It may seem like turkey season ended ages ago, but the data have been fully analyzed and the statewide numbers from our annual telephone survey are now available for the 2020 Spring Turkey Season.
Before we dive into the numbers, let’s talk about how the Wildlife Resources Division collects turkey harvest data. Although it seems straightforward, the WRD’s turkey program goes through several processes to gather statewide turkey data. WRD biologists don’t rely on one single survey to give them all the information they collect each year. By using multiple surveys, biologists can develop a more complete picture of hunter effort, harvest estimate, and other parameters that provide information about Georgia’s turkey population.
How is the data collected?
There are three methods for collecting data during the hunting season and one summer poult survey to collect reproductive data. (Stay tuned for a future blog on the summer poult survey!) The three ways are:
- Georgia Game Check: in addition to providing harvest reporting for law enforcement, Game Check provides us with almost real-time harvest data. This lets biologists monitor trends as the season goes by. Game Check also provides staff with specific Wildlife Management Area harvest reports and county level harvest data.
- Statewide Turkey Harvest Survey: This phone survey is conducted each year and gives an estimate of the total number of hunters statewide, as well as the statewide harvest. This survey also measures hunter satisfaction and hunter attitudes about various turkey hunting related issues.
- Avid Hunter Survey (“Harvest Card Survey”): This survey asks volunteers to record each of their turkey hunts throughout the season. This survey measures hunter effort and harvest, as well as records metrics such as gobblers heard per hour.
What did these surveys find in 2020?
The statewide survey found that of total license holders, a smaller percentage reported turkey hunting this year, even though total license sales were up. In 2020, there were 45,205 turkey hunters. This total was slighty fewer than in the 46,995 turkey hunters reported in 2019. These hunters hunted more days, on average, and had slightly better success than last year, which gave us an overall similar statewide harvest total of 17,048.
What does this mean?
In this post, WRD brought attention to the high numbers of birds harvested on WMAs in 2020, as well as the increase in the number of birds reported through Game Check statewide. So, how did Georgia end up with a total harvest estimate almost the same as last year’s? A couple of reasons – one, we are possibly seeing an increase in use of the Game Check system, which is great news.
Another possible reason for the unexpected total harvest comes to light when you consider the daily totals. As all Georgians recall, shelter-in-place orders came right after the onset of turkey season. Looking at the daily harvest graphs (below), the harvest for 2020 outpaced the past two years for the first month of the season, then leveled out with previous years. This is a phenomenon that other southeastern states have seen as well. It may be related to the timing of the pandemic effects when hunters spent a month out in the woods dutifully social distancing, but when shelter-in-place ended for many, real life came calling again.
Despite the “average” statewide harvest total, biologists remain concerned about the turkey population in Georgia. New research is shedding light on ways that hunting season frameworks might be affecting turkey reproduction, particularly in areas with high hunting pressure. Although hunting is not the only stressor on turkey populations, it is the one that state agency staff can affect through science-based harvest regulations and season frameworks.
Outlaw decoys. Make people really “call” in turkeys instead of ambushing them.