigswivle 23-Apr-21
Live2Hunt 23-Apr-21
Old School 23-Apr-21
Old School 23-Apr-21
Olink 23-Apr-21
Old School 23-Apr-21
Paul@thefort 24-Apr-21
Olink 24-Apr-21
spike78 24-Apr-21
Thornton 24-Apr-21
KSflatlander 24-Apr-21
Tonybear61 24-Apr-21
From: SaddleReaper
21-Apr-21

SaddleReaper's Link
If you enjoy hunting turkeys.....

Follow the link to an excellent video from The Hunting Public youtube channel, where they dive into the topic of researching (declining) wild turkey populations, relevant to mostly southern or SE states, with Dr. Mike Chamberlain.

I found this video pretty informative as I investigate the 'whys' to questions of my own personal observations as a turkey hunter of 15 years, to the input from these experts. This video seems to have only scratched the surface on the population decline topic, as they delved more into the research methodology and findings on a broad level, but it still left me wondering what I can do to help. What can I do to help beyond intentionally not filling both tags in certain areas, or at all, which I've been doing for a couple years now.

Besides habitat loss and under-utilization/ maintenance by us, I'd be curious to understand the correlation, if any, between predation and what I assume to be declining trapping participation. If my memory serves, we had a dry spring last year in upstate NY, but it doesn't seem like there's any more turkeys this year compared to previous. Maybe weather isn't as big a driving factor for poult survival as I believe? Do we have too many racoons? Fishers?

If anyone has any input on this topic, or knows of any good studies to read up on please share! I want to see thriving populations for generations to come as I'm sure many of you do also...

From: JohnMC
21-Apr-21
I don't know where specify you are referring to but I don't see anything close to a decline in the turkey population. I have lived in Northern CO for a little over 20 years. When I moved here I almost never saw turkeys. Now they are everywhere. Western NE lots and lots of turkey. I am originally from OK as many or more turkeys now as ever. A fairly small part of the country I see with my little eyes but more turkeys than ever there. Maybe in NY but then again everything is going down the toilet in that part of the country. ;)

From: Habitat
21-Apr-21
Kansas started all in one year,we found them dead or dying while shed hunting that year and there were almost none the next year.We have been very slowly increasing

From: Live2Hunt
21-Apr-21
This is mostly in the SE part of the country according to that video.

From: Bou'bound
21-Apr-21
Trapping has been a negligible activity participation wise for a lot longer than that horizon

From: Squash
21-Apr-21
I live in northern NY, no shortage of turkeys here. I’m seeing them all over the place, Ag land, wilderness areas of the Adirondack Mtns., and the snow belt of Tug Hill.

John MC, you apparently have never been to or know anything about upstate NY. Our wildlife populations and habitat are very diverse. And wildlife populations in northern NY are higher than when I was a kid. I have whitetail, black bear, bobcat, fisher, otter, beaver , Turkey, grouse, hare, Marten , mink, muskrat, waterfowl, etc. out my back door. So please don’t compare or mistake upstate NY with that cesspool called NYC.

From: Joey Ward
21-Apr-21
This topic has been explored by the Alabama game and fish for the last couple of years. One explanation, for population decline, is the opening of season is/has been considered too early and more gobblers are killed in the first couple of weeks of season than middle or end. The result being that the hens are not being bred, hence the decline in overall population. The consideration now is moving the opening of the season a few weeks later so then hens can be bred. Creating more chance of better nesting and poult survival. Changing season dates has been the focus of recent discussions here in Alabama, at least.

21-Apr-21
West Michigan populations have been increasing steadily over the last 2 decades

From: Shuteye
21-Apr-21
No shortage on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

21-Apr-21
Two weeks to stop the spread...It'll be ok!

From: SaddleReaper
21-Apr-21
Yes, I should probably clarify this video focuses on more southerly and SE states. While I have hunted turkeys in a few other states, my observations are specific to NY.

I'm sure in some areas, like John mentions in CO, the population is on the rise. It seems to me from my own observations, numbers took a noticeable downturn starting about 10 years ago. Or maybe the reality is that they were always trending downward from some point in time when they peaked.

Interesting statement Bou... so trapping is/was but a blip on the radar with regard to all other factors of turkey population success. I wonder if its even possible to validate any theories on that topic with hard data, or if they're generally speculative answers. Gotta be similar to determining population levels... nobody can say for sure how many are out there, but almost all the folks (talking to Dr. Chamberlain at least) are saying the hunting has gotten "worse", and hen to poult ratio has declined according to actual data.

From: longbeard
21-Apr-21
From the eyes of someone who hunts turkeys up and down the Eastern section of the country and has been for many years, yes there is a noticeable downward trend. This will be my 41st season in the turkey woods.

JohnMac you may not notice this because I don’t believe your state was included in this study for obvious reasons. In fact I believe Dr Chamberlain was speaking primarily about the SE in this study even though the downward trend holds true for most NE states as well.

Squash you are correct, there are plenty of turkeys in upstate NY but the difference in statewide numbers from pre 2003 - 2018 or so was definitely pointing downward. They have started to bounce back nicely the last few years.

The one frustrating thing about that interview was that Aaron from THP never really asked him or pushed him as to what seems to be the biggest reason for this. The Dr listed a few possibilities but after doing this study for 5 yrs now, I would have loved to know what the data story is pointing to most.

Otherwise it was a great interview!

From: midwest
21-Apr-21
With the number of coon I've seen when visiting southern Iowa the last couple weeks, it's amazing any of the nests survive.

From: SIP
21-Apr-21
I love listening to Dr. Chamberlain, he has a crazy wealth of knowledge and is easy to listen to. I do believe tho, that his information is tailored to the SE as mentioned above and that makes sense since hes the biologist at the U of Georgia. Having said that, i do notice a fairly decent decline in bird numbers here in SC pennsylvania. I have been listening to what he has to say and trying to implement some things on our ground that help to make better turkey habitat to stop or slow that decline. I believe that even if you arent seeing ima decline, it would be foolish to think it isnt possible in your area and be non-vigilant.

From: Rob in VT
21-Apr-21
I’m in central Vermont and we have had a big decline in Turkey numbers over the past 6-8 years. My feeling is that a few bad winters in a row had a large winter kill. They have been slow to recover.

From: Keith
21-Apr-21
UP of Michigan: To my knowledge, historically there have never been turkeys here, but now there are turkeys in every county in huntable numbers. They just started showing up about 10-15 years ago and continue to survive the harsh winters. Certainly there aren't numbers as in the south, but that is the case with most of our wildlife. That is, except for wolves. Anybody want any?

From: Habitat
21-Apr-21
Has anyone researched the harvest data to see when it all started?I know in my part of Kansas it was like they almost disappeared overnight and I talked to people in several counties that saw the same thing.We found some that were dead and some that were almost dead.I have never seen that before or since.

From: Pop-r
21-Apr-21
John turkey numbers as a whole are severely down across the country. Nebraska and Oklahoma are suffering badly from the bird numbers they had several years ago.

From: Live2Hunt
21-Apr-21
I was kind of disappointed with them not stating what was causing the declines. Trapping decline I'm sure is a big one.

From: Medicinemann
21-Apr-21
I live in western New York...Chautauqua County. Our turkey numbers dropped significantly 5-10 years ago. I noticed an increase in predators on my trail cameras around that same time. I also observed several, consecutive unusually wet springs coinciding with the Spring hatch. About 4 years ago, I started trapping predators (turkey eaters....mostly coyotes and fox...some fishers as well) , and I also trapped egg eaters (skunks, opossums, and raccoons). At the same time, I also planted a couple modest sized corn foodplots. I am very pleased with the rebound that I have seen in my specific, local area. Just within the last week, I have sent two separate emails to state assemblymember Englebright and to Senate chair Todd Kaminsky, as A3467 and S4459 are trying to amend the environmental law that would prohibit the use of foot holding traps. Additionally, there is an attempt to introduce a bill that would prohibit the manufacture, sale, display for sale, trade, or gift a fur product by any means in NYS. It is S5439 in the Senate, and in the Assembly it is A703...). Based on my personal experience, I will continue to trap every year.....for the benefit it provides to turkeys, if for no other reason (like controlling animals susceptible to rabies, etc.). If you value your turkey population (and want to spend more time afield), I would like to suggest trapping for the previously mentioned reasons.

21-Apr-21
I know some people in the Neb/Dakota area hate turkeys due to the pheasants.- Turkeys are pretty aggressive Carnivores! Will destroy other ground nests, eat the eggs and even eat chicks if they catch them. I've heard stories of killing whole flocks out of roosting trees.

From: longbeard
21-Apr-21
And also Jake we had an unbelievable great weather to produce a good hatch last spring/summer. Hopefully that will happen again this year and carry over the uptick Jin NY

From: Medicinemann
21-Apr-21
Longbeard, I agree completely....last Spring provided excellent weather the 2020 Spring hatch. Early April looked promising too....until today.....27 degrees and 2" of fresh snow.

From: Medicinemann
21-Apr-21
^....I also noticed your photos of a couple red fox. That'll help too!!

From: TRnCO
21-Apr-21
Another Kansas hunter and like Habitat mentioned above, numbers plummeted big in a one year period around my family's farm. Was kind of glad that we didn't get to hunt them last year due to covid, with hopes that they might begin to rebuild in numbers.

From: Beav
21-Apr-21
Numbers are spotty in Nebraska. In our area we had two really good hatch years back to back and numbers rebounded quickly. In other parts of the state numbers are way down. I feel predators and birds of prey are two huge factors.

From: KY EyeBow
21-Apr-21
Very good interview and I would encourage all of the serious turkey hunters to check it out. Even if you feel like the birds in your area are not affected, they will be eventually. The Southeast has the oldest flocks of birds and what is happening here, will happen in your area sooner or later unfortunately. Hopefully, good intel will be gathered in a way that will help the Wild Turkey and those of us that love to chase them!

From: Matt
21-Apr-21
In areas of CA, golden eagles are a significant predator.

From: Medicinemann
21-Apr-21
Beav, You aren't kidding. About twenty years ago, I was watching a nice gobbler walking across an open field. Suddenly, his entire demeanor changed....and then, almost out of nowhere, a big red-tailed hawk dove right at him. In a millisecond, that gobbler leapt into the air, flapped his wings once and inverted.....spurring that hawk right in the head. The hawk immediately broke off his attack and flew off. I believe that's why turkeys are usually more aware of hunters in treestands than deer are.....

From: Medicinemann
21-Apr-21

From: Bake
21-Apr-21
I think for Missouri, one thing they need to do is eliminate furbearer season. Currently furbearer season runs from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15th. It's illegal to take a raccoon, possum, skunk, bobcat, fox outside of the furbearer season. Since no one traps anymore, or really hunts furbearers, they need to just do away with it.

Open season on all nest predators.

Birds of prey definitely have an effect as well, mostly on poults I would think. Monday I watched a hen hit the ground off a roost, and just happened that a bald eagle left his perch and flew right over her. She about turned inside out. But once she saw it was flying past, she calmed down and began to eat. If there'd been poults though, I imagine it would have been different. And we now have year round bald eagles where I'm at, where they used to be mainly winter visitors, following the ducks down and back.

And the red-tailed hawks and owls are numerous as well

From: lewis
21-Apr-21
We are down in parts of Tennessee where the season was radically changed.Missouri is way down from what it was years ago Florida is hard to figure as F and G doesn’t require kill data.These are the areas I’m really familiar with.Good luck Lewis

From: longbeard
21-Apr-21
Matt I think you’ve touched on something that the average hunter doesn’t realize. Here in the East we’ve all noticed the significant change in numbers of our four legged predators and in some areas, winter kill , which together can devastate the turkey population. But add on to that the toll that “birds of prey” put on the turkey population and now you’ve checked all the players.

Growing up it was a rare sight to see a hawk or an owl. Now it’s an everyday or every hour occurrence. We have so many Red Tailed hawks now, it’s just unbelievable. Also, just in the last couple of years I’ve spotted more and more Bald Eagle pairs. These are all federally protected predators.

There is just sooo much pressure being exerted on the Wild Turkey as a species, it a wonder there is any huntable population in some areas. We used to joke that the turkey poults are like the “twinkies” of the forest; every thing wants to eat them! I think that is showing itself to be true

From: PushCoArcher
21-Apr-21
John I'd have to respectfully disagree about Oklahoma having as many or more than ever. Definitely a decline in the eastern population in the SE part of the state which has caused the season to be cut in half and bag limits reduced. Even the Rio numbers in central and western Oklahoma seem down although not as bad as there eastern cousins.

From: ROUGHCOUNTRY
21-Apr-21

ROUGHCOUNTRY's embedded Photo
ROUGHCOUNTRY's embedded Photo
In Montana, each hunter can shoot up to 12 turkeys annually if you shoot hens and hunt spring and fall across several units. I never saw turkeys growing up in Montana but they're peaking now. On the other hand, years ago when I lived in Kansas the numbers were exploding and strong.....now many of my Kansas friends see a decline. I expect a decline in some point in Montana but it's the "good ole days" for now.

From: Pop-r
21-Apr-21
Western OK has less than half the birds of the upswing they had.

From: Teeton
21-Apr-21
Pa turkey numbers are down pretty much across the state and Pa probably has the highest population in the northeastern USA. Fortunately I live in the northeast corner of the state and the numbers in my part are not down as much as the rest of the state. Pa is trying to up the population by not allowing rifles in the fall season, most fall birds were still taken with shot guns. In the fall of 2009 fall hunters in my unit 3C, killed 2043 birds. In the fall of 2019 fall hunters in my unit 3C killed 466 birds. In my part of the state I see more predators than ever. A few years back I had problems with beaver, I had a hard time finding a trapper. Years back I knew 6 or 8 trappers now I know one after someone told me about him. Years back in Pa your general license allowed you to trap and or shoot all predators. Now you got to have a fur takers license to shoot or trap all but coyote. So years back you had at high turkey population, 1 million plus folks that could kill predators in Pa... Now with having to have a fur takers license with about 40K sold in 2019 !! My understanding is Coyote, fisher and bobcat populations are growing in Pa. Not sure on The others like possum, raccoon, skunk and others. But do know that the numbers of predator fur being sold at fur sales from Pa, for all except Coyote, fisher and bobcats are way down, but so is the number of trapper trapping.

From: Squash
21-Apr-21
If it’s about predation, brace yourself for turkey populations to drop, because there are few trappers. And there will be less trappers in the future , given the low fur prices lately. Just check the latest Fur Harvester Auction House , in North Bay , Ontario , where I send my pelts. Auction results for red and grey fox, fisher , and most of all raccoon are dismal.

From: GhostBird
21-Apr-21
The four middle southern Tennessee Counties where I do a bulk of my turkey hunting had a shortened season this year with an opener three weeks later than normal and a decrease in the limit by one bird. Definitely a decrease in population in north Alabama & southern Tennessee... we have noticed it for quite a few years.

From: tonyotony
21-Apr-21
And just to throw this in regarding predators: used to see rabbits on a regular basis in my suburban upstate NY backyard. Could easily have trained the dog on them. No longer the case; foxes are thriving.

From: Reload
21-Apr-21
Dr. Michael Chamberlin has an excellent podcast delving deeper into the studies mentioned above. The MeatEater Podcast | Ep. 214: Gobbling Your Ass Off on Podbean, check it out! https://www.podbean.com/ea/dir-5cxab-8733bda

21-Apr-21
One thing is for sure is in and around Pike County Illinois where my lease is, the number are definitely down based on my observations with cameras and fall /winter hunting seasons.

The raccoons are way overpopulated in our area. There is no doubt they have a considerable effect on the population. Combine that with other predators and they get hammered.

Plenty of guys are trapping yotes from what I see which is a good thing.

Here on the eastern portion of Long Island, we are way over populated with them. There is a very short season in the fall...... for some reason.

From: lewis
21-Apr-21
One more tidbit we trap and hunt predators in less than 4 years 75plus and a bunch of bobcats in addition to a gob of raccoons yes it matters Good luck Lewis

From: Jims
21-Apr-21
Is there a decrease of other birds such as pheasants that could possibly have similar predator problems?

From: Hawkeye
22-Apr-21
I didn’t hear a gobble last year for the first time in 30 years in Iowa. This year nearly the same. Four cameras that I run on field scan mode have still failed to show a mature bird all spring on a property with excellent habitat. Something is definitely going on and the DNR in Iowa last year requested turkey legs for viral testing.

This same biologist mentioned above had an excellent podcast with Meateater last year in which he felt that great- horned owls were the biggest culprit. Interesting and made perfect sense.

From: petedrummond
22-Apr-21
My flock on my farm got wiped out a few years back. It was not unusual to see huge flicks of birds bow hunting. Flocks over 30 were common and they vanished to only foir birds seen all year. That fall turkey flu swept huge domestic flocks along the Mississippi. Turkey flu is spread primarily by waterfowl and infests wild birds just like domesticated. I figure when they flock up in fall if one gets it the whole flock is done. My farm is a flood plain/wetland. It got wiped out. Oddly the flocks on our other upland land were not affected. It is not a wetland.

From: Olink
22-Apr-21
I'm in SE PA and I have been warning about the population collapse for years. My area used to be overrun with turkeys and now you are lucky if you see a couple in a years time. While predators are part of the problem, I am still very suspicious of West Nile being big factor. The PA Game Commission turkey biologist says West Nile is not killing turkeys (btw it has effectively wiped out the grouse in PA). I am not convinced. In PA, the areas hardest hit by turkey decline seem to line up with the areas of the highest number of positive tests for West Nile . Coincidence or correlation?

From: KSflatlander
22-Apr-21
I call BS on hawks and owls as major predators of turkeys or having any significant negative impact on populations. I would bet that nest predators could have an impact. Anyone have data or see studies on hawks and owls predation on wild turkeys? I just don’t see it.

From: Huntcell
22-Apr-21
State of Wisconsin had problem with Great horn owls when first starting to transplant turkeys in state. Owls were taking out the turkeys. State went so far as trapping the owls in the beginning. To get turkeys established.

From: PushCoArcher
22-Apr-21
I trapped a property this year that has had a serious decline in Turkey numbers over the last 10 years. In a 6-7 week period from December- February I caught 25 coon, 15 opossum, 6 coyotes, 4 bobcats, and 2 fox on less then 230 acres. I'm sure birds prey on them especially poults in the summer but at least IMO the coons robbing nest and bobcats seem to put the biggest hurting on them around here. Coon hunting with hounds use to be huge in these parts now it's all but dead also many trapped coons and other predators when the prices were good now hardly anyone does.

From: Live2Hunt
22-Apr-21
As far as trapping decline, you can blame it all on one thing, the anti fur wacks out there and Hollywood is it's big advertiser. Plus, now you have there party's choice running the show. That is why you are seeing more bills being proposed to ban trapping in states. If you voted Demo, you gave them more power. Just staying.

From: tobywon
22-Apr-21
KSflatlander, at least where I live, my neighbors cant even free range their chickens much anymore without a red-tailed hawk nailing them. Avian predators have increased significantly and are very efficient hunters. I have no doubt they hammer the young poults. I start off seeing hens with big broods of poults every year only to see them with 1 or 2 left after nesting season if they are lucky. That along with foxes, coyotes, bobcats and the nest eaters like opossum, skunk and racoons and they have a lot against them to make it to adulthood.

From: Timbrhuntr
22-Apr-21
In one area I hunt there was a big roost area and it was a great spot in the spring. A couple years ago a pair of bald eagles started to nest on the edge of the field near the roost. It went from seeing several groups of birds out in the fields to nearly zero. Now the roost has moved but I doubt the eagles had anything to do with it. Sure is interesting to see a group of 30 birds out in a field suddenly stand rigid and raise their heads up . Then suddenly all head for the woods as an eagle cruises overhead. I also hunt several states or did until covid and have had both hawks and owls hit my decoys. It sure is a shock when your nodding off and bang something wacks your decoy and you see an owl on the ground shaking itself and wondering what type of armor that turkey has on. One year I was sitting near a roost tree and when it was still dark I heard a real ruckus up in a tree near me. I could hear a turkey making noise and what seemed like screeching. Then suddenly an owl flew out over the field from the tree and I could hear the flapping and crashing of a turkey as it flew out through the trees. Seemed the owl had attacked the turkey on the roost in the dark !

From: darralld
22-Apr-21
Place I deer hunt used to be a great turkey hunting spot. We were covered up, called in lots of jakes that were passed up & only killed a couple mature birds off the property that year. Land around us always had turkeys as well. The next year nothing. Haven't seen a turkey on the place in probably 6 years. I had to go up & do some fence work last weekend & got there in time to listen that morning. Heard one gobble way off. I just hope one day it comes back. Very sad.

From: SaddleReaper
22-Apr-21
Longbeard – Agreed, I too was left wondering why they didn’t actually discuss the reasons why in more detail. That was odd. I presume it’s widely known and accepted that predation and weather are 2 of the biggest factors, at least with regard to poult mortality, maybe disease as well for adults, but its anyone’s guess as to which factor hits them hardest. We can only speculate as to the percentage being picked off by owls, hawks, canines, in the egg stage by scavengers, etc. Hopefully the data those students are collecting might shed some light on that cause of death subject, that is if they don’t already have data to support any particular trends. I'm sure coons are likely the worst in the nesting stage, and canine or birds of prey in the poult stage.

Around 2006 I recall counting ~80 turkeys one early spring morning in just one field on our small 165acre farm. 10 mature toms. Turkeys were like “rats” back then. Since that year the decline was rapid and noticeable. Eventually head counts of flocks went down to 30-40, then 10-20 birds and so on, even coming right out of winter with them all grouped up. Prior to and during the season I will often drive around the neighboring farms within a few mile loop of ours, an area I’d always see tons of turkeys. I made that loop this past weekend and found 1 tom on about 6 different farms or big land owners. I understand many may not have been in fields at that time, but I also understand that it’s a snap shot into what’s happening… they just aren’t around like they used to be. Between my dad, brother and me we have only taken 3 adult gobblers since 2016 off our farm. It's safe to say we aren't hunting them at an unreasonable level...

I know at least for my family farm and bordering properties, there has been a steady decline in ideal habitat in a number of spots. Places that were once relatively open have been choked out with briars and brush. Even some of our grazing pasture land is choked out - which we plan to reclaim this year. 10 years ago it was a mixture of mostly orchard grass, clover, some crab apple trees, and some patches of goldenrod and tall native grasses. I’d regularly see turkeys utilizing the pasture for feeding, strutting, nesting etc. … Now the heifers don’t even go into it some of those places because they’re so thick and nasty. For me personally I think a little habitat maintenance on our property will be a good place to start.

Some people have mentioned diseases… I recall hearing about mites of some sort years back? It wouldn’t surprise me to find out if that was a big culprit. The decline came so rapidly that I’d have a hard time believing predators were the biggest cause. Trapping around us died out long before all this. We have steadily had milder winters in that area (Oswego county) and springs have been hit or miss with precipitation amounts. I recall 2020 May/ June and possibly 2019 as well were on the dry side… which left me hopeful. But still no rebound?

I would agree with eliminating fall turkey season. Back when they were plentiful I shot one from the stand, but haven’t since. I’m not sure why NY even has a fall season. Can’t speak for other states there, but from what I’m reading they shouldn’t even exist… I too wish furbearers were more loosely regulated. Not sure why coyotes need a season. Same with coons. With very little trapping management it would seem logical to open up the hunting opportunity time frame for some of those species.

Reload- thanks for the podcast tip.

I drew an Iowa deer tag in 2019 and hunted in zone 6. Right away I was amazed to see entire family groups of coons walking around in broad daylight. I’d never seen anything like that in NY. They were everywhere. The landowners said the turkeys seem to be dying out around there as well, but were quick to blame the bobcats along with coons. Thankfully we don’t have too many bobcats in NY… at least where I hunt.

From: SaddleReaper
22-Apr-21
As mentioned before... it is amazing any poults survive at all. Turkeys seem especially vulnerable or sought after by a wide variety of predatory species at every stage of life. Plus being particularly vulnerable to weather conditions during those first few weeks out of the egg, survival is a coin flip at best. Tack on disease...human hunting pressure... the list goes on.

From: Live2Hunt
22-Apr-21
We discuss this alot about Grouse in WI. They have a 10 year cycle on there numbers. I recall years ago even when they were on the bottom, you always saw birds. Now it seems you see very few on the bottom, and the top is 50% of what it was. The number of birds of prey have increased substantially and add in the uncontrolled numbers of egg eating varmints you have to wonder any young birds survive. At least when they are out of the egg they have a better chance.

From: Sivart
22-Apr-21
I hunt a vast area of Southern NE and Northern KS. Bird and deer numbers have been on a steady decline for a number of years now. I'm not going to pretend I know why. I think it's less predator management, along with modern farming practices that produce less habitat. It is what it is. I shoot as many predators as possible.

From: KSflatlander
22-Apr-21
I can see poults getting taken by large raptors but I just don't see it from adult turkeys. There are much easier prey that is less risky to get than an adult turkey for owls, hawks, and eagles. I see a lot of eagles eating for weeks on cattle carcasses left in the back 40 along with road kill animals. Other predators go for what is easy and readily available mostly. Risk vs reward.

I'm guessing that raptors may have a net benefit to turkeys as they mostly eat rodents and snakes which do take a toll on ground nesting birds like turkeys. But it's a guess with nothing to back it up (a.k.a BS).

From: Live2Hunt
22-Apr-21
KS, the raptors take their fair share of turkey poults. Like I said though, at least when they are poults they have some chance.

From: Blue Buck
22-Apr-21
KSflatlander. Michael Chamberlain has the data on raptors. It is surprising. Great Horned Owls actually target the toms gobbling from the roost in the morning. They whack em in the roost and ride them all the way to the ground. Must be one heck of a ride.

From: BigOk
22-Apr-21
As a few have already stated, Turkey numbers are way down in Oklahoma. They have been declining for years.

From: Shiloh
22-Apr-21
I’m going to say lack of ideal habitat is #1. Controlling predators is important, but with the correct habitat turkeys can better avoid predators. Do all that you can do to make your habitat extremely diverse.

22-Apr-21
I have personally witnessed Red-tailed hawks killing fully adult turkeys on three different occasions. Not certain it is significant, but they do kill adult turkeys.

From: swampbowman
22-Apr-21
NYS DEC has some good information about the decline of turkey in our state. Western NY probably has 40 % fewer birds than we did at the peak 20 years ago. Declines don't seem as pronounced in the Catskills and ADK as the Lake Plains. Multiple factors are in involved of course but the high numbers of predators certainly isn't helping the birds recover. Many people just don't realize how much fur was being taken every year across the state when prices were higher. The extra tens of thousands of raccoons ,skunks, fox, opossums , and yotes not being removed each year have to be making an impact. Predators are especially efficient in the smaller wood lots of farm country.

From: Will tell
22-Apr-21
NW Pa. the numbers are down. I didn't see a bird all hunting season last year. That's the first time in 30 years.

You want to know about animal populations talk to the farmers in the area. I know two farm owners that usually have a lot of birds on their property and both haven't seen a Turkey all winter.

22-Apr-21
Our turkey population peaked around 2007/08 where I hunt in SE Oklahoma. It’s been a steady decline since. There’s a few turkeys but nothing like it was. There were days back in the early 2000’s you wouldn’t know which gobble to go after in the mornings.

Also... one other factor we deal with is the hogs. They are extremely nomadic and are constantly searching for food. I’m sure they’re a part of the factor as well.

From: Paul@thefort
22-Apr-21
I am not sure why the decline on the SW Nebraska SWA I have been hunting for the past 19 years, and while I seem to be able to archery killed two Toms (prior to shotgun season) when I hunt, the numbers of turkeys has declined. Eight years ago, the area biologist told me the turkey population seemed to be down 50%. He contributed it to the drought at that time and the lack of insects/forage to sustain the new chicks; no science, just observations and maybe hunter remarks and lack of numbers being seen.

I do know this, this particular SWA as well as the State of Nebraska advertises the turkey hunting as the BEST and allow up to 3 toms to be taken. (three separate licenses) and having a two week archery only season prior to the shogun season, this advertising as not fallen on deaf ears as now I see hunters from 4-5 different states as this year. Yea, even us Coloradoans. From when I started hunting there 19 years ago when I hardly saw anyone, less others from other states, the hunting pressure has increased 10 fold and I am sure the turkey harvest has also risen.

Predators? As I hunt this SWA both for deer and turkeys, I see this area two times per years, and seen lots of racoons, a few skunks, a few bobcats, and lots of coyotes, birds of prey. I have no idea how they might figure into the decline as I am sure, there were as many of these predators as in the past when the turkey population was very much higher.

Many of these turkey flocks do not stay on the SWA year around but migrate in from the surrounding cattle/farming operations in the Spring and then disperse to their normal breeding/roost sites, lay eggs, hatch and rear young, and in the fall, those that survived, return to the adjacent cattle operations where food in more available in the winter. This is where I see the decline, the migrating birds into the area and not filling their "normal" niches as in the past. Where I use to see 5-6 roost areas, now only 2-3. Is it predators, is it disease, is it over hunting, lack of habitat, drought, hunting season too early, too liberal bag limit, change of agriculture practices, are causing the decline?

Maybe 12-19 years ago, there were just too many turkeys for the area and now the numbers are meeting what the habitat/food source, can sustain. I have also noticed that the pheasant population in down from past numbers. I am seeing less hens and less Jakes turkeys as well as less mature toms but with that knowledge, and with my knowledge of the area, I do well, but hear complaints from other hunts, new and old, "it just ain't like it use to be". And I say, " yep, how true".

From: Mad Trapper
22-Apr-21
I live in western Pa and have hunted turkeys every spring for over the last 30 years. The population has been declining over the last 5-10 years. My experience last spring was exactly as Hawkeye described above. Predators and weather definitely play into the reason, but I am of the view that something else is going on that we have not figured out yet. As a life member and longtime sponsor and volunteer of the NWTF, I am VERY disappointed that they are not more concerned. I my mind, just like putting sheep on the mountain is the primary mission for the Sheep Foundation, maintaining thriving turkey populations across the US should be the primary mission of the NWTF. I think that in recent years the NWTF has been too concerned with building and funding their shooting complex that most of their members will never use than focusing on turkey and habitat research. I believe that the PA Game Commission is conducting some research on turkeys but in my mind it is too little and too late. The PA Game Commission did just announce that they are removing the use of rifles for taking turkeys in the fall. That is a start. They should close the fall season completely and remove the second gobbler tag until we string together a few years of confirmed population increases. I understand that removing the second gobbler tag may not significantly improve the turkey population, but it will significantly improve the hunting experience for many hunters. I don't buy the second tag for this reason. My two cents.

From: Olink
22-Apr-21

Olink's Link
To me it is just way too coincidental that the turkey decline is shadowing the incidence of West Nile...

From: Live2Hunt
22-Apr-21
West nile is another thought being some stated that they were finding dead turkeys in numbers, in some areas. That or those areas had below normal winter weather

From: Bake
22-Apr-21
Funnily enough, even though I do agree that numbers are down, this has been one heck of a gobbling year in the few short hunts I've been on. I've heard 10-12 different gobblers in 2 different spots this year. . . Weather has them gobbling like crazy

From: Squash
22-Apr-21
Just for the record, lack of fur market in the USA has little to do with low fur prices. There has not been a major fur market in the states for a long time. Most North American fur is sold to China, Korea, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Canada, etc.. Low fur prices are a result of, ranch fur, covid lockdowns,( the last North American Fur auction house which is in North Bay Ontario, no foreign buyers allowed in country) and economy downturns in above mentioned countries.

It would sure help if there was more of a USA fur market other than the craft market, but I don’t see it ever coming back in the states. Too, many mis-informed people.

From: Old School
22-Apr-21
This whole conversation reminds me of our quail situation in Missouri 20 years ago - something happened and now a covey of quail is a rarity. Used to hunt them after school and jump 3-4 coveys in a few hours. Conservation department has no definite reason either - just lots of speculation regarding loss of habitat and predation.

As far as turkeys - who knows what is directly correlated to their decline. My 2 cents is that it may be one big cause and then a bunch of smaller causes all rolled together. Predators - ground and air, disease, wet springs flooding out nests, etc... I sure do miss the good old days of hearing over a dozen different birds and debating which one we were going after. Our opener this year - we heard 1 bird gobbling and that was it.

From: BOHNTR
22-Apr-21
Reason for decline?.......TBM of course! :)

From: keepemsharp
22-Apr-21
If you want more birds, kill coons.

From: Jaquomo
22-Apr-21
Where I'm hunting in central NE, the population has been declining gradually for the past 5 years. They also gobble way less now. My friend who owns the property where I hunt uses the analogy of public land elk. Birds gobble, coyotes and Bobcats show up. I don't know, but they should be lighting up right now, and I only hear a few gobbles from the roosts. Nothing during the day even though they are strutting and doing normal turkey stuff. Dunno.

From: Pop-r
22-Apr-21
And all this at a time when there are more "educated" biologist than ever! Who by the way make more than ever! What a joke on society! What job can you literally fail at and get a raise? It's beyond comprehendable to me!

From: Tracker
22-Apr-21

Tracker's embedded Photo
Tracker's embedded Photo
No decline in Maryland.

From: SteveB
22-Apr-21
Obvious decline in turkeys on our northeast Ohio land and an obvious uptick in predators. No doubt that’s the issue.

From: Paul@thefort
23-Apr-21
According to Wild Turkey Federation the following report concerning turkey population decline: When the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded in 1973, there were approximately 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. After 40 years of effort, that number has reached a historic high of about 6.7 million turkeys.

But, today turkey numbers are down and are estimated at between 6 and 6.2 million birds. Why has the overall turkey count dropped 15 percent? These recent declines may not be long-term, but they do warrant close monitoring.

Here are four facts that researchers find may be the cause for decline:

1. Production, not predation, drives turkey populations With high population densities, a significant number of hens won’t access quality nesting habitat and may not successful hatch or raise a brood 2. Carrying capacity becomes an issue, productivity is declining because hens are nesting in suboptimal habitat 3. Vegetation measurements contribute to the success or failure of nesting sites… little vegetation means little chance at poult survival 4. It seems that in some areas birds have reached carrying capacity and have declined as the capacity of the habitat to support a certain number of birds has declined. If the habitat conditions decline across multiple counties and states, then birds have no choice but to decline with it.

— Ken Perrotte

From: Shiloh
23-Apr-21
Habitat......what he said^^^^^

23-Apr-21
In our area of MO, “clean farming” is the ticket. Farmers have bulldozed hedgerows and small thickets to increase production. Landscape really changing in my area. Has to have an impact.

From: MQQSE
23-Apr-21
We have more turkeys this spring on our farms than I have ever. Habitat improvements and perhaps some optimal recent weather the past few years must have had something to do with it.

From: Stringwacker
23-Apr-21
As it relates to turkey decline in the SE part of the country; perhaps we can draw from the historical experience of the “little" turkey...the bobwhite quail.

Up until the late 70’s, quail populations flourished as it was “pre” coyote invasion in the South and before the widespread onslaught of timber clear cutting. Quail flourished in the left over field hedge rows, family farming practices , and open farm/pasture land. In my part of the country; clear cuts started to really become the method of mainstream timber harvest by the mid 80’s and both quail and turkey flourished in the late 80’s. The clear cuts were awesome for both species for the first couple of years; but became unsuitable habitat as it eventually thickened. Unfortunately, the rumors of coyote sightings eventually proved to be true and the coyotes in the south became "super dogs" (as described by some wildlife officials) out weighing their western counterparts by 10 or 15 pounds. The clear cuts were great ambush grounds for the coyote.

By the mid 90’s, the great populations of quail weren’t just down; but for all practical purposes extinct. People sold their dogs and took up other interest. In about 5 short years the populations of quail disappeared and today I haven’t seen one in over a decade.

Turkey populations followed suit, but turkeys run rather than bunch together, hide, and hold when threatened (as quail do) so the decline has been much slower .....though without abatement.

All ground nesters have been impacted. The whipporwill's song that I listened to from my opened windows at dusk as a child are now gone. Ditto on the meadow larks as well.

In some ways the world is changing. The lightning bugs I caught as a child are almost gone; it’s rare to see a honey or bumble bee anymore. Deer have been on a decline for over 10 years now.

Really only the coyote, wild hogs, and other predators are flourishing. I’m really hoping that the turkey doesn’t duplicate the history of the bobwhite quail here.

23-Apr-21
The state wildlife website is reporting lower numbers of turkeys this spring. Such has been very noticeable in my rural area of OK. Have not been seeing anywhere near the numbers only two years ago. Ideal habitat and zero hunters that I know of. When I moved here eleven years ago it was common to see numerous small coveys of quail...zero the last three years.

From: Medicinemann
23-Apr-21
Paul, Could you share the link with the NWTF's findings?

From: longbeard
23-Apr-21
I don’t doubt any and all of this is true to some level. But as laymen most of what we are talking about here is pure speculation. That is why I stated earlier in this post that I was a little disappointed in the interview with the guys from THP at not asking/pressing Dr Chamberlain, after 5 years of his study, could he give us a little more specific insight on the biggest threat or culprit behind this decline. Maybe there is something more specific we could do to alleviate the problem instead of a broad stroke on habitat improvement and preditor control. On the other hand maybe that’s it, maybe that’s all it needs to be done, but I sure would have liked to hear something more specific during that interview.

From: longbeard
23-Apr-21
With that said it was a great interview and I sure am glad they’re having this conversation and bringing this issue to light.

From: thedude
23-Apr-21
Trap/shoot predators and make better habitat and dont burn or mow fields during nesting season. These are the factors you have some control over. Its not rocket surgery.

From: Mad Trapper
23-Apr-21
I don't disagree that if the habitat is declining, the turkey population will likely decline. But from my personal observations where I have hunted the last 30+ years, if anything the habitat conditions have improved and certainly have not declined to a point where I would expect it to adversely affect the turkey population. Predators have increased during that period however. We now have a thriving population of coyotes and fishers which were scarce around here 20 years ago. Whether you support trapping and don't engage in it yourself, if you are a turkey hunter, you should give every trapper that you know a big hug and support your state and national trapping organizations. They are under severe attack from the anti's. United we stand. Divided we fall.

From: bigswivle
23-Apr-21
I know my turkey population the last few years has boomed!!! We have focused a lot on coons, opossums and other nest wreckers the last few years. There’s also about 1000 people that move here every dang day and I think that’s forcing birds to relocate onto ground that isn’t getting a house built on it every fifty feet.

From: Live2Hunt
23-Apr-21
There was a study done quite a few years ago now, on waterfowl reproduction in the Dakota's. They found the number 1 thing that deterred waterfowl reproduction was predators. Coon and yotes were the biggest. They started a predator reduction campaign that helped from what I recall.

From: Old School
23-Apr-21
I talked with my friend at the Missouri Dept of conservation and he said they believe that the biggest reason is the spring flooding that wipes out nests. He said the second factor was coons following hens back to their nests and eating the eggs. The past 2 years we’ve had terrible nesting weather - massive rains while hens are nesting. He said that was the main reason for the recent decline.

23-Apr-21
Old School,

Just talked with our forester at MDC today. He also said predation was a huge problem, and that coons will wipe out a nest and the hen will go back to that same nest to try again and the coons will know to check it out.

From: Old School
23-Apr-21
H4W - my buddy said the same. Although he said the worst issue was bad spring flooding that is widespread and basically wipes out the entire hatch.

From: Olink
23-Apr-21
You guys are missing the big picture. Flooding and damp springs definitely can explain a TEMPORARY population decline in the areas that they occur, but the population decline is happening across most of the country, and the entire country does not have the same weather problems. The fact is, the decline started happening around 20 years ago. While predation is definitely a factor in the accelerated turkey decline in recent years, the turkey decline began before the fur market collapsed and the predator numbers soared. The only thing that I can see that can affect the entire country (other than predators) is disease. To me it is mighty suspicious that the turkey decline began 20 years ago when West Nile cases started ramping up.

From: Old School
23-Apr-21
Michael - maybe the decline did start 20 yrs ago but I sure didn’t notice it here in MO. We’ve had great Turkey hunting up till probably 5ish years ago. This year is the worst I’ve ever seen - and not coincidently after 2 bad spring hatches.

From: Paul@thefort
24-Apr-21
Wild turkeys are a conservation success story in New York state. Due to overhunting and loss of forest habitat to small farms, turkeys disappeared for over 100 years until a small population wandered over the border from Pennsylvania into Western New York in the 1940s. Over the next decade the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) repopulated turkeys across the state through both captive breeding and relocation of birds from successful flocks. After recovering to a high of around 300,000 birds in 2001, the population has been progressively declining over the past ten years to only 160,000 birds. Thanks to research by Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, SUNY College of Environmental Science and the NYSDEC, we may now know one of the reasons why: Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus, or LPDV.

LPDV can cause tumors to form in the spleen and liver of infected young turkeys, and was first discovered in the United States in 2009 by a team of researchers at the University of Georgia. Realizing the dangers LPDV posed to New York’s turkey population, The Cornell Wildlife Health Lab (CWHL) partnered with the NYSDEC to begin a wildlife disease surveillance.

NYSDEC biologist Joe Okoniewski, who specializes in examining wildlife for signs of diseases and toxins, devised an ingenious plan for finding out if New York turkeys were infected. Every year hunters submit the feet from their birds so that the state can collect information on harvest numbers, sex and age. He realized that the small amount of bone marrow remaining in these turkey legs could be tested for the virus. The CWHL partnered with the NYSDEC to collect turkey legs and shipped them to the University of Georgia for a rapid survey.

The group quickly realized that the virus was wide spread in New York, with every county testing positive. In addition, tests from other states concluded the virus had spread to 17 states. It was puzzling though, since newly introduced diseases don’t typically spread so far so fast, and few birds were showing up sick with tumors. In fact, most of the infected birds appeared to be perfectly healthy. (Molecular Surveillance for Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus in Wild Turkeys {Meleagris gallopavo} from the Eastern United States).

Next the group teamed with Katrina Alger and Chris Whipps at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, to study the ecology and possible origins of the virus. Alger examined over 2,500 wild turkey legs from healthy hunter submitted birds and found 81 percent of the adult female birds were infected with LPDV, and more than half of all wild turkeys tested in New York carried the virus. By comparing the similarities between the virus samples that she recovered and tracing bird movements from the old repopulation project, Alger also determined that it was likely humans moved the virus around undetected decades ago. (RISK FACTORS FOR AND SPATIAL DISTRIBUTION OF LYMPHOPROLIFERATIVE DISEASE VIRUS (LPDV) IN WILD TURKEYS (MELEAGRIS GALLOPAVO) IN NEW YORK STATE, USA).

Based on this cooperative approach, it doesn’t seem that LPDV is in fact “new,” highly lethal, or solely responsible for the recent declines in the turkey population. However, similar viruses in domestic chickens and turkeys can suppress the immune system and make birds vulnerable to other infections.

By Jennifer Peaslee

From: Olink
24-Apr-21
Thanks for that info Paul! That is a virus that I have never heard mentioned before. But it certainly seems like it could be another significant contributor to the population decline. Bottom line is that the combination of diseases and predation is most likely the top reason for the nationwide turkey decline.

24-Apr-21

Habitat for Wildlife's embedded Photo
Habitat for Wildlife's embedded Photo
Thanks Paul. Right before reading that we had 4 jakes walk right by our cabin, within bow range. Cell phone could only capture two at a time, they were walking in single file.

From: spike78
24-Apr-21
I have noticed a decline here in MA as well. Years ago hearing 3 gobbles in my spots were common now I’m lucky to hear one single Tom.

From: Thornton
24-Apr-21
All the talk in Woodward, OK was the decline of turkeys and reduction of tags. I'm seeing very few in Butler and Greenwood County, KS. In my 27 years of hunting them, there have been several rounds of blackhead disease or avian pox come through and knock their numbers down. IMO, coons have nothing to do with vast decline in bird numbers. In the areas I hunt, nobody hunts coons very much anymore, and they haven't since the 1970's and 1980's. We used to have so many turkeys, they were trapping them and sending them to other states.

24-Apr-21
Jason, you may be correct, I am no expert, that’s for sure. FYI, I hunted for 25 plus years in Linn county along Big Sugar, real close to where Lloyd told me the original stocking took place. A neighbor on the farm I hunted trapped hard for years. About 10 years ago he quit, about the same time numbers took a dive. Coincidence? Maybe, but sure seems like a strong correlation having observed the wildlife there over nearly 3 decades.

From: KSflatlander
24-Apr-21
I’ll bet the reason for the decline in eastern KS and central MO is Frank’s Sitka. Geez Frank...

From: Tonybear61
24-Apr-21

Tonybear61's embedded Photo
Two Toms less than 20 yds.
Tonybear61's embedded Photo
Two Toms less than 20 yds.
If the last few seasons are any indication no declines here in MN. We can have some pretty cold weather up North, plenty of foxes, yotes, wolves, hawks and owls, Plus possums.

When I went to a seminar some years ago conducted by the turkey manager he said they can survive -70 F if they can get to food. Explains why they have spread from Caledonia to Thief River Falls in MN. Still ,we only have a 1 bird season.

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