PENDER COUNTY (WECT) - It is not as popular as deer hunting in North Carolina, but the 2014 Spring Wild Turkey season, for male and bearded turkeys only, is now underway. And because of a restoration effort that a state agency took on years ago, the turkey population in once again plentiful in the Tar Heel state.
The season began last week, with youth week and opened for everybody Saturday, April 12.
Wyatt Potter, 12, was one of those who took advance of youth week by going hunting for a turkey several days. On opening day last year he nailed a 20 lb. gobbler that had a 12" beard, and he is hoping to get another one this year.
Turkeys were plentiful in North Carolina, but by the turn of the century, few turkeys remained in the Tar Heel state, primarily due to unregulated hunting and habitat destruction, and the decline continued into the 1960s.
But wild turkeys are once again common in North Carolina and can be found in every one of the state's 100 counties, thanks to a restoration program implemented by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that involved live-trapping and relocating wild turkeys from other states.
"In 1977, when they first started regulating big game report cards, there were only 177 wild turkeys registered," said Clayton Ludwig, an Officer with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "And if you compared that to last year's numbers, there were only 18,000 wild turkeys harvested in North Carolina" said Officer Ludwig.
Since restoration efforts have begun, North Carolina's population has jumped from 2,000 birds in 1970 to over 150,000 in 2009. Wild turkey populations are still growing in many portions of the state.
But it is more than hunters that are on the prowl for wild turkeys. Without a natural predator, coyote populations in North Carolina are freely expanding, and wild turkeys are easy prey. That's why the Wildlife Resources Commission has relaxed their rules on coyote hunting.
Officer Ludwig says, "the last couple of years, we have loosened the regulations on coyotes and a lot more people are harvesting them. They are open year round, you can harvest coyotes year round, and a lot of people have encounters, whether they are turkey hunting or deer hunting so that opens up the door so they can harvest a coyote at any time."
It is hoped that controlling the coyote population and continued strict enforcement of turkey hunting regulations, both will be able to live in Mother Nature's complex relationship that is found in the fields and woods of North Carolina.
The spring wild turkey season, again for males and bearded turkeys only, continues thru May 10.
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