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New spring season dates for most wild turkey hunt areas

(WAGM)
Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 10:47 PM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - There’s a new opening date for Wyoming’s spring turkey season. Hunters should plan for an April 20 opener in four of the state’s five hunt areas. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission made this change to align more appropriately the bird’s biology, simplify regulations and increase hunter opportunity.

“We worked through the season setting and public input process last year to further simplify the hunting regulations for wild turkey. This new spring season is also more biologically sensible,” said Joe Sandrini, Game and Fish wildlife biologist in the Black Hills.

The later opening date better aligns with turkeys’ breeding and nesting chronology and overall is better for the bird and hunters. The closing date for all hunt areas was also moved back to May 31.

“The peak of nest initiation is normally the third week in April, and postponing the opening date allows more unfettered mating,” Sandrini said.

Researchers are finding non-dominant males’ ability to successfully breed hens can be suppressed by the presence of a dominant tom. If the dominant tom is removed from the population, it can take a while before the remaining toms are able to successfully mate. They have also found subordinate females may not breed and nest until the more dominant hens have nested.

“By moving hunting pressure later in the mating cycle, it allows for more successful breeding,” said Sandrini. “It balances what is best for the bird and the hunter.”

During a normal spring, most hen turkeys are sitting on their nests beginning early to mid May, after laying on average 8 to 11 eggs. Once these hens begin sitting, toms become more mobile, as they cover ground looking for females that have not been bred or are attempting to re-nest. The toms also become more susceptible to hunter calls, during what some hunters refer to as the “second peak of gobbling.”

“Moving the season later ensures more hens breed with the best quality toms. It also makes for good hunting when the weather is more predictable and road conditions and access to higher elevations is better,” Sandrini said.

In Wyoming, spring wild turkey hunting continues to be popular. Three of the five wild turkey hunt areas in Wyoming are now managed primarily for spring hunting, including the Black Hills, which account for the majority of public land hunting. Outside of the Black Hills, other hunt areas should benefit from a later, standard opener as its timing helps move the spring season away from barnyard hunting and often muddy conditions.

“Now more birds will be able to disperse onto public land before the season starts in places like the Laramie Range south of Douglas, and hopefully help populations in areas that have struggled to produce good poult numbers on a regular basis,” Sandrini said. “We also hope the shift to a later season will benefit landowners and ranchers by moving hunting season into a more favorable weather period, one further removed from spring ranch and farm chores.”

The exception to the later opener is Hunt Area 3, with a season from April 1 to May 31.

“In Hunt Area 3, located in Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell counties where most turkeys are found on private land, and there have been problems with depredation and nuisance birds. So, the Commission set the season for maximum harvest to reduce turkey numbers,” Sandrini said. Spring wild turkey hunting is often the cure for sportsmen and women’s cabin fever. This year looks to be one that will offer fair hunting in most areas as turkey populations have begun to rebound.

“It’s poised to be a season that takes into consideration what is best for the turkeys, increases hunter opportunity and provides for some great time outdoors when the weather is about perfect for hunting,” Sandrini said.

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