This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.
GRANT: Missouri’s trapping season ended recently, and we’ve had the best results we’ve had to date.
GRANT: When I dispense of an animal, I usually move it right off my trap site because I think I’ll catch more raccoons here. So there’s this nice shield here because this raccoon would bite me if they could at all. So, I can pick it up safely here…
GRANT: For years I’ve taught our staff and interns how to trap. And now Daniel has joined the tradition and he taught Tyler and Tyler is teaching our current interns, Nigel and Carter.
GRANT: I strongly believe all wildlife biologists and property managers need a lot of field experience. In fact, I think it’s just as important as course work. And that’s why we have an internship program.
TYLER: …side counting on thermals, sucking that scent across and any critters that are going up and down the road will always smell that and come up to the trap.
GRANT: Several of our trapping techniques can be learned at our Trapping and Hunting Predators playlist on the GrowingDeer YouTube channel.
GRANT: Here at The Proving Grounds we primarily trap in an effort to reduce predator numbers so prey populations can survive and even thrive.
GRANT: (Whispering) Take care of her, mama.
GRANT: Given we’ve been trapping for more than a decade and we just had our best season to date, we clearly are not removing all the predators in the area.
GRANT: This is primarily because yearlings of most predator species disperse during their first fall and there’s very little trapping on properties surrounding The Proving Grounds.
GRANT: Research has shown that the best time to remove predators, if your goal is to increase the survival of fawns and poults, is right before and during fawning and nesting season. Unfortunately, in Missouri trapping season stops at the end of January and that leaves several months for predators to maybe move back in before that critical fawning and nesting season.
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GRANT: The turkey population here at The Proving Grounds is thriving even though Missouri and many states are reporting a decline in turkey populations and turkey harvest.
GRANT: In fact, the Missouri Department of Conservation reported a .8 poult survival rate in 2018. That means there’s less poults surviving than there are hens, and when that happens, the turkey population is going to decline.
GRANT: Fortunately, here at The Proving Grounds, based on trail camera pictures, our turkey numbers are increasing.
GRANT: There are many theories among researchers as to why turkey populations are declining throughout many states. These theories tend to be based around major rain events right during the nesting or young poult season, decreasing habitat and even disease.
GRANT: Unfortunately, we can’t control the timing or magnitude of rain events, at least in the near term, and we certainly don’t have a lot of evidence indicating that disease is a major factor.
GRANT: A subject that is not getting a lot of attention is the substantial increase in predator populations.
GRANT: I’ll use data from Missouri as an example, but the trend is the same throughout much of the turkey’s range.
GRANT: As the demand for fur products has declined, so has the number of trappers and, maybe a better indicator, the number of fur dealer permits that have been sold in Missouri.
GRANT: The decrease in demand for fur products has also resulted in a tremendous decrease in the price of raw furs.
PETE: Right now, there’s no market for them. Right now, two bucks. See, I mean, it’s just…
TYLER: Now, if the market goes back up, you can get out of…
PETE: Yeah. Hmm, hmm. Well, I have seen these things bring 30, 40 and 50 bucks.
TYLER: A piece?
TYLER: Oh, wow.
PETE: Hmm, hmm. Yeah. Hmm, hmm. You know, when they’re – when they’re like that, everybody and his brother are picking them up off the highway and everywhere else.
PETE: Now, then, you drive down a road, I mean, or this fall, this winter, how many you’ve seen lying beside the road? Nobody will pick them up.
GRANT: This is almost certainly the reason the number of predators has increased significantly during the past few decades. And that’s compounded even more when you understand that the amount of habitat for predators has decreased, but their numbers have increased.
GRANT: This graph is from the 2018 Furbearer Project Annual Report by the Missouri Department of Conservation. This trend is shocking when considering not only the increase in numbers but a significant increase in predators per square mile when you consider the loss of habitat. And unfortunately, the trend is the same for opossums which are also known to be another very significant turkey nest predator.
GRANT: I’m not aware of any data about rain events, disease detection or anything else that matches the decline in turkey populations as well as the increase of predator numbers.
GRANT: A good friend of mine and fellow Missourian, Daniel Appelbaum, created this graph.
GRANT: He took turkey harvest data from the State of Missouri and plotted on top of that the percent of average rainfall during the month of May for each year. He plotted the rainfall events from the previous year. So the following year, there should either be a higher or lower turkey harvest depending on if there was above or below average rainfall. But no matter, there’s clearly no relationship shown between rainfall events or droughts and average turkey harvest.
GRANT: At a minimum, I believe these numbers show that rain events are not the sole explanation for the decline of turkey harvest in Missouri.
GRANT: Even without major rain events, it almost always rains a time or two when turkeys are nesting or raising poults here in Missouri.
UNKNOWN: (Whispering) You good? Are you good?
GRANT: If you’ve ever tagged a turkey during or just after it rained, you know how much a wet turkey smells. Now imagine a hen coming or going to her nest, or sitting on that nest, or being with young poults right after or during a rain and a predator getting downwind. It wouldn’t take much for that predator to smell the prey and go to it.
GRANT: Turkey hens usually lay one egg a day for ten or more days. And then they incubate those eggs – they stay on the nest – almost all day long for 28 days.
GRANT: Once those eggs hatch, it’s 14 more days before the poults are large enough to fly up into a tree during the night and avoid predators.
GRANT: Even if a wild turkey hen only laid one egg, stays with ‘em through incubation and until that poult is able to fly, that’s more than 40 days being on the ground. Now, if she laid ten eggs, that’s over 50 days, and during that time, if it rains once and a raccoon or opossum goes downwind, you can see why there’s such a low survival rate of turkeys when predator numbers are high.
GRANT: Based on the data and biology I’ve shared, it’s no stretch to believe that predators are a major factor in the decline of turkey populations in many states.
GRANT: The sky isn’t falling. There are many examples of good land managers and turkey hunters doing a great job of providing high-quality habitat while reducing predator numbers and having thriving turkey populations.
GRANT: This trapping season, we used a combination of Duke box traps, their dog-proof traps and their 550 coyote traps in an effort to reduce predator numbers here at The Proving Grounds to a level where turkeys and songbirds would have a good chance of producing a lot of offspring.
GRANT: For years, I’ve shared my concern of declining turkey populations with Bill Duke, and this year Bill is offering some great discounts to GrowingDeer viewers in an effort to help all of us improve turkey numbers.
GRANT: With the combination of trapping and working to improve the habitat, the turkey population is thriving here at The Proving Grounds and I can’t wait to bring you more successful turkey hunts this spring.
GRANT: Now is a great time to do some early scouting for turkeys, work on a turkey habitat improvement project, or simply get outside and enjoy Creation.
GRANT: But the most important thing you can do every day is be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.