Hunters could find fewer turkeys next season if the annual brood survey is correct, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks said today (Aug. 31).

"Last summer, we had one of the better hatches of the last 10 years, but it looks as if things are down quite a bit this year," MDWFP Wild Turkey Program coordinator Dave Godwin said.

Godwin said only 27 percent of hens statewide have been seen with young and the average brood included 3.9 poults. Both figures are down substantially from the summer of 2010.

The survey of wild turkey reproduction is conducted each year across the state, with observers noting all turkeys observed during the months of June, July, and August.  Biologists use this information to determine reproductive success, which gives the MDWFP an objective look at how turkeys are faring.

Although the overall numbers were down, there were some regional differences.

"Regionally, the east-central portions of the state are doing well, but we are not seeing the kinds of numbers we would like in other areas," Godwin said.

As expected, the historic late-spring flooding of the Mississippi River curtailed the turkey hatch across some portions of the Delta and those lands adjacent to the Mississippi River, but the cause of the decline in other areas is not as straightforward.

Weather often plays a critical role in determining the outcome of the reproductive season for wild turkeys. While weather patterns during the nesting time were favorable, the extreme heat and drought much of the state experienced at the peak of the hatching period could be to blame for this summer's downturn.

"We often talk about the negative impacts of a cool, wet spring, but extremes at the other end of the scale could potentially be just as detrimental," Godwin said.
 
MDWFP biologist Adam Butler said the lower numbers also could be tied to the highly successful reproduction in 2010.

"We had an exceptionally good hatch last year, so a large portion of this spring's population was comprised of yearling hens," Butler explained. "Research suggests that yearling hens typically attempt to nest at much lower rates than older birds, and when they do nest they usually aren't as successful.

"So given that situation, you would expect things to be down a bit this year."