Timing of spring wild turkey hunting in relation to nest incubation

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State wildlife agencies are often requested to open spring wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo; hereafter, turkey) hunting seasons earlier to increase hunter satisfaction by hunters hearing more gobbling male turkeys. Timing of spring turkey hunting season in several states, including Pennsylvania, has been established to open, on average, near median date of incubation initiation of turkey nests. This is believed to reduce illegal and undesired hen harvest and possibly nest abandonment, while maintaining hunter satisfaction of hearing male turkeys when most hens are incubating eggs. However, Pennsylvania’s spring season structure was established in 1968. Given earlier spring phenology, and potentially more variation in spring weather due to climate change, there is concern that timing of nest incubation for turkeys in Pennsylvania could be changing. Therefore, our objective was to determine if nest incubation and opening of spring turkey hunting in Pennsylvania have continued to coincide. We attached satellite transmitters to 254 female turkeys during 2010–2014 and estimated median incubation initiation date to be 2 May, which was 2 days earlier than median date during a statewide study during 1953–1963 and 9 days earlier than during a smaller scale study in south–central Pennsylvania during 2000–2001. However, incubation initiation varied greatly among years and individual hens during all 3 studies. During 4 of 5 years of our study, Pennsylvania’s spring season opened 3 to 8 days prior to median date of incubation initiation. Over the 5 years, estimated initiation of incubation for first nesting attempts, measured from earliest date of incubation initiation to latest, was >2 months and maximum proportion of hens beginning incubation at any one time differed by several days to >1 week. Consequently, in years of late incubation, a constant season opening date set near the long-term median date of incubation initiation exposes few additional hens to risk and hunter satisfaction is likely maintained at greater levels than would be seen with a more conservative approach of opening the season later. Long-term and large scale studies using GPS transmitters that provide precise determination of incubation initiation will be useful to study environmental influences on initiation of incubation.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Conference Paper
Title Timing of spring wild turkey hunting in relation to nest incubation
Volume 11
Year Published 2016
Language English
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description 11 p.
Larger Work Type Conference Paper
Larger Work Title Proceedings of the National Wild Turkey Symposium
First page 237
Last page 247
Conference Title 11th National Wild Turkey Symposium
Conference Location Tucson, Arizona
Conference Date January 5-7, 2016
Country United States
State Pennsylvania