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. Although improving, turkey numbers have not yet bounced back from a decline during the severe winter of 2010-2011 and subsequent poor poult production and survival. Generally speaking, hunters should expect to see gobbler numbers at, or below last year’s numbers.
Black Hills area wildlife biologist Joe Sandrini, of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said wild turkey production since 2008 has been generally below average, and mortality was very high during the winter of 2010-2011 due to persistent deep snowpack. As a result, turkey numbers have declined in the Black Hills, although Sandrini believes the downward trend is beginning to reverse itself thanks to a better hatch last spring.
“Although it improved a bit in 2013, 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 tough again this spring.”
“However, there are still some two-year-old toms around, and they represent the majority of the harvest,” Sandrini said.
“Hunters often have better luck later in the season when toms begin responding to calls again. The peak of nest initiation is normally April 27 and toms may be hard to call around that time because they are usually hen’d-up until about May 10,” Sandrini reported.
During the 2013 spring hunt, Black Hills hunters harvested just over 700 wild turkeys. This was the lowest spring harvest since 1998. 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. Due to the decrease in population, the bag limit is one bird again this year. Long-term hunter success is typically 50 to 55 percent in the Black Hills, although that figure declined about 40 percent last spring, even with fewer hunters afield.
Currently, vehicle access on to the majority of the Black Hills National Forest is impossible due to snowpack. In addition, several major Forest Service roads will still be under seasonal closures at the start of the spring wild turkey season. Hunters should obtain a current travel management map from the Forest Service before going afield. Call the Forest Service (Bearlodge Ranger District) at 307-283-1361 for up-to-date information on snow and road conditions. 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. As always, hunters should secure permission to hunt private land prior to hunting.
Before going afield, turkey hunters should confirm season dates and other regulations such as retention of evidence of sex. Wild Turkey regulations may be found online at wgfd.wyo.gov or on pages 26-31 of the Game and Fish Commission’s small game and game bird regulations pamphlet, under 2014 Spring Wild Turkey. Hunt Area 1, the Black Hills, is a general area that opens April 12, and closes May 20. General licenses are available online and at all 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 nonresidents. A conservation stamp ($12.50) is also required.
(Contact: Janet Milek (307) 473-3400)