Three Ways You Can Help with Wild Turkey Conservation

by Braxton Taylor

Hunters like to throw around the word “conservation” or refer to themselves as “conservationists.” It’s great to recognize the role that hunting plays in the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, but there’s a lot more to it than filling tags.

It’s sort of like calling yourself a babysitter for watching your own kids. It’s a responsibility that comes with parenting, and you’d be doing it anyway. Turkey hunters are no different. Yes, punching tags, completing hunter surveys, and registering harvest data help log and track invaluable information. However, there are other ways to actively contribute to turkey conservation that don’t involve pulling a trigger. To find out what more hunters can do, I spoke with The National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Co-CEO Kurt Dyroff who oversees everything conservation. Here are three ways you can help support wild turkeys this spring.

Share the Resource

There are few things more exciting than hunting wild turkeys. Hearing that first gobble at daybreak makes my heart leap from my chest every time. It’s an incredible experience, and sharing the thrill of turkey hunting with a new hunter makes it even more enjoyable. Dyroff stressed the importance of recruiting new turkey hunters, as hunter participation numbers ( especially long-term hunters) have declined.

“Good conservation doesn’t stop with us,” Dyroff said. “We have to consider future generations if we want to create sustainable hunting opportunities. An easy way to help bring awareness is to introduce someone new to turkey hunting.”

Increasing competition on a limited resource might seem counterintuitive, but more hunters means more exposure for hunters to turkey conservation. Even at a base level, it means more funds from licenses and tags. But introducing a new hunter isn’t a one-and-done deal, and Dyroff stressed the importance of long-term hunter participation.

“It isn’t just recruiting new hunters,” he said. “We need to think long-term about how we can help new turkey hunters remain active.”

Helping someone bag their first bird is great, but if you’re expecting them to go out and repeat that process after just one or two hunts, you’re not exactly setting them up for success. Sure, there’s a learning curve that comes with everything, but good mentoring can help someone avoid years of mistakes and foster a love for the sport.

Follow the Science

Anec-data can be useful sometimes, but mostly it clouds our judgement or blinds us to the true data. If you’ve spent your hunting career on just one or two different properties, it can be easy to make blanket statements that aren’t true.

Every year, regardless of hunter success rates or turkey population numbers, I always hear folks say, “turkeys just gobble less nowadays” or “must have had a bad hatch this year.” But if you’re basing this off your experience on one lease or highly pressured public ground, you’re not getting the full picture.

Rarely do I hear people say, “I guess we didn’t have enough early successional growth habitat,” or “must have been the lack of controlled burns.” It’s almost always tied to four or two-legged predators. On the flip side, you might have the issue of deciding which gobbler to chase on your property while your state as a whole has plummeting turkey numbers. In either case, it’s important to see what the numbers actually say.

“We have to trust the science,” Dyroff said. “It might challenge the assumptions we have about the hunting cultures we grew up in, but it will help us implement best practices for conserving wild turkeys and their habitat. It holds everyone accountable and doesn’t allow us to rely on our own beliefs.”

One way to listen to the science is by keeping up with your local agencies and participating in voluntary survey work that might be available. Dyroff noted that state agencies are always evaluating their regulations based on data like estimated population numbers, hatch success rates, and hunter success rates.

“Hunters need to rally around their local agencies and support those decisions,” he said. “Even if it means a change in bag limits or season structures.” These can be tough changes to reconcile with, and the results might not be immediate, but they’re necessary for sustainable hunting opportunities.

Support

Practicing turkey conservation doesn’t require a lot, but it does require effort. Perhaps the easiest way to participate in turkey conservation is to support organizations that support wild turkeys, Dyroff said. “You can join a local chapter, go to a NWTF banquet, attend outreach events, or participate in habitat projects,” he said.

Even though organizations like NWTF and Turkeys for Tomorrow specifically focus on wild turkeys and their habitat, it affects other wild game positively, too.

“Good turkey conservation is good conservation in general,” Dyroff said. “The work that we do for turkeys benefits so much more. Deer, pollinators, they’re all benefiting from great turkey habitat.”

Turkey hunting represents just part of the conservation process. Sure, it’s the most immediately gratifying, but other conservation practices are long-term investments. We might not immediately reap the benefits, but it pays off in the end.

“We all have to do our part,” Dyroff said, “and that’s what we take seriously at NWTF. It’s pretty cool that this is a national community that supports the bird we all love.”

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