Despite the incredible comeback story of the wild turkey in Arkansas, reports show a statewide decrease in the turkey harvest for the 2004 spring season.
According to the "2004 Spring Turkey Harvest Summary" produced by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas hunters took 16,969 gobblers during this year's spring hunt. This is a decrease of 2,978 birds (or 15 percent) from the previous year's record-high harvest.
AGFC biologist Brad Carner said, "Harvest details, combined with past brood count surveys, indicate a drop in population that is most likely due to poor reproduction the past two breeding seasons.
"With the heavy spring rainfall of 2002 and 2003, reproductive success has been lower than in previous years. The low number of juvenile birds (jakes) harvested (a 9-percent drop from the previous four years) reinforces this theory."
Carner explained that poor reproductive success could have a lasting impact, "In the years following a bad breeding season, fewer jakes will be seen. This dip in population will then carry into the next year with fewer mature gobblers present."
But that's not to say the 2004 spring season was without its high points.
Although the total harvest numbers are down, nine counties in the state reported record-high harvests. Boone, Clark, Clay, Little River, Pike, Prairie, Pulaski, Sevier and St. Francis counties bucked the statewide trend, bringing in more birds than ever.
The 2004 season also marked the beginning of a statewide special youth turkey hunt before the regular hunting season. Hunters under 16 years old harvested an impressive 740 turkeys during the two-day preseason hunt.
Cleburne County took top honors in the harvest with 605 tagged gobblers. Sharp County, last year's most productive, brought in 551 birds to place second in total harvest. Rounding out the top 10 were Fulton, Stone, Pope, Baxter, Independence, Boone, Newton and Van Buren counties.
Among the wildlife management areas supervised by the AGFC, Mount Magazine WMA was the top-producing area with 136 birds. Sylamore WMA, White Rock WMA and Ozark National Forest WMA were all within a few birds of the leader.