116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The mysterious nationwide decline in wild turkey numbers may not be all that noticeable in Iowa this spring.
“In most parts of the state we’ve had good production in each of the last two years,” said Jim Coffey, the Department of Natural Resources turkey, deer and forest wildlife biologist.
That suggests Iowa turkey hunters will see plenty of 2-year-old gobblers and year-old jakes when the spring seasons open next month, which is good news for hunters like me, whose skill level is barely good enough to dupe the credulous youngsters.
For the past decade Coffey has recognized Iowa’s wild turkey population has been slowly declining from its peak. Signs, he said, include turkeys missing from usual haunts and fewer of them where they still reside.
Research is underway in several states, including Iowa, to pinpoint causes of the decline, which likely include the usual suspects — disease, predators, weather and both loss and deterioration of habitat.
In the meantime, Iowa turkey hunters can expect to do at least as well as they did last spring, when 52,000 hunters harvested 11,500 birds for a 22 percent success rate, Coffey said. Last season’s harvest, he said, is consistent with the five-year average.
While archers can hunt continuously through the four spring turkey seasons until they fill their tags, shotgun hunters must, for their first tag, choose one of the four seasons, each of which has its distinctive characteristics.
During the first season (April 11 to 14 this year) hens are typically not ready to breed, Coffey said. That enables hunters to take advantage of enthusiastic young males, which are sometimes too willing to believe in the authenticity of artificial calls and decoys. First season hunters also enjoy the advantage of pursuing prey that has not been harassed by humans for several months, he said.
During the second and third seasons (April 15 to 19 and April 20 to 26) hens feel the procreant urge and become much more receptive to gobblers’ attention, Coffey said. This part of the mating season, in which gobblers (often described as “henned up”) become less vocal and expect hens to come to them, can present challenges for hunters, he said.
The odds again favor the hunter during the fourth season (April 27 to May 15), when most hens spend much of their time incubating eggs, leaving the still randy gobblers increasingly susceptible to hunters’ blandishments.
Coffey, who prefers the first and fourth seasons, said he is a minimalist turkey hunter, by which he means he carries little gear and does little calling.
“I started hunting turkeys before decoys were legal and have always regarded them as just something extra to carry,” he said. As for calling, “the less the better,” he said.
Coffey cites basic turkey biology — the gobbler’s instinct to wait for the hen to come to him — as justification for minimal calling.
I strictly limit my calling because I know I’m no good at it. My calling routine typically amounts to no more than a couple of clucks in response to early morning roost gobbling and a cluck or two when I spot a tom turkey coming my way.
If the tom is one of those first-season, 2-year-old rookies eager for his rite of passage to gobblerhood, that’s all it takes.