Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

David A. Buehler

Committee Members

Craig A. Harper, Joseph. D. Clark, Roger D. Shields


Many states throughout the Southeast have documented declines in wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) harvest and estimates of recruitment in poult-per-hen ratios. Wild turkey populations are driven by seasonal productivity, so the decline in these parameters may indicate a decline in the overall population. One hypothesis as to why we are seeing a reduction in productivity and a potential population decline is that the spring hunting season is disrupting the reproductive cycle by harvesting too many males before they have had the opportunity to breed, or by harvesting dominant males and disrupting the social hierarchy of the flock. Our objectives for this study were to 1) document the effects of a two-week delay in the opening of the hunting season on wild turkey seasonal productivity; and 2) determine if hunter’s behavior, success, or satisfaction changed in response to the delayed hunting season. We radio tagged 432 individual hens from 2017 to 2022 (623 hen-years) in a Before-After-Control-Impact study design to assess nesting activity and we documented 446 initial nests. Based on AIC model selection and linear mixed effect models, we documented no effect of the season start date on nest incubation initiation (nesting rate, P = 0.83), portion of eggs to hatch from a nest (P = 0.33), or nest success (β [beta] = 0.225, SEβ [beta] = 0.256). Furthermore, we documented no effect on poult survival during the first 28 days of life (Δ[delta]AICc = 10.16), or hen survival during the nesting season (Δ[delta]AICc = 6.945). Additionally, we mailed surveys to the same 2,000 turkey hunters in south-middle Tennessee, USA each year from 2017–2022. Hunters in delayed counties heard 33.6% fewer gobbles per trip (P = 0.03) after the season delay, but hunter satisfaction remained the same before and after the season delay (P = 0.18). We documented no biological reason to support a later hunting season in Tennessee. State agencies should collect vital rate data and analyze the effects of various season start dates before changing the turkey hunting season framework.

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