Wild turkey populations booming in ENC

Mar 14, 2016

Credit NC Wildlife Resources Commission

North Carolina’s numbers are at an all-time high.  They’ve been steadily increasing across the state, but here in the eastern part of the state, turkeys have made a major comeback.  Now, the Wildlife Resources Commission is encouraging people to take up hunting.  Seminars are being held across the state to teach amateurs and experts alike the methods for hunting turkeys. 

“That might surprise some folks that if we’re interested in conserving a game animal that we want more hunters.

Upland Game Bird Biologist Chris Kreh says although it sounds counterintuitive, hunting is a beneficial way of conserving a species.

“Hunters are really true conservationists.  They’re passionate about the sport, they’re passionate about turkeys, they’re involved in habitat management, they’re involved with educating other folks about what turkeys need, and looking out for the resource.”

In North Carolina as a whole, Kreh says the turkey population is booming, although some places have disparities.  In the mountains and along the Virginia border, turkey numbers have started to level off or drop slightly.  But populations continue to expanding rapidly in eastern North Carolina.

“Currently, we have about 265,000 turkeys in the state.  That’s not a perfect estimate, it’s a rough estimate and it’s based largely on the number of turkeys that we see harvested in the spring season every year.”

They also used data gathered during the annual turkey observation survey, where volunteer spotters record the number of turkeys they see during a two month period during the summer.  Over the years the survey’s been conducted, upward trends have been noticed in turkey populations.  Since 2005, the number of turkeys across the state has grown by an estimated 115,000, with population increase here in eastern North Carolina being the most significant.

“Those birds are moving into areas of suitable habitat, reproduction has been good during the summertime so turkeys are capable of producing a lot of young during the year, and the habitat conditions are conducive to turkeys in that part of the state.”

Many places like Craven, Duplin and Pender counties now support thriving turkey populations, but this wasn’t always the case.  In the 60s and 70s, turkeys were only found in small pockets because of hunting pressure and habitat destruction.  At one time, there were only about 2,000 turkeys in the entire state.

“At that point, we changed a lot of the hunting regulations and we began a process of capturing wild turkeys and releasing them in areas that did have suitable habitat and allowing the birds to flourish once they got into that suitable habitat.  And really the turkeys did it themselves, they just needed help to get there.”

Now that populations have bounced back, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is encouraging hunters to take part in this year’s wild turkey season, which starts April 9th and runs through May 7th.  A youth only week runs from April 2 to the 8th.  Hunters are allowed a maximum of one turkey per day and two turkeys per season. 

The commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation are offering 24 hunting seminars across the state which cover topics including biology, calls and decoys.  Kreh says the seminars cover the basics and more advanced methods of hunting turkeys.

“What are they doing during the springtime, what are they doing during the season, what might hunters encounter when they’re in the field, it will also cover aspects about different types of turkey calls that they might use and how to use them, different scenarios they might encounter in the field, how to deal with different types of turkeys, how to find a place to turkey hunt, you know game land opportunities, those types of things. All of that will be discussed at those seminars.”

About 1,400 people have attended the seminars so far.  There are nine classes left, two of which will be in our area.  There’s an Introduction seminar in Jacksonville planned for Monday, March 21st at 6:30 at the Onslow County Center.  An advanced level class will be held the next day.  For more information, go to http://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/SkillsBasedSeminars/tabid/1930/PageId/EventListView/Default.aspx