Fort the most part, this winter was favorable to the survival of wild turkeys. Snow melt came early, exposing more area to direct sunlight, which should provide an early crop of green vegetation. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

As we near opening day of spring turkey season on May 2, hunters are wondering what to expect. Will the number of birds be up or down? Will there be an ample supply of longbeards to meet the demand of hunters for a quality experience and a reasonable chance of success? Fortunately, we can make some general observations, as so much of how this spring turkey season will shape up depends on what occurred over the preceding 10 or 12 months.

Most spring turkey hunting seasons are scheduled to coincide with when the majority of hens are nesting, so last season’s weather influenced this season’s crop. Adult hens lay roughly one egg a day, and may sit for about an hour after laying each of their first five eggs before covering the nest and moving off to rejoin the flock. Brooding time increases with clutch size until the clutch of 10 to 12 eggs is complete. Then she will incubate continuously, day and night, leaving the nest only for brief feeding recesses. All the time she’s gone, eggs are subject to weather and predators.

Last spring’s temperatures were relatively mild with highs in the mid 60s and lows in the mid 40s, and rainfall was slightly below average. All this bodes well for nesting, and barring predation, clutch success should have been average to good.

Next comes a more critical brooding period. Predation remains a factor, but weather plays a far more important role, as exposure to the elements is a leading cause of poult mortality. Here again, the news is good. Last June was relatively mild and rainfall was 2 inches below average. July was a different story, with above average rainfall. While the young of first clutches should have been sufficiently grown to withstand the deluge, late clutches and second clutches from re-nesting may not have fared so well.

By midsummer, predation becomes the greatest influence on survival and rates vary with predator abundance and habitat quality. The local flock I watch almost daily began with 13 young but was whittled down to just four by fall. The nationwide average is around 33 percent, so that was right on par.

Next comes the fall hunting season, with a five-bird, either-sex limit. Despite the lengthy season and liberal bag, hunting effort and the resulting mortality remain relatively light at around 2,000 birds. That seems to be a sustainable level, as most populations are stable or growing slightly. So far, so good.

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Winter severity is yet another factor. Many once thought Maine winters would be too tough for the turkeys, but the birds proved themselves to be quite adaptable and resilient. Temperature can take a toll, as birds may remain relatively sedentary during prolonged deep cold spells. Snow can be a bigger factor, with deep powder restricting mobility and access to food. A hard crust, on the other hand, improves mobility but can make foraging more difficult.

There’s no such thing as a “typical” winter, but the most recent one was peculiar just the same and, for the most part, favorable to turkeys. A mild December was followed by sporadic and relatively light snowfall, which bodes well for the birds. Icing was more problematic for people, but may have made food and the ability to find it better for birds.

All in all, hunters should be relatively optimistic about this coming spring season. Snow melt came early, exposing more area to direct sunlight, which should provide an early crop of green vegetation. Most flocks fared well without severe winter mortality. Mother Nature and the birds did their part.

Now it’s up to scouting and proper preparation.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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