The board voted to reopen the fall season in six Alabama counties after turkey hunters who opposed the closing addressed the board during a public hearing at Joe Wheeler State Park Saturday.
The board voted to close the fall turkey season at its March meeting, with only one board member, Gary Lemme, director of the Alabama Cooperative Extensive System in Auburn, voting against closing the season in Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Clarke, Covington and Monroe counties.
The board did not vote to open the fall turkey season back to the original dates, but instead give turkey hunters one week to hunt turkeys in November and another week in December. The fall turkey season was previously open from Nov. 21–Jan. 1 each year.
The action of the board to eliminate the fall season in March ruffled the feathers of turkey hunters across the state. They joined forces and gathered signatures for a petition, wrote and called elected officials, and publicly voiced opposition to the closing of the fall turkey season.
“I don’t see why we should give up something that the turkey population supports,” said Kenny Guy of Childersburg, who traveled to Joe Wheeler State Park to address the board about its March 9 decision to close the fall season in Alabama.
He suggested the board not only reopen the fall turkey season in the six counties, but in all counties that the turkey population would support a fall hunt.
“There are groves of turkeys out there,” he said.
Guy said he spends about $500 a year hunting fall turkeys. He said that while the number of hunters is declining, the number of opportunities to enjoy nature is also declining.
He asked that the board reverse its decision and reinstate the fall turkey season.
Talladega attorney Clark Carpenter also asked that the board consider reopening the fall season.
He said N. Gunter Guy, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources commissioner who was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley, was quoted as saying, “We need to have data to support what we do.”
Carpenter said according to the March 9 minutes, the department’s own wildlife biologist, Gary Moody, chief of the wildlife section, told the board there was no biological reason to close the fall turkey season.
“I can’t square those two statements,” he said.
The Conservation Department is starting a “Game Check” program to get real-time information about the number of turkey and deer killed in each county. Conservation officials say this will help determine the health of the deer and turkey populations in individual counties and statewide.
Carpenter said the board cannot collect valuable data to help manage one of the state’s natural resources if the fall hunting season is closed.
He said if the data suggests closing the fall season, the season should be closed, but if the data suggests a healthy turkey population, the board should afford more opportunities for hunters to utilize the state’s natural resources across the state.
“If you close the fall turkey season, how in the world are you going to collect data?” Carpenter asked the board.
Munford resident Johnny Ponder also addressed the board, saying the fall turkey season is a long-time tradition that started with the Pilgrims.
He said personally it is a family tradition that was passed down through generations.
Ponder said his father hunted turkeys, he hunts turkeys and his children hunt turkeys.
He said turkey hunting evolved into a spring sport, but decades ago hunters only hunted turkeys in the fall.
“My daddy would look down on a man who killed a turkey in the spring,” he said, adding that hunting turkeys in the spring is like hunting deer during the rut or mating season — it’s easier.
Ponder said turkeys are much harder to kill in the fall than in the spring.
He also pointed out that Talladega County has a “huge amount of public lands,” the Talladega National Forest, which affords hunting opportunities for anyone, not just Talladega County turkey hunters.
“I’m a public land hunter,” Ponder said.
William Oppenheimer of Mobile said county commissions in four of the six counties unanimously approved resolutions in support of a fall turkey season.
The commissions that passed resolutions in support of the fall turkey season included those in Talladega, Randolph, Clay and Monroe counties.
He said more than 300 people signed a petition in support of the fall turkey season.
Oppenheimer also told the board that Alabama has one of the highest densities of wild turkeys per acre than any other state. He said 40 of the 49 states offer fall turkey hunting.
Oppenheimer said he researched the board’s minutes for the past decade, and there was only limited discussion in board meetings about the closing of the fall season in the past year.
He said there were no “complaints” voiced at any of the board meetings in the past decade.
Oppenheimer also said the conservation’s own surveys prove that the number of turkeys killed in the fall is only a “drop in the bucket,” compared to the number of turkeys killed in the spring.
“The number of turkeys harvested in the fall is so low,” he said. “The trend is clear.”
Board member Grady Hartzog Jr. questioned those who addressed the board Saturday about whether the board should reduce the number of days for spring turkey hunting for the counties that allow fall turkey hunting, but the turkey hunters who addressed the board suggested that more counties should offer fall turkey hunting.
Some members of the Advisory Board has questioned the fairness of allowing fall turkey hunting only in six counties.
Hartzog also said he worried that hunters would shoot turkeys attracted by game feeders, since the board voted to allow hunters to hunt deer near game feeders.
Board member Bill Hatley, who made the motion to close the fall season at the previous March board meeting, said hunters cannot tell the difference between a spring hatched Jake (first-year male gobbler) and a hen during the fall turkey season.
Hatley, who is from Gulf Shores but owns hunting lands in Clarke County, also said he doesn’t agree with the methods used to hunt turkeys in the fall.
At Saturday’s board meeting, newly appointed board member Jeff Martin of Pell City made the motion to open the fall turkey season in the six counties from Nov. 23-30, and Dec. 21-Jan. 1.
“Further, to approve similar dates for those counties for the 2014-2015 hunting year, the exact dates of which will be approved by the Advisory Board at a later date,” Martin read from a prepared written motion. “The above seasons for fall turkey hunting shall be subject to review on a yearly basis, based on data received through the Game Check System and other available information.”
The motion was approved by the board.
Martin also made a motion for members of the Advisory Board to meet with people in the six counties that allow fall turkey hunting.
“I make a motion that the Conservation Advisory Board members representing the six counties of Clarke, Clay, Covington, Monroe, Randolph and Talladega and the Commissioner of Conservation shall, upon request, be committed to meeting with citizens in those counties during the coming 2013-2014 hunting year for the purpose of getting further input on the subject of fall turkey hunting seasons in future years in those counties.”
The board also approved that motion.