Talking turkey, which means acorns, too Outdoors

On The Outdoors

October 25, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

The fall hunting season for wild turkeys opens Saturday with an extra day of hunting, an extended hunting area and habitat conditions that game managers say might favor the birds more than the hunters.

The nut of the matter is acorns, the seeds from which white and black oaks grow and the staple of the mast (fruits of forest trees) that turkeys and many other animals feed on.

This year the Department of Natural Resources' mast surveys in the state's four western counties -- including Garrett, Allegany and Washington, the only counties where fall turkey hunting is permitted -- found a strong overall crop.

"For turkey hunters, when acorns are abundant, the birds will be widespread because there is food throughout the forest," said DNR game program manager Tom Mathews. "In years when there are fewer acorns, the birds tend to concentrate where the food is."

As a result of the abundant mast, turkeys probably will be harder to find, and Mathews said early reports from hunters out scouting in preparation for the seven-day season seem to bear out the abundant mast.

"Whether it is at the tops of ridges, side slopes or the bottoms," said Mathews, "the hunters we hear from are all talking about how much food is out there."

lTC The survey, which has been conducted annually since 1976, found the mast in Garrett County "to be near record levels," while Allegany County was rated as poor and spotty for acorns but heavy for some other mast crops. But even in Allegany County the acorn crop is substantially higher than last year when the acorn crop was a failure.

In some years the mast crop is excellent, the turkey population has a strong breeding year and the fall hunt can be close to record-breaking.

In 1994, when the spring hatch of turkeys was very strong, said forest game project manager Steve Bittner, the mast crop was the second highest recorded, and hunters bagged 559 birds, also the second highest number recorded.

"That was a bumper year for acorns and a bumper year for birds," said Bittner. "But this year production has been off, and although brood numbers are about the same, fewer broods were seen."

Field surveys indicate reproductive success was lower this year than in either 1996 or 1997. Mathews and Bittner said record rainfall across Western Maryland in June may be the primary reason.

Extended periods of summer rain can chill and eventually kill poults, which in drier years would grow to swell the fall population of wild birds.

"Certainly this was not a bumper crop this year, but we've got plenty of birds and we're good to go," said Mathews.

The area of Washington County east of I-81 has been opened for the fall season, and a Saturday has been added to the front end of the season, which closes Nov. 7.

Even so, Mathews added he doesn't expect this to be a banner year for turkey hunters.

Fall turkey season comparison

Maryland's fall turkey hunting season will include an extra Saturday this year and the hunting area has been expanded to take in all of Washington County. The following is a look at the wild turkey harvest during the fall seasons over the past 10 years:

Year .... Allegany .... Garrett .... Washington .... Total

1988 .... 166 ......... 158 ........ 46 ............ 370

1989 .... 144 ......... 131 ........ 27 ............ 302

1990 .... 181 ......... 131 ........ 28 ............ 340

1991 .... 179 ......... 148 ........ 33 ............ 360

1992 .... 162 ......... 168 ........ 40 ............ 370

1993 .... 227 ......... 162 ........ 38 ............ 427

1994 .... 281 ......... 234 ........ 44 ............ 559

1995 .... 242 ......... 291 ........ 37 ............ 570

1996 .... 165 ......... 140 ........ 44 ............ 349

1997 .... 158 ......... 170 ........ 31 ............ 359

Note: Through 1990 the season was limited to Garrett and Allegany counties and the portion of Washington County west of Route 522. From 1991 through 1997, the eastern border of the hunting area was moved east to I-81.

Source: Department of Natural Resources

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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