By now, most Arkansas hunters know that the quality of the turkey hunting is down in the Natural State. According to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission figures, we killed 9,724 birds during the 2008 season, down 12 percent from the 11,069 taken in 2007. By some accounts, as many as 400 harvested birds were actually left out of the 2008 figures, but even if you add those in, the number was still lower than in the preceding season. In fact, 2008 was lower than 2007, which was lower than 2006, which was . . . well -- I think you get the picture! The fact is that our harvest numbers have declined annually since 2001.
As a result of this decline, the AGFC instituted a shorter season in 2005, and then followed that up by deleting even more days in 2007. The agency also opened the season later, in hopes that more hens would be bred before hunters hit the woods.
Unfortunately, those changes in season length may have come too late. According to the AGFC management staff, gobbler carryover began to decline when those longer and earlier seasons were first initiated back in 2001.
According to AGFC turkey biologist Mike Widner, those initial changes to season length for 2005 and 2006 weren't enough to reverse the trend in poor gobbler carryover from previous seasons. Add that to the fact that brood surveys have indicated a decline in young turkey production over the last six years, and you begin to see how we got where we are.
So what's the AGFC doing about it? At the September 2008 commissioners' meeting, the "turkey team" recommended a season framework basically the same as 2008. Widner stated that "the best way to achieve long-term harvest goals is to utilize a short later season," adding that "the data we have strongly supports that conclusion." Widner went on to say that "it is going to take at least two years of good turkey brood production before we see a significant increase in turkey numbers and turkey harvest." Since the cold hard fact is that we haven't seen one good year yet, and early indications are that 2008 will be one of the lowest on record, it would seem prudent to try to figure out why lower brood production is occurring.
Likewise, the AGFC faces a contingent of hunters who oppose the implementation of any plan that decreases the number of hunting days on the calendar. Though it may be necessary in this case, many hunters promote the examination of alternative solutions before a shorter season is adopted.