Georgia’s turkey hunters are anxiously looking forward to the upcoming weekend. The 2012 season opens Saturday, March 24th and runs through May 15th this year and the roughly 50,000 hunters scattered across the state are poised to take to the field. There are turkeys in all of Georgia’s 159 counties and even though they are not evenly distributed there’s a chance to bring home a gobbler regardless of where you live. The limit is three toms per hunter for the season. Turkeys prefer heavily forested habitat and success depends in large part on weather and the calling ability of the hunter.
Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division puts together statistics to help manage the flock population which is approximately 350,000 birds. These numbers can also help hunters choose which areas to hunt. Those who are lucky enough to have private access to prime forest land typically have the best chance at success but Georgia also has around ninety (that require sign in) Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) which hunters can take advantage of.
Complete 2011 statistics are not yet available but preliminary data indicates that the numbers are positive. In 2008 and 2010 reproduction rates were very high which means there should be good numbers of two year old birds but fewer of the older birds. There are plenty of other numbers from recent years to help hunters make decisions on which areas to hunt. It is also interesting to note that year to year success rates can vary widely from year to year. In 2009 the hunter success rate came in at over 70% whereas the 2010 season’s rate was about 50%. Much of that difference can be explained by the fact that success rates soar when there are more two year old toms in the flock. These younger birds are easier to call and kill than are older, wiser birds.
There are some 2011 statistics from the WMA’s that can be helpful and as mentioned earlier some areas can be more productive than others. The information put together by the WRD biologists is broken down by geographic region and in the Blue Ridge Mountain region which stretches across North Georgia from roughly I-75 to the northeast corner of the state there are some good areas to hunt. The top pick statistically speaking is Swallow Creek just north of Helen. With nearly 20,000 acres this WMA has a regular sign in and can be hunted at any time.
The top hunter success rates in WMA’s located in the Piedmont Region (which stretches across the middle of Georgia from Columbus to Augusta) were Cedar Creek located between Eatonton and Monticello with nearly 40,000 acres and Dawson Forest, a 25,000 acre tract outside the town of Dawsonville.
In the Upper Coastal Plain region which stretches from Albany to around Statesboro the statistics show that Di-Lane and Yuchi WMA’s near Waynesboro are good bets. Di-Lane has some early quota hunts and then reverts to an open sign in and Yuchi WMA is sign in all season and has nearly 8,000 acres of land on which to hunt.
The biggest factor to having a healthy population of turkeys is the continuation of healthy hatches. The year to year hatch can be affected positively or negatively by things such as rainfall, plenty of forest habitat and also by the presence or absence of predators such as coyotes and hawks. The overall numbers over the last few years have given WRD biologists reason to remain optimistic. Despite hatch numbers that have been up and down most of the state’s turkey population has remained relatively stable and that’s good news for hunters.
For more information and regulations on turkey season there are a couple of web sites that can be helpful:
Good hunting and enjoy the outdoors.
Alvin Richardson can be reached at dar8589@bellsouth.