If one didn’t know better, the recent shot of cold air more resembled a January deep freeze than the beginning of Oklahoma’s spring turkey season which is set to open in just a little over a week (April 6).
Ask 10 veteran turkey hunters how the cold affects these magnificent birds and there’s a good chance you will get 10 different answers.
After nearly 40 years of chasing them up and down mountains as well as over just about every type of terrain in different states, I’ve figured out this much — turkeys are just plain weird.
Several years ago, I was on a late season muzzleloader deer hunt on the Missouri-Iowa border. The temperature coupled with 30 to 40 mph wind gusts was at best in the single digits with blowing snow.
I watched as a large flock of turkeys struggled as they worked their way across a cut corn field. Several of the birds were toms of various ages and I watched them strut around all fanned out. They would take two steps forward and the wind would blow them back twice that far. Although I couldn’t hear them gobble, when they stretched that long neck out and brought it back in one fluid motion, well, I’ve seen it enough times to recognize what was happening.
“Turkeys had a fair reproduction this past year,” said wildlife biologist Craig Endicott. “They do better in the spring when it’s warm and dry. They don’t fair well when it’s wet and cold like in a late spring snap we call a ‘blackberry winter.’ It’s horrible for the birds as they, just like people, can become hypothermic.
Interestingly enough, Endicott said that Eastern turkeys tolerate these “blackberry winters” much better than their cousins, the Rios. In this area, we are seeing more hybrids — a mix of Easterns and Rios.
The number of birds harvested in the region over the past couple of years is down significantly, by more than half when compared to the peak years of 2003-06. Compounding these factors, Endicott noted when it’s cold, windy, and raining it shuts the gobblers down and makes hunting tough.
On the upside, concerning his areas, Cherokee and Gruber wildlife biologist Brent Morgan the turkey count appears to be equal or perhaps a little better than last year and the birds are already gobbling.
Endicott stressed that hunters need to study the rules and regulations. One important change is that all counties in the northeastern part of the state are now limited to one tom per county and all birds harvested east of I-35 must be checked in.
You need to read the regulations carefully. You have three options. Online check in at wildlifedepartment.com, stopping at the nearest open hunter check station or registering with an authorized Department employee within 24 hours of leaving the hunt site.
As for myself, the turkey hunt my son and I had drawn in on at the McAlester Ammunition Depot was squelched by the federal sequester. We received a letter stating they will either refund the money or we can turkey hunt next year. Surely, the sequester will be resolved by then.
John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. To reach him with news or comments, call 348-9431 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.