Friday, July 2, 2021 - In a special meeting June 28, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approved significant changes for wild turkey hunting season dates and bag limits. The changes will become effective for the fall 2021 wild turkey season going forward.
The changes include:
*Restricting the fall archery harvest to one tom only statewide; the fall seasonal limit is one tom only for gun and archery seasons combined.
*Restricting fall gun season method of take to shotgun only in all counties currently open to fall turkey gun hunting.
*Setting spring turkey season dates as April 16 to May 16 statewide.
*Restricting spring turkey harvest limit to one tom only statewide.
*Setting spring youth turkey season as the Saturday and Sunday before opening day of the regular statewide spring turkey season.
Bill Dinkins, the wildlife division chief for the ODWC, provided the department's recommendation to the commissioners after a presentation by Eric Suttles, the wildlife supervisor for the state's southeast region. Suttles' presentation covered wild turkey population declines, hunting statistics and results from a hunter survey that produced more than 5,000 comments – an all-time high for hunter input on a proposed change. The commissioners also received a letter of support from the National Wild Turkey Federation and heard from a hunter who suggested that statewide changes probably were not needed.
Before the staff-recommended proposal was adopted, James Barwick, chairman of the commission's rules committee, made a motion to maintain the one-tom county limit but allow resident hunters to take a second tom as long as at least one of the toms was taken with archery equipment. That proposal also limited non-residents to one tom. Barwick's proposal was seconded but was subsequently voted down 4-3 after some discussion. At that point, a motion was made and seconded to adopt the proposal put forth by Wildlife Department staff, and it was adopted by a 5-2 vote.
ODWC Director J.D. Strong pointed out that commissioners will be able to evaluate the changes after the next fall and spring turkey seasons and make further changes to expand or restrict turkey harvest by resolution at any time.
In other business, the commissioners approved emergency rules to prohibit overnight camping on the Barren Fork Wildlife Management Area.
Monday's special meeting was called after the commissioners tabled the turkey resolution June 7 in the interest of making the most informed decision possible and looking further into the available data and public comment.
After the meeting, Strong said the turkey season rule changes were extremely difficult decisions. “I'm confident that the proposal passed today gives us the best chance of improving our wild turkey population while at the same time providing our hunters with the most opportunity possible.
“I am really grateful for all the great work by our biologists in providing the best data available, the unprecedented amount of public comments from passionate hunters and the thoughtful deliberation by our Wildlife Conservation Commission. We can always review and adjust as we closely monitor reproductive success, hunter harvest and other measures going forward.
“We're also excited to launch over $1.3 million in new research projects that will help augment our understanding of the complex dynamics that go into a thriving turkey population.”
ODWC Assistant Director Wade Free said the tremendous response from hunters to the survey seeking public opinion was very valuable to biologists, commissioners and staff in formulating these rule changes. “We were very impressed with the public's input, which we consider an important part in making the best wildlife management decisions.”
The ODWC has launched a gamebird brood observation app that people can use to help scientists collect data about upland game birds. The app was created by Oklahoma State University and helps track brood survival and hatches of several species in Oklahoma, including wild turkeys. The data helps the wildlife department better forecast hunting season dates and with research.
To download the free app, visit the app store on your Android or Apple device. Search for “Gamebird brood.” Once it is installed, you should find the icon on your home screen. Then, any time you are outdoors and observe a brood, simply open the app and click on the species you saw: wild turkey, scaled quail, prairie-chicken, bobwhite or pheasant.
For your observation report, you will be asked for some information, such as how many adult birds you saw and how many chicks/poults you saw; how many were you unsure of the age; the county of your observation; and if you have any additional comments. Contributors are asked to complete their report in the field on the day of observation, otherwise the data could be skewed.
For more information on the app, email ODWC's upland game biologist Tell Judkins at email@example.com.
*Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission
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