It's turkey time in Tennessee

It is turkey time for area hunters. In some states the Spring wild turkey hunting season has already begun. In Tennessee it opens this weekend for youngsters and on April 4 for everyone. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Walk into any nightspot in Chattanooga at 11 o'clock on a Friday or Saturday night (at least before the Corona virus came along) and you are likely to find young men are dressed to the nines. They are breaking out every pickup line they could find on the Internet and using their moves on the dance floor, hoping to impress a young lady.

Now step outside at sunrise and listen closely to the surrounding hillsides and you are likely to hear a turkey gobbler rattling the woods repeatedly. You may not be able to see him but he has his tailed fanned and wings spread, strutting around hoping to prove he is the king of the roost.

That is the turkey equivalent of a pickup line and fancy dance move. If the ladies (or hens) are suitably impressed, they may follow him, or they may not.

People really are a lot like turkeys with males trying their best to show off for the ladies. And spring is definitely in the air whether you're on in a bar or in a deep, dark hollow on the Cumberland Plateau.

If you are a Tennessee turkey hunter with an urge to seduce a lovelorn gobbler, that is where you need to have your youngsters Saturday morning for the special Young Sportsman Turkey season (March 28-29). The Tennessee season opens statewide for all hunters on April 4.

If you are a Georgia counterpart, you were probably in the woods last weekend for the March 21 opener. Alabama also had a March 21 opener in most of the state, although it does vary depending on what part of the state you are in.

Tennessee's Spring wild turkey harvest has been on a very slight declne in recent years. More than 37,000 turkey gobblers were taken statewide (excluding wildlife management areas) in 2010. Last year the harvest was just over 31,000.

In the proposed Strategic Plan for wild turkey management, Tennessee biologists write, "With current harvest data indicating a decline in wild turkey numbers in portions of the state, it is critical to promote management practices that produce optimal cover type conditions for wild turkeys."

However, compared to years gone by, turkey hunters have it good. In 1951 the only wild turkeys taken by hunters occurred in Shelby and Polk counties reported harvesting any wild turkeys. The total harvest was just 14 birds taken during the ten-day season.

However, and aggressive trapping and relocation effort beginning in the 1970's and peaking in the 1990's, restored a huntable population of wild turkeys to every county in Tennessee.

The number of Tennessee counties with wild turkeys increased to 58 by 1979; to 72 counties by 1983; and to all 95 counties by 1990. In all, from 1951 to 2004 TWRA live-trapped and relocated 13,856 wild turkeys creating a self-sustaining statewide population. Restoration efforts were so successful Tennessee became a source for re-establishment efforts elsewhere, including Texas, Maryland and Canada.

In 1989 biologists were disappointed with efforts to re-establish wild turkeys on Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area. At that time, then-Information Officer Clarence Coffey said, "We just don't know why they're not succeeding there when other flocks in southeast Tennessee are doing well."

Apparently, however, biologists figured it out. During the 2019 season hunters took 36 turkey gobblers on Prentice Cooper. This year there are six hunts scheduled for the area:

  • April 7-9
  • April 10-12
  • April 15-17
  • April 23-25
  • April 28 - 30
  • May 1-3

Turkey hunting is typically a solitary pastime, perfect for "social distancing." Learn more about wild turkeys in Tennessee or comment on the proposed strategic management plan on TWRA's web page.