Over the next 60 days, the turkey population will receive its annual hit from the thousands of hunters out there looking to fill their tags. Nevertheless, the largest punch to the population has nothing to do with hunters. Weather conditions during nesting season and nest predation are greater than any other factor.
No doubt, turkey hunters in the Carolinas will kill plenty of Thanksgiving dinners this spring; in fact, more than 30,000 gobblers are killed each year in the two states combined.
The largest threat to future turkey populations begins shortly after eggs are dropped. Typically, hens will lay around 10 to 15 eggs, but only three to four will hatch and grow into young poults. Roughly 40 percent of these young birds will survive through the summer. So for every hen, only one to two turkeys will make it to the next season.
While a portion of the poor reproductive success is often attributed to a cold and wet nesting season, the large portion of mortality originates from nest predation. Most people would point their fingers at coyotes for the greatest destruction of nests, but the coyote is far from the biggest threat to reproductive success.
In the Carolinas, the main culprits are raccoons, possums and skunks. These furbearers can sniff out a fresh turkey nest from afar. If they come across a nest, they will consumer every egg. And why wouldn’t they?
A turkey egg has around 140 calories, 10 grams of fat and 11 grams of protein. A nest of 15 eggs has 2,100 calories, 150 grams of fat, and 165 grams of protein. They are packed with energy and are real winner for a lucky raccoon or possum that stumbles across a nest. It doesn’t take long for these animals to catch and make a major impact to the reproductive success of this popular game species.
Hunters and land managers with an interest in protecting nests and promoting the growth of the population should start a trapping program on their properties. Even though the trapping season closes on March 1, landowners can obtain wildlife-depredation permits from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission or the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to control these species. Be sure to follow all laws and protocols under the depredation permit.
Luckily, wild turkeys have the potential to grow massive populations in just one year with the 10 to 15 eggs each hen lays. During periods of good weather and limited predation, the wild turkey population could show a dramatic increase after just one good nesting/brooding season.