State wildlife officials want to close the first two weeks of spring turkey season in eight southeastern Oklahoma counties and reduce the number of toms a hunter can kill to just one.
The action is needed to rebuild the Eastern sub-species of wild turkeys in Oklahoma whose population has been dwindling for several years, said Joe Hemphill, southeast regional supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Hemphill suggested at Monday’s meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission that both the hunting season and bag limits be reduced in southeastern Oklahoma. "We really need to do something,” he told commissioners. Not enough commissioners were present at Monday’s meeting for a vote to be taken, so the issue may be debated at the June 7 meeting of the commission. Commissioners Mike Bloodworth and Harland Stonecipher, who represent the southeastern Oklahoma counties where the season would be shortened, wanted to see harvest results from this spring’s turkey season. The counties where the spring turkey season might be reduced to 19 days of hunting are Coal, Pittsburg, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pushmataha, Choctaw and Atoka. In addition, the bag limit in each county would be one tom per hunter, and only one gobbler could be taken per hunter for the entire eight counties combined. All the counties except Choctaw currently are two-tom counties. Population for Eastern wild turkeys in the region were as high as 35,000 in 2005, Hemphill said. Now, the population is estimated at 19,000, he said. "It’s all a downward trend right now,” Hemphill said. Closing the early part of the spring turkey season in southeastern Oklahoma would keep hunters from disturbing nesting hens and help rebuild the population, he said. Hank Elliott, who owns a convenience store and check station in the Pushmataha County town of Rattan, said hunters checked in far fewer gobblers this spring at his store. "This year I’ve got 26 or 27 turkeys, and I usually have close to a 100,” he said.