Fall turkey gun season opens October 16 and runs through the 29th, and significant changes in regulations enacted last year remain in effect.
One of the carry-over changes is the continued protection of fall hens.
At one time, hens could be taken during the fall season – as many as six per county in most Middle Tennessee counties – and some believe that over-harvesting contributed to the drastic decline in turkey populations in recent years.
Now only bearded birds (normally males, but bearded hens are legal) can be taken in the fall, and only one per county.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency biologists originally theorized the killing of hens in the fall would not adversely impact the population. Yet hens are protected during the spring mating and nesting season, making it a puzzling policy, since a hen killed in the fall is one less to mate and nest in the spring.
Last year the TWRA changed the policy to prohibit the killing of hens in the fall. It also reduced the liberal six-turkeys-per-county limit to one per county, and it has to be bearded.
The fall season has been discontinued in several counties in which turkey numbers have declined, including Giles, Bledsoe and Wayne in Middle Tennessee.
Although the state-wide harvest was robust during the spring season, turkey populations remain down in many areas, and biologists don’t know why.
The TWRA is in the midst of a five-year study of the problem, and recently announced a banding program as part of the effort. The plan is to trap, band and release hundreds of male turkeys. Any hunter who kills a turkey with a band on its leg is asked to contact the TWRA so it can collect the data.
The “tag before you drag” regulation remains in effect this year for turkeys and deer. Before being transported from the field a harvested turkey or deer must be checked in via mobile device, or have a paper kill tag attached, then later checked in at a station or on the TWRA website.
Details, including information on how to print out paper kill tags, are available at www.tnwildlife.org.