SUNDANCE - Turkey hunters in the Black Hills should be prepared to cover more ground and take a few extra days to harvest a mature tom this year. Turkey numbers have not yet bounced back from a decline during the severe winter of 2010-2011.
Black Hills area wildlife biologist Joe Sandrini of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said wild turkey production since 2010 has been below average, and mortality was very high during the winter of 2010-2011. As a result, turkey numbers have declined in the Black Hills. Sandrini said local wildlife managers believe the downward trend is beginning to reverse itself thanks to a slightly better hatch last spring and a mild winter this year.
“Poult production in the Black Hills has been down the past several years,” Sandrini said, “with 2011 being especially low. As a result, we anticipate hunting to be tougher again this spring and harvest below historic levels.”
“There are good numbers of yearling toms, or jakes, in some locations, but hunters often choose not to harvest these younger birds,” Sandrini said.
During the 2012 spring hunt, Black Hills hunters harvested more than 1,000 birds. This was the lowest harvest on record for almost two decades. In 2010, hunters harvested nearly 1,900 birds and in 2011, hunters bagged nearly 1,500 birds. In both of those years hunters had a two tom bag limit. But, due to the lower population, the bag limit this year, as with last year, is one bird. Long-term hunter success is typically 50 to 55 percent, 67 percent of hunters were successful in 2010. Sandrini anticipates hunter success could dip below 50 percent this year.
Unless the Black Hills area is hit with a significant spring storm, open road access to the birds should be good. Hunters should obtain a current travel management map from the U.S. Forest Service, which reflects the new travel management plan for the Black Hills National Forest. Many forest roads have been closed, are open only to certain types of vehicles, or are open only during certain date ranges. Call the Forest Service (Bearlodge Ranger District) at 307-283-1361 for up-to-date information. On the Wyoming side of the Black Hills National Forest, non-licensed off-road vehicles must display a current $15 Wyoming ORV sticker. A $25 Black Hills travel management sticker is required to operate non-licensed off-road vehicles on the South Dakota side of the forest. Hunters should secure permission to hunt private lands well in advance of their planned hunt.
In the Sheridan region, biologist Tim Thomas reports “lots of turkeys.”
“Most of the turkey hunting in our area is on private lands,” Thomas said. “But populations are doing very well and hunters who can get access to private lands should have excellent hunting.”
Game managers in other parts of the state have similar forecasts. Torrington Game Warden Jon Stephens reports a lot of turkeys, but that they’re concentrated in private lands. Stephens predicts that hunting should be good for those who have access. Wheatland Biologist Martin Hicks said the huge forest fires that swept through the Laramie Peak area last summer may have displaced turkeys.
“Turkeys might not be in their normal places due to last year’s fires,” Hicks said. “But the population is good and we think the hunting will be good also.”
Bighorn Basin turkey hunters should also be able to find birds. Greybull biologist Tom Easterly said turkeys that have been transplanted over the years are doing well.
“Turkey populations in the Bighorn Basin are still growing,” Easterly said. “We are seeing turkeys in new areas in both the Bighorn and Shoshone National Forests.”
Easterly said the drought that has affected turkeys in some parts of the state has not affected Bighorn Basin populations because most of the birds are concentrated around streams and croplands. As with other regions, a lot of the turkeys inthe Bighorn Basin are on private lands, but Easterly said access is available on a number of walk-in areas, as well as the Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Area.
Before going afield, turkey hunters should confirm season dates and other regulations. Turkey regulations may be found online or on pages 24-29 of the bird regulations pamphlet. Seasons vary depending on the hunt area—some open April 1, others open April 13. All hunt areas close May 20.
In Wyoming, hunt areas are either general-license or limited-quota. Most limited-quota licenses were taken in the initial drawing. General licenses are available online and at license-selling agents. Hunters purchasing online licenses should allow 10 days to receive the license by mail. License fees are $16 for residents and $72 for nonresident. A conservation stamp ($12.50) is also required.
(Contact: Al Langston (307) 777-4540)