All-Day Spring Turkey Hunting: Right or Wrong?

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

Some say it's okay. Others argue it disrupts nesting and invites poaching.

This season for the first time Maine will allow afternoon spring turkey hunting. It’s been a New England and northeastern management tradition to finish at midday. This perspective, possibly unfounded, is based on the belief all-day spring turkey hunting disrupts breeding, moves hens off nests, puts added pressure on birds and messes with roosting activities.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) states the concern as follows:

One way we try to protect hens in the spring is to restrict shooting hours. The current shooting hours from ½-hour before sunrise until noon are intended to protect nesting hens because incubating hens (hens sitting on eggs in a nest) tend to leave the nest to feed in the afternoon. If hunters are afield in the afternoon, the likelihood that a hen is killed, either accidentally (mistaken for a gobbler) or illegally ("poaching") may increase. The killing of hens, either illegal or accidental, can have serious impacts on turkey populations, and at high levels (for example, if 10% or more of adult hens are killed annually), it will reduce rates of population growth. Unfortunately, these issues are difficult to measure and control, so we limit shooting hours to try to minimize any potential negative impacts.

The NYSDEC also refers to other states in relation to this issue:

Research in states like Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia has shown that poaching can have a negative effect on population growth, but we do not know if "all-day" spring hunting (sunrise to sundown) would result in many more hens being killed either accidentally or illegally. Other concerns related to all-day hunting include disturbing birds when they are going to the roost in the evening, the potential for people to shoot birds while they are roosted in trees at dusk, and disruption of traditional spring hunting activities such as "roosting" birds at dusk (locating birds at a distance by enticing them to gobble while on the roost).

Others disagree – especially in states where they’ve always had it – indicating all-day spring turkey hunting is a tradition and there’s no biological reason to stop hunting at noon as some states like New York do. Back east, those supporting the change indicate it will afford more hunting opportunities – including the ability to take their son or daughter out for a little turkey hunting after school.

As a traveling turkey hunter like many of you, I’ve enjoyed western and mid-south hunts where we could go all day if we wanted – and did. I’ve even chased gobblers in Pennsylvania during the season’s second half when all-day spring turkey hunting is permitted (May 19-31, 2014). Incidentally, the PA Game Commission indicates hunter participation is fairly low during this enhanced opportunity.

Is it the way to go? My father, who introduced me to turkey hunting on a PA ridge all those years ago, jokingly had this to say about all-day spring turkey hunting: “It’s another way to get twice as tired."

What do you think about all-day spring turkey hunting? Right or wrong? Comment below.

Steve Hickoff is Realtree’s turkey hunting editor and blogger. Go here for Realtree’s turkey hunting tips.