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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Guys, I had the opportunity to attend this meeting that is mentioned in this article and just wanted you all to know that there are folks trying to make a difference in our population issues. There were some of the brightest minds in a 3 state area discussing our problems and trying to figure what track to take to help improve the present problems.


Are the good ol’
days gone?

After another morning without
hearing a single gobble, Lackey
Stephens looked at me and said, “I
wonder where all the turkeys have
gone?”
There’s a good chance if you have spent
time in the woods of Arkansas, South
Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi or even the
turkey hunting mecca of Missouri during
the last five years you too have asked that
question. Many states, from the lower
Mississippi River Valley to the East Coast,
have reported declines in overall turkey
populations.
The realities of declining reproduction are evident in a number of states. In Arkansas and Mississippi the annual
wild turkey harvest has declined almost 40 percent during the last five years and in Missouri it has dropped 30
percent. Through the various survey methods it is clear that poult recruitment — young-of-the-year birds that
mature into adult hens and gobblers — is also not occurring at a sufficient rate to replace normal population
losses. Most experts agree that a ratio of three or more poults per hen is required for wild turkey population
growth in the Southeast; a ratio of 2.3 poults per hen is required just to sustain the population. In the past five
to seven years, poult recruitment in South Carolina and Georgia has been consistently below 2:1. This is a
serious issue, and the NWTF, along with state game agencies, are doing something about it.
So what is going on? Where have all the turkeys gone?
If you had asked that question five years ago, wildlife biologists would have chalked up declines to predictable
population fluctuation based on weather patterns. Eastern wild turkeys do not reproduce well when higher than
normal rainfall occurs during the peak incubation and hatching periods.
For the most part, population declines earlier this decade were within the normal limits for this type of
fluctuation. Most turkey biologists believed that with just a few “good” weather years wild turkey populations
would bounce back. Unfortunately, expected rebound has not happened even with wetter than normal years in
parts of the Southeast. Now we have a more serious issue that requires forensic research to identify the
underlying reasons for this decline.
The NWTF and its team of biologists have been working with their colleagues in state agencies from the
Midwest to the East Coast to review data, pool resources and share facts and opinions regarding the wild
turkey declines. Most recently a group of wildlife biologists and wild turkey experts met in Arkansas, one of the
hardest hit states, to discuss the issue. As we suspected, the list of potential causes is extensive.
A loss of quality brood and nesting habitat
Most wildlife managers agree that the lack of habitat improvement is the most likely culprit in the wild turkey
population decline. But it’s not just that we aren’t improving habitat at a fast enough pace. We’re losing habitat,
too.
Urban sprawl deprives turkeys and other wildlife of acres. When massive expansion — housing developments,
shopping centers, commercial developments — takes place, such as that occurring around most major cities
and suburbs, the loss of habitat on a landscape scale becomes a prime culprit. Land protection programs, such
as the NWTF’s “More Places to Hunt,” are critical to the continued success of wildlife populations.
This very real habitat issue has crept in like a thief in the night, and many hunters, farmers and even wildlife
managers have hardly noticed it. What’s 20 acres here, or 40 acres there? If you look at aerial photographs
from the 1980s and ’90s and compare them to shots taken today, the loss of many tens of thousands of acres
of wildlife habitat becomes obvious.
Weather
To coin an age-old phrase, “You can’t change the weather!” However, weather has a tremendous influence on
wildlife populations, especially ground-nesting birds such as wild turkeys and bobwhite quail.
While they can’t change the weather, wildlife managers can look at weather patterns and predictions, and
encourage landowners to manage habitat and landscapes accordingly. Some weather patterns are well known
for producing over-abundant rain while others lean toward drought. Proactive habitat management gives youngand old turkeys alike a better shot at survival.
Predators
Predators have been preying on wild turkeys for ages. The reproductive cycles of wild turkeys and other prey
species have evolved to offset the loss to predators. In other words, game species have adapted to maintain
and sometimes increase their populations even under heavy predation.
The NWTF has always encouraged the legal and ethical harvest of fur-bearing predators as part of a holistic
wildlife management program, and it’s still a great idea now. However, far too often hunters accuse predators
of being the “smoking gun” of population declines. In reality, only in the most extreme cases has that been
found to be true. Proven habitat strategies will reduce predation on ground-nesting birds. This is where
landowners and wildlife managers can make a dramatic difference.
Supplemental feeding
In many regions supplemental feeding has been used for decades, and it is gaining in popularity in others.
Well-meaning individuals believe that if they supplement food for game species that those populations will be
healthier — and remain in the area — in the coming year. While supplemental feeding may work in the short
term, it is a strategy fraught with problems.
Concentrating wildlife on a feeding site oftentimes leads to increases in predation and exposure to diseased
animals, and it disrupts normal seasonal movements in the population. It may also expose wildlife to toxins that
grow on the food provided. For example, studies have shown high levels of aflatoxins on corn provided for deer
and other wildlife. Aflatoxins are well-known reproduction inhibitors that can lead to birth defects and organ
damage. Once again, providing better habitat for the year-round needs of wildlife, and not artificially feeding
wildlife, is the preferred approach.
Disease
While wild turkeys can suffer from a variety of diseases, a few sick individuals do not negatively affect
populations in most situations. Unlike white-tailed deer, sick turkeys generally succumb to disease relatively
quickly and do not readily spread the disease to others. And fortunately, wildlife managers as well as hunters
detect wild turkey diseases fairly soon after they strike. So far, no serious outbreaks of disease have been
detected in the areas of the Southeast and Midwest where wild turkey population declines have been reported.
Disease can become much more of an issue anytime weather or human-influenced habitat factors artificially
congregate wild turkeys.
Poaching
The illegal take of wild turkeys does indeed happen, but poaching has not occurred at a rate that would affect
an overall population. Poaching (as well as predation, bad weather, disease or other negative factors)
becomes an issue when populations are already low.
At times when wild turkeys need every adult for reproduction and population growth, the loss of just a few
individuals can inhibit the population. As with disease, unchecked poaching can prevent a turkey population
from rebounding as it would in more favorable conditions.
A change in agricultural and forestry practices
Forests and meadows throughout the afflicted regions, and especially in the Southeast, have matured and lost
much of their value to wildlife. The shade of mature forests chokes out understory plants.
Changes in industrial and public forest management in the 1990s led to a decline in what we call “early
successional” habitats, which is a biologist’s way of referring to new growth, or young forests. They are critical
to nesting and brood habitat. New forests consist of lush ground cover with a ready supply of cover and insects
for growing wild turkey poults, bobwhite quail and innumerable non-game species.
In addition, pastures, small fields and woods openings have also matured into impenetrable thickets of
low-value hardwood sprouts. These habitats provide little to no nesting or brood rearing cover for wild turkeys.
What does the future hold?
The NWTF and our university and agency partners have led the way for more than 30 years as the foremost
authorities on wild turkey research. Here is some of what we know about the issues at hand:
Habitat that is managed to impede predator success is much more likely than predator control to provide
long-term increases in wild turkey populations.

Urban development, land management decisions that impact recreation, and current forestry management
are creating habitat fragmentation, which may improve conditions for predators. Providing large,
homogeneous blocks of nesting habitat and the proper use of prescribed fire reduces fragmentation,
increases nesting success, and reduces the success of next predators.
Grazing regimes that allow time for vegetative cover to mature, especially in larger pastures, increase nest
and brood success.
Improving habitat quality for turkeys by large-scale methods, such as prescribed fire and thinning of
over-stocked stands, may promote the growth of seed-producing grasses and legumes, which are desirable
for seed and insect production. There is evidence that increasing the hen’s nutritional plane increases
productivity, perhaps increasing nest and re-nesting initiation rates, with the potential for correspondingly
greater poult production.
Armed with this knowledge, we are moving forward with habitat improvement in the Southeast and Midwest.
But research is needed to clarify details involving other critical issues, including:
What are the preferred forest management techniques for upland species? These would include the most
appropriate prescribed burning regime and block size, proper thinning techniques to maximize nesting andbrood habitat, and determining the optimal size, shape and density of forested openings and edge habitats.
How does supplemental feeding affect wild turkey populations? How does supplemental feeding affect
predation, disease and decrease breeding proficiencies in wild turkeys?
What habitat modeling techniques are needed to predict loss of critical wild turkey areas and help identify
areas that need to be protected or improved to sustain core populations?
The development of methods for identifying landscape-scale initiatives that will impact more habitat and
attract more collaborative efforts with traditional and non-traditional partners.
So what are the NWTF and our partners doing
about the declines in wild turkey populations?
We’ve partnered with state, federal and local agencies and other
conservation organizations to create the North American Wild
Turkey Management Plan. It calls for strategic planning,
landscape-scale initiatives for brood habitat, increasing forest
openings and opening understory across much of the affected
regions. For instance, in Arkansas, the NWTF state chapter,
NWTF regional biologist, and state and federal wildlife agencies
have identified several key areas of importance that include the
expanded and appropriate use of prescribed fire, the need for
increased timber management on private and public lands and the
expansion and establishment of mast-producing hardwood trees in
areas where this habitat type is limited.
Ongoing and proactive habitat conservation provides the only
holistic and long-term solution that will address all the issues
affecting wild turkey populations. As we move forward we are
faced with more challenges than ever. Restoring wild turkeys was
a tremendous North American success story, but now the
greatest challenge we face is the reality of sustaining these
populations with sound habitat management and protection
measures. These new challenges must be met head on with
sound biological foundation, and we must carry the passion and
commitment of our past efforts in this new direction. — James
Earl Kennamer, Ph.D.
 

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Predators
Predators have been preying on wild turkeys for ages. The reproductive cycles of wild turkeys and other prey
species have evolved to offset the loss to predators. In other words, game species have adapted to maintain
and sometimes increase their populations even under heavy predation.
The NWTF has always encouraged the legal and ethical harvest of fur-bearing predators as part of a holistic
wildlife management program, and it’s still a great idea now. However, far too often hunters accuse predators
of being the “smoking gun” of population declines. In reality, only in the most extreme cases has that been
found to be true. Proven habitat strategies will reduce predation on ground-nesting birds. This is where
landowners and wildlife managers can make a dramatic difference.
I do not understand why the biological community downplays the effect predators have on ground nesting bird populations. The Arkansas turkey study in the 90's proved predation was a very significant factor - in fact - THE most significant factor. From what I understand, the preliminary results of the newest study show the same thing. Tall Timbers, the premier quail study area in the country has identified a direct correlation between predation and quail populations - and this is on an area where EVERY facet of habitat has been maximized for quail production - and still, the predators are responsible for reductions in population. I know quail are not turkeys - but the same things that affect quail nesting also affects turkeys. I understand there is habitat that is better for nesting. But, I think some of these manager overplay the loss of habitat. Sure, ther are shopping malls and subdivisions and new pasture land, etc - that are losses to turkey habitat. That is gone - we can't do anything about that - so forget it. What is all important is the poult to hen ratio in the decent habitat that we have left. I doubt very few hen turkeys fail to attempt to nest - in fact, I believe you could almost assume 100% of the hens will attempt a nest. If your poult to hen ratio is 2:1 - that means one thing - the hens are not successfully rearing a nest. And, there are probably only two things that will destroy an attempted nest - weather and predation. I don't believe weather has as big a factor as predation. Granted, we had some very wet weather during the mid spring - which probably destroyed a lot of nests - but in my part of the state - June would have been very favorable for renest attempts. The weather is not a constant - predators are. There are areas in our National Forests, WMA's and Refuges where the land practices have been static for many years. Most of the timber company leases have experienced the same silvicultural practices for the last 20 or thirty years - yet the turkey populations have fluctated wildly during those times. I think they need to quit paying so much attention to the overall numbers, and concentrate on the nesting success within the areas where we have turkeys. Quit worrying about urban sprawl and the loss of X number of turkey acres. Really, the only number that is important is the poult to hen ratio. You get that number above 3 poults per hen, and sustain it - and your available habitat will be populated with turkey once again. If you have 1000 acres with 100 predators and make the best habitat known to turkeys - guess what - you still have 100 predators - maybe more - because some of the habitat changes may be favorable for increasing predator populations. Those 100 predators still have to eat the same amount of food. You take 1000 acres of average habitat - and you remove 75 predators - a turkey nest has a 300% better chance of escaping detection. Here is a project for the NWTF - go to Caney Creek WMA - 80,000 acres of what used to be some of the best turkey hunting in the state of Arkansas. Split it right down the middle. Spend $40,000 on one half of it for any habitat improvement you desire. Take another $40,000 and pay two trappers to trap the entire fur season on the other half. Do the same turkey study now underway on both of the halves - do this experiment for three years - and compare the poults per hen on the improved habitat area with the poults per hen on the reduced predator area. I know where I would bet my money.:up:
 

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Seems like another head in the sand deal. Add it up like this; 1+1+1+1=4. Predators, poaching, habitat loss, weather equals fewer turkeys. It not that hard. I would love to see actual test results that the AGFC has done on feeder stations for antifloxins. How many were tested, in how many regions, the type feeding going on, weather over the past 4 weeks prior to obtaining samples, type of feed and the real test results. From what I have read concerning other states, feeder stations tested showed less than 5% revealed harmful amounts of antifloxins. It has lead me to think they are looking for something to blame without saying 'sorry guys, we screwed up and waited too long to change things'.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I still say it's 90% the predator, nesting as well as hen predator here in the state. My problem with the supplemental feeding when it comes to affecting turkey is the food this is supplying nesting predators during the winter months helping them to thrive, that is by far the most direct impact it has on Turkey followed secondly by the ambush factor. Lastly would be the alfatoxin factor but at this point that worries me as well with so much being fed in improper ways. We here in Ar do not see the urban sprawl much. Swamp cat said something about hiring trappers in a WMA and see what the effects are in a three year study. No doubt it would be a great increase in poult as well as hen survival. Can we get this done state wide....not at this time. The next step to helping this problem is giving them a better nesting environment to hide in. When you burn a area, that years nesting cover is gone, sometimes for the next 2 seasons in some of the rougher places. You have lost a hatch if they have no cover.....how far will they travel to nest away from their home base area? Not sure. Will they leave and go 3 miles to find cover or lay on the bare ground where they are sure to be found? Not sure. Even when you burn in late season in a mosaic burn it gives the predator specific areas to look for their next meal and makes it much easier for them to find the nest. If you do not burn then the food supply is greatly shortened for all wildlife and nesting areas are lost long term as well. I thought the National Forest were doing well till man got involved and tried to make it better. Seems like the more we try to improve on something the more complicated it gets and the more problems that seem to arise. As far as I know there has only been one sampling of corn done by the G&F across the state and it was at the larger storage facility's many years ago. Bungi or however you spell that, was the worst in the state but still at tolerable levels back then....I think the early to mid 90's. I think Swamp cat mentioned on the other thread about how bad this got in or around 2000, that coincidentally is about the time we saw such a large decline start in turkey numbers. Have anything to do with it? Not sure. Wet cold springs hit at the same time no doubt having a major effect on the poults not to mention the Ice storms those years and the heavy snow. Now, stir all this together and tell me what is causing the low numbers we have been experiencing. All of the above. Now how do we fix that? :confused: I still worry that our numbers are to the low side of overcoming the predator demands we presently have, how do you fix that if we are suppling food for them to thrive on 3 months out of the year. Just look at the camera shots posted, coons everywhere. Fixing this problem is going to have to come back to us as hunters it anything is ever going to get done. We don't want to be regulated but at the same time we do practice methods that may be contributing to a lot of the problems.
 

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A number of years ago, the AR G&F had some type of quail initiative going, and they published a document very similar to this - with maybe 6 or 8 things that they attributed the loss of the quail population. Predation was not included on the list. As far as baiting goes - I guess it is different in every area - but there is no aflatoxin where I bait - there is no such thing as a kernel of corn that lays on the ground for 24 hours - hogs see to that. I do see some benefit in habitat manipulation if we saw a clear relationship between a certain cover type and reduced incidence of nest predation. I know here in Arkansas, haying is a huge nest destroyer - especially of those renest attempts. The first cutting of the year in my area usually occurs in June - prime renest time. I am not letting anyone cut my pasture this year. They got two nests last June - and in my area - that is unacceptable.
 

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Very true. Ground nest predators have increased as a result of feeding and due to a drop in fur prices. But I have only seen 5 coons all year from a stand and I think it was the same 2 twice. No doubt the 'controlled burns' have greatly impacted our ground nesting birds and I am not sure the NFS cares. I fear we are getting more and more folks in our outdoor agencies who are non hunter or anti hunter. What better impact can they have than to provide fewer animals for hunters to hunt.

As I said before I have problem doing away with dispensing grain as bait. It will make it tough to get and keep many folks interested in deer hunting.
 

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I still worry that our numbers are to the low side of overcoming the predator demands we presently have, how do you fix that if we are suppling food for them to thrive on 3 months out of the year. Just look at the camera shots posted, coons everywhere. Fixing this problem is going to have to come back to us as hunters it anything is ever going to get done. We don't want to be regulated but at the same time we do practice methods that may be contributing to a lot of the problems.
How about we sell corn infected with Parvo Virus - take out all the coons and yotes:thumb: Just kidding, of course. This is a tough one - we have discussed at length and there is no easy answer. I, too, worry that in many areas our turkey populations have fallen past the point of recovery. I used to love to quail hunt, and i witnessed the demise of the quail population - and i heard the same argument "just a couple good nesting seasons in a row and we will be right back where we were". That never happened - even with some good weather during nesting season. NWTF needs to cut a tidy check to Jennifer Annistan to wear a coonskin coat and Justin Bieber to where a coonskin hat. Coons would be wiped out in the course of one trapping season.
 

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As I said before I have problem doing away with dispensing grain as bait. It will make it tough to get and keep many folks interested in deer hunting.
Although I do not ethically support hunting over a corn pile, and do not do it myself, this is the very reason I am somewhat supportive of the use of bait. It is about hunter recruitment and retention. But this one may be a double edged sword.
 

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I am not exagerating when I say there are 10 times more coons now than in the late 70s and early 80s. This is about when the fur market began to go down substantially. Plus alot more grey fox, bobcat, and coyote. When you add that with massive clear cutting which in a few years is so thick only a deer or rabbit can get through it- Plus this creates prime predator habitat not prime turkey habitat. The odds of a poor hen trying to have eggs on the ground for 4 weeks without being molested is really not good odds at all. You dont have to get together an intelligent think tank to see the problem.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I am not exagerating when I say there are 10 times more coons now than in the late 70s and early 80s. This is about when the fur market began to go down substantially. Plus alot more grey fox, bobcat, and coyote. When you add that with massive clear cutting which in a few years is so thick only a deer or rabbit can get through it- Plus this creates prime predator habitat not prime turkey habitat. The odds of a poor hen trying to have eggs on the ground for 4 weeks without being molested is really not good odds at all. You dont have to get together an intelligent think tank to see the problem.
No but you may have to have one to figure a way to help correct it.
 

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Swampcat is right about the Caney Creek WMA theory on trapping. They did the same exact study on duck hatching and found that the areas that were heavily trapped had a far better hatch rate than the area that was completely left alone. Of course the issue of cost could be a problem. I think it would be wise to heavily trap or bring in some good silent mouth coon dogs in prime turkey areas and work them over. Just a shame there is not a decent demand for fur.
 

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There is no way of knowing the exact amount of predator increase but there is no doubt that it is substantial enough to do an enormous damage on nesting birds. I took a heck of alot of coons during the 70s and 80s because of the fur value. Now I dont even consider taking one. As far as habitat management, areas like south Arkansas that have predominately large tracts of timberland are not going to change their practices of timber harvesting. I think an increase in fur values that would give the trapper and hide hunter an incentive to get out there after them is the only remedy I can think of and with anti hunters harassing people wearing fur, that does not look good for us either
 

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Thompson, thanks for posting a summary of the Turkey Hunting magazine article. It is thought provoking which is good but I feel what SwampCat says has validity as well. He seems to be saying predation is a larger part of the problem than some believe. I think that is true and although wild turkey and other prey species have always had predators to contend with maybe not the same extent. However, poor habitat is critical in their decline and I believe the lack of trapping of the less obvious predators than coyotes and bobcats, i.e. skunks, raccoons, feral hogs, etc., plays an improtant role as well.

Thanks to both you and SwampCat! Hopefully, by trying several concurrent strategies the wild turkey populations decline will be reversed.

Steve/"Dermott"
 

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Thompson,
Thanks for sharing. I am glad that various state agencies are attempting to work together or it's at least on their radar. I hope more continues to be done to work on a solution.

I know we have discussed the predation issue in great length on here and I am not suprised by the statements that habitat is the key. As a foundation the proper habitat does have to exist, but like several of you have mentioned, I am not sure of any point in the past that we have the presence of this many predators. Several of you (I won't name names) have been around longer than some. Would you agree that the predator numbers of today far outweigh the number of predators at any point since the reintroduction of turkeys? SwampCat had a perfect illustration that no matter how awesome the turkey habitat is an overabundance of predators will be damaging on any ground nesting bird. Do they take into consideration how many new factors are involved today, that may not have been as prevalent in the past and that may make the damages of predation that much more magnified in today's world...... baiting, timing of burns, aflatoxins, chicken litter, low fur prices, consecutive wet springs, etc.? As the article states, those are all in consideration, but do they consider how that changes the importance of balanced predator populations more so than at any other time in the past? I don't think so.

I can't say enough how much I agree that habitat is vital. But, notice that in that article it is mentioned as a long term answer. With all the other factors that may not have been as prevalent 20 or 30 years ago, how effective is that as an answer alone? I just don't see that. I agree in the long term in a perfect world habitat will eventually level out the predator population, but this isn't a perfect world and it's very difficult for the turkeys to gain a foothold. Short term work can help.

As far as the fur industry goes, we can indeed blame that on a lot of liberals, such as celebrities that too many common folks put on a pedestal as being far more superior and important than they actually are. Thank you Pamela Anderson, but no thanks. I just worry if that market will ever be viable again to the point of driving fur prices high enough to stimulate a major increase in trapping and furbearing.

Like Thompson said, at this point it boils down to concerned TURKEY hunters working together not only separately, but also collectively to make a difference. Maybe biologists don't promote predator control, but that doesn't mean with the current hunting and trapping opportunities that we can't do it ourselves. And that's out of a need to protect the resource we have and not for what money we earn doing it.

I know I often defend the AGFC as not being the reason our turkey population has suffered and I will continue to do that. I don't agree with alot of what they do, but season regulations have not got us where we are today. Though some policies have contributed, such as liberal baiting. This article Thompson shared is a reminder that it's not only Arkansas that has taken a hit, but many other states in the south and south east. So, we can play the blame game on all those other state agencies as well. I guess those other department of wildlife agencies, such as Missouri and Mississippi, suddenly don't know how to manage turkeys either. So, keep that in mind when we are wanting to bash the AGFC as the culprit of demise for our turkeys. Like the article stated and SwampCat illustrated, it's about the success of the hatch and ideal poult/hen ratios.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Very Good take on that article. Again as I said earlier, I feel some old school remedies may need to be upgraded in our particular case. Habitat is key but there may have to be other action taken as well before we see some positive results..
 

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We can read all the studies out there print plenty more but until the jerks in the seven positions we all fuss, cuss and discuss on here and every where else get a grip on the situation it all means more of the same .....less is more is their motto
 

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I don't think there is a lot of feeding that takes place in the Caney Creek WMA and yet the birds are just not there like they used to be. There has been no urban sprawl there, no housing developments, no clear cutting to speak of, don't think the weather has been any worse or better there. Just not the number of birds there that there used to be back in the 70's/80's. I know there are large packs of coyotes, lots of coons and other predators. Need more liberal seasons on predators, bounties on coyote and coons and other predators. AGFC is so anal that someone is going to take a 30 cal gun onto a wma when it is not deer season, need to get over that. Need to view sportsmen as partners and not always the enemy.
Private lands, a different story......our deer lease is almost void of hardwoods, pine thickets everywhere. When we had large stands of hardwoods and of large stands of tall pines we had more birds. Again, predators everywhere, coons, coyotes, bobcats, need more liberal predator seasons and bounties.
 
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