Research funded by Turkeys for Tomorrow shows that the timely removal of nest predators before turkey breeding season can significantly impact nest success.
This insight drove the founders of the American Sportsmans Forever organization to put together the Howard Co. First Annual Save The Turkeys Raccoon Tournament. Shane Burr, co-founder and board member of American Sportsmans Forever, said that just seeing a lack of turkeys over the past few years on their hunting properties prompted the group to want to take action and come up with ways they could help. “The predator hunt was centered around getting people to realize that there has been a decline in the turkey population,” Burr said, “We wanted to educate them on some of the reasons, one of which is nest predation, primarily by raccoons. The decrease in the number of people trapping has impacted that.”
Although Burr and the other members are already doing some habitat work on their hunting properties, they felt like putting more effort into predator control would also help. “A friend of mine started trapping a few years ago on his property here in Missouri,” Burr explained, “and in just two years, the number of mature gobblers on that farm has tripled.”
Once the event was planned, group members shared the information on their social media pages to help spread the word. Unfortunately, they started receiving criticism from hunters and trappers on their posts for holding a species-specific hunt that kills one species to benefit another. This caught the attention of Turkeys for Tomorrow (TFT).
“A lot of the country might not have a raccoon problem. But, unfortunately, many people don’t consider that just because something isn’t happening in their area doesn’t mean it’s not happening elsewhere,” explained Chase Grubbs, TFT Director of Operations. “I grew up in Virginia, and we don’t have an overwhelming population of raccoons there. But I moved to Iowa after college, and there is a problem there. If you put a trail camera up on a cornfield, it’s common to have 20 raccoons in a photo. People in the Midwest probably see the same thing on their trail cameras. But I can see where people who don’t have a lot of raccoons may have a negative view of these hunts.”
Turkeys for Tomorrow Steps In
This prompted TFT to get involved as a sponsor of the Save the Turkeys hunt. Through research that TFT has helped fund, there is evidence that although habitat management is crucial to turkey population success, predator management may be a necessary tactic, also. The latest research by Drs. Craig Harper and David Buehler, both with the University of Tennessee, indicates relatively low nest success and poult survival is likely a result of predation, and certain levels of predation may limit a population.
“This study confirms what we’ve long believed. Predators can limit turkey reproduction and recruitment into the fall population. Predator numbers likely are at an all-time high, and they are eating turkey eggs and turkey poults at an alarming rate,” said Ron Jolly, co-chairman of Turkeys For Tomorrow, “The Tennessee study is documenting just how much pressure predators are putting on turkey survival.”
Although that research was in Tennessee, hunters in Missouri see the same thing. With the raccoon hunt, Burr’s goal was to bring some attention to the population imbalance and do something in addition to the habitat work he was already doing. While the group only anticipated about 15 teams for the tournament, the hunting community came together, and 24 teams participated. For the weekend, they registered 990 animals: 40 skunks, 30 opossums, and 920 raccoons.
“These predator roundups are not meant to eradicate the raccoons. They’re to showcase how bad the problem is. 990 predators in one weekend show that,” explained Grubbs, “Habitat management should be the first consideration to benefit wild turkeys and other ground-nesting species. Providing good nesting and brooding cover is essential. However, in some cases, targeted removing of certain predators prior to and during the reproduction period can further help the birds.”
Grubbs explained that in addition to bringing attention to the raccoon overpopulation in his area, American Sportsmans Forever wanted an event to get kids involved. “Kids that participate in these events with hunting and trapping are more excited to continue doing it as they get older. Most of them see their dad out doing habitat work, and this type of event shows them another part of helping. It creates a conservationist, not just a hunter.”
After TFT announced they were sponsoring the Howard County, Missouri event, 14 other people contacted them about sponsoring similar events in other areas. Grubbs said that this type of response shows there are people all over with concerns regarding predators that need to be addressed. “People who are against these events say predator management has no effect on the turkeys, but in many cases, that is not accurate. If there are fewer raccoons in the woods, there are more chances for turkeys.”
TFT continues to contribute to funding multiple research projects in different areas to help multiple species, not just turkeys. As research is completed, TFT will help implement science-driven management through habitat projects and predator control, where necessary. “Our organization wants to educate private landowners and state agencies and fund research through state agencies and universities who all care about turkeys. We want to involve everyone who is interested,” Grubbs explained, “For the private landowners who don’t know where to focus efforts, we can provide the research information to help them.”
If you want to get involved with American Sportsmans Forever, you can follow them on Facebookand Instagram. The not-for-profit is still very new and is working on planning future events in Missouri and other locations.
What steps are you taking on your property to help turkeys? Tell us about your habitat or predator management in the comments.