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Despite canceling its meetings Wednesday and Thursday due to coronavirus concerns, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is still considering a slate of new hunting regulations for 2021.

Among them is a comprehensive slate of turkey hunting regulations that aim to achieve goals contained within the proposed Strategic Turkey Management Plan. Jeremy Wood, the commission's turkey program coordinator, authored the plan, an impressive document that should make turkey hunters optimistic. We will examine that later because the proposed regulations are more timely.

• The first proposal will condense the 18 turkey management zones into two zones. Zone 1 will contain 19 counties, including 15 counties in eastern and northeastern Arkansas, Little River, Miller, Washington and Benton counties. Zone 1 will have a nine-day spring turkey season and a season bag limit of one bearded gobbler. Zone 2 will have a longer season with a season limit of two adult gobblers.

• The second proposal will prohibit the killing of bearded hens. Hunters kill 100-200 bearded hens annually, or about 1% of the season total. On the other hand, that's 100-200 female turkeys that a depleted population cannot spare.

As justification, Wood wrote, "With public concerns surrounding long-term declines in turkey populations, reducing or eliminating the take of female turkeys during a time when females are actively participating in breeding and nesting activities is recommended to reduce potential local level impacts on reproduction."

• The third proposal is to reduce bag limits on wild turkeys to one bird annually on wildlife management areas. Killing 25% of the male turkey population can limit population growth. On some WMAs, hunters kill 30-35% of adult gobblers in a given year. About 50-100 hunters kill two-bird limits on WMAs annually, and 90% kill both birds on one WMA. Removing the potential for one hunter to kill two birds on one WMA might improve hunt quality for other hunters on the area and also allow a few birds to survive to the next season.

However, hunters will be allowed to kill a second bird on a different WMA.

• A fourth proposal will limit hunters to only one turkey during the first seven days of the season and establish a one-bird bag limit during the special youth spring turkey season. The two-bird bag limit will still be retained in Zone 2.

As justification, Wood wrote that with the two-day youth turkey season harvest, 70% of the annual turkey harvest occurs during the first nine days of the 18-day spring turkey season.

"By only allowing hunters to harvest a single bird during the first seven days (of the regular season), this should reduce pressure over this time period," Wood wrote.

Wood said that the regulation might also reduce overall pressure from hunters that hunt turkeys out of state during that time.

• A fifth proposal will open spring turkey season on the third Monday in April and extend the season length in Zone 2 to 21 days. Current understanding of turkey reproduction ecology in Arkansas indicates that the long-term statewide peak of egg-laying is April 19. Peak incubation dates are in early May.

"It would benefit the resource to maximize breeding potential of males prior to their removal in hunting season," Wood wrote.

Under this proposal, the start dates will vary annually from April 15-21, and the ending dates will vary from May 5-11.

• The sixth proposal will create a new youth and regular controlled permit turkey hunt on Devil's Eyebrow Natural Area on Beaver Lake in Benton County. Five permits will be issued for a two-day youth hunt, and five permits will be issued for a three-day regular hunt. There are currently no turkey hunting opportunities on public land in Benton County, and limited opportunities in Washington County.

• A seventh proposal will create a new controlled permit youth turkey hunt on Shirey Bay Rainey Brake WMA. A regular controlled turkey hunt is held on Shirey Bay Rainey Brake WMA, but there is currently not a controlled youth hunt.

To this point, the Game and Fish Commission's attempts to reduce pressure on wild turkeys has been limited to reducing the season length, moving the season opener from Saturday to a Monday and experimenting with season dates. Given the continuing struggles of our statewide turkey population, especially in light of extremely rainy weather during the nesting and brood rearing seasons, these recommendations are fair and are in the best interest of the birds.

Sports on 03/22/2020

Print Headline: AGFC considering turkey hunting regulations

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