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Edgefield, SC 29824

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Lots of Hens Don't Mean Fewer Gobblers

Large numbers of hens in the woods can mean lots of hung-up gobblers in the spring, but an abundance of female turkeys only helps gobbler populations, say wild turkey biologists.

With lots of hens breeding in the spring, turkey populations can rise quickly. But turkeys aren't like deer, which can overpopulate a given area and strip it of available food. Because turkeys eat a variety of foods, large populations won't damage their habitat.

"The wild turkey feeds primarily on acorns, waste grain, insects and grasses, which are unlikely to be depleted at the same time," said Dr. Darren Miller, the southern wildlife program manager for Weyerhauser. "A turkey's ability to forage from a variety of sources enables large populations to thrive in small areas."

A high hen-to-gobbler ratio is not a problem for turkey populations. Male turkeys will mate with multiple hens in a given breeding season or even in a single day. This allows many hens to be bred, even when a much lower number of gobblers than hens exists, ensuring an adequate hatch to sustain the population.

Because the success of a seasons' offspring can be directly affected by poor weather in the spring, an abundance of hens can make it easier for a population to recover from poor hatch years. Populations with an abundance of hens have rebounded from poor hatch years in as few as two years, producing more gobblers than areas without an abundance of hens.

"The gobbler population in a given area is directly related to the reproductive success of hens in the population," said James Earl Kennamer Ph.D., the NWTF's Chief Conservation Officer. "Simply put, the more hens there are to be bred, the more gobblers a hunter can expect to see in future seasons."

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