Sportsmen who have already obtained a copy of the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest (2020-2021) will once again find it full of timely information concerning purchasing licenses, various fees involved, and season dates and bag/creel limits. It also contains information on Alabama's Wildlife Management Areas, major changes to regulations, hunter education information, Conservation Advisory Board members, a list of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) District Offices, and more. One thing of interest to turkey hunters is a possible change to next spring's turkey season.
As seen on page 28 of the Digest, Montgomery County, and indeed much of the state, starts the spring season on March 20, going through May 2nd. That may change. At its most recent meeting in Mobile, the Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) welcomed Professor Mike Chamberlain of the University of Georgia who spoke about declining turkey populations in the South. He produced data on how harvest impacts the population of turkeys and said, "what we're dealing with in the South is an increased harvest of gobblers and a survival rate of hatchlings that is not high enough to sustain the population." It makes sense that populations have been slowly declining in the Southeast because the survival rate of hatchlings is only 1 to 1 1/2 poults per hen.
Chamberlain says that the reported harvest on Alabama's first weekend of the season in 2020 was 43 percent higher than in 2019. Most of those gobblers taken were quite probably older, dominant birds. The result of taking these dominant birds out of the population is an increase in the length of nesting activity. Instead of most egg-laying occurring within a week or two, the hatching of the eggs will be extended over as much as 100 days. "If all of these hens drop their clutches within a couple of weeks, they will hatch about the same time," Chamberlain told the CAB. "By scattering them across the landscape over a 100 days, you give predators the advantage. With all the eggs hatching at one time, predators can't possibly find them all."
And of course the bird is dealing with habitat issues, and Chamberlain says there are also diseases that crop-up from time-to-time. Hopefully, landowners will undertake measures to improve their turkey habitat and control predators. About the only thing that can be done by WFF to increase turkey numbers is to limit the harvest. A motion was made to begin the season on April 1st, and run through Saturday, May 1st, with a bag limit of three birds. Final word on that will come during the first meeting of the CAB in February of 2021. WFF Director Chuck Sykes is in full agreement with changing the opening date and lower bag limit. "The sooner we can take proactive solutions, the better. I don't want to kick the can down the road any farther," Sykes says. He is extremely concerned that Alabama is headed in the same direction as some other states with regard to lower turkey numbers, such as now being experienced in Arkansas.