LITTLE ROCK — Strong winds may have dampened the sound of some gobblers last weekend, but there was no dampening the spirit of the youths participating in the 2021 Arkansas turkey youth hunt. Hunters 6 to 15 years old managed to harvest 813 birds between Saturday and Sunday’s hunts.
Jeremy Wood, AGFC turkey program coordinator, says the preliminary numbers are slightly below last year’s total of 889, but well above the 691 birds harvested in 2019.
Not only did the youth hunters do well in spite of breezy weather, the harvest focused on adult gobblers. Wood hopes the trend increases gobbler carryover into next year.
“Even though youths are allowed one immature gobbler as part of their two-bird seasonal limit, 79 percent of the turkeys checked during the youth hunt were mature birds,” Wood said. “Studies have shown jakes contribute very little, if any, to reproductive success in their first year, so the more of these birds that survive the spring hunting season, the better chance they have to breed hens and contribute to reproductive success next year.”
Hunters who look at current checked turkey totals through the AGFC’s website may notice some discrepancies between these totals and numbers available online.
“We have to use two vendors to manage the online checks, telephone checking and checking through the AGFC mobile app,” Wood said. “It can take a few days to update numbers from all the different sources.”
Wood reminds mentors that even though the youth hunt is over they can still take a youth any time during the season. This year, the AGFC enacted a new regulation that hunters may only take one turkey during the first seven days of the regular turkey season, but that does not include turkeys taken during the youth hunt.
“If a youth got a bird during the youth hunt, they can still hunt like normal during the regular season to try for their second turkey,” Wood said. “And with many hunters getting their first bird within the first day or two of the season opener, they may just want to take a youth along to help them get a turkey and share the experience. Getting your first turkey of the year doesn’t even come close to the feeling of helping someone else get their first turkey.”
Arkansas’s regular turkey season opens April 19, and Wood is hoping the seven-day rest between the youth hunt and the opener will allow gobblers to relax from hunting pressure and resume their search for receptive hens. He says the delay also may help hunters’ chances of hearing some gobblers, as many will still be looking for hens that have not yet gone to nest.
“I’ve been hearing reports of birds actively engaged in breeding activity during the past weekend and the early part of this week, which is to be expected,” Wood said. “The bulk majority of breeding activity typically occurs April 10-19. This year, with many females having been bred and actively engaged in laying or incubation behaviors, gobblers should be increasing their gobbling activity to attempt to breed with any remaining unbred hens or hens that have lost an early clutch, right in time for the regular season opener.”
Wood also stresses that hunters should take a good look at the 2021 Arkansas Turkey Hunting Guidebook, as many regulations were changed last year to promote Arkansas’s turkey population while maintaining healthy hunting opportunities.