TOPEKA (KSNT) – Hunters in Kansas are facing a reduction in hunting opportunities for one of the state’s biggest game animals this year as an impending vote looms.

KSNT 27 News spoke with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) and local turkey hunters about possible upcoming changes to the state’s turkey hunting program. As it stands, turkey hunting in Kansas could be cut in half with the fall season being completely removed and with bag limits in the spring taken down to just one turkey.

These topics will be under discussion at an upcoming public meeting of KDWP commissioners on April 27 at the Wyandotte County Historical Museum in Bonner Springs.

What the experts are saying…

Kent Fricke, small game coordinator with the KDWP, said the turkey population in Kansas has been on the decline since 2007-2008. The turkey population hit its peak at that time and has been falling ever since, following trends seen in nearby Midwestern states.

“The main trend among all the states where we are seeing declines is low reproduction which is not uncommon for a ground nesting bird,” said Fricke.

Fricke pointed to numerous factors which could be contributing to the decline: climate change, weather variables, habitat change, hunting, disease, parasites and predator activity. Of note, he said droughts in some areas and floods in others have played a part in disrupting the reproductive activities of turkeys in Kansas. This has led biologists like Fricke to recommend habitat management to help reverse the decline of the state’s turkeys.

(Photo Courtesy/USFWS)

Bag limits and the time to hunt turkeys have been steadily rolled back since 2017, according to Fricke. Prior to that year, a hunter could bring in up to four turkeys and the time frame for hunting extended over several months.

A report from 2017 shared by Fricke from the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) shows that turkey hunting is a multi-million dollar activity in the western states alone. On average, turkey hunters spend $1,233 per season in various expenses related to the sport, generating additional revenues for the states they are hunting in. In 2015, hunters spent more than $55,000,000 in Kansas alone, according to WAFWA.

Additional statistics shared with KSNT 27 News by Fricke show that the value for the fall season has dropped significantly from 2011 to 2022, reflecting a drop in interest among hunters. Where 12,914 permits and tags were sold in 2011, generating an estimated economic value of more than $10,000,000, only 2,984 were sold in 2022 with an estimated economic value of around $3,600,000.

Fricke said the recommendations to reduce the annual turkey season to the spring and cut the spring bag limit in half have been up for discussion among KDWP commissioners since 2017. He also said that local landowners could help the turkey population spring back by creating habitat for them to live in and support older breeding hens, referred to as “super hens,” so that they can continue to create new generations of turkey.

“There are a lot of opportunities for landowners and members of the public to do additional wildlife management on their property,” Fricke said. “With individual hunters and landowners, good habitat management is where we need to make some strides. The KDWP has a Habitat First program through our wildlife biologists to facilitate wildlife management. We’re certainly happy to have a conversation with those who are open to habitat management on their property.”

(Photo Courtesy/USFWS)

What hunters are saying…

KSNT 27 News spoke to several local hunters for their opinions on the future of turkey hunting in the state. Their responses can be found below:

“We’ve got more issues to look at than just the turkeys, but I don’t think it’ll do any good because it’ll put the hurt on our pheasant and quail population. The only way our bird population will stay up is if we hunt the turkeys.

I think that eliminating the season for fall is not really gonna benefit anything. Turkeys, they hatch pretty quick and grow quick. If we eliminate hunting altogether or reduce bag limits too much we’ll have farmers out there shooting turkeys to protect their crops. Turkeys in a field will cause a lot of crop damage.”

Shawn Frye, Clay Center

“I am all for getting rid of fall turkey. It’s been way overdue. I think if they’re worried about turkey numbers, the fall turkey season is where to start.

I hate to say it, Kansas isn’t really overly developed but some spots are starting to get developed and that’s taking away habitat and I feel that’s contributing to the decline as well. If you go more to the east, Topeka and Kansas City, they’re building almost everywhere.

I wouldn’t mind them dropping the bird limit by one statewide.”

Stephen Capizzi, Junction City

“My primary opinion is, I hope Wildlife and Parks listens to their biologists. Whatever their biologists are recommending from the field, they should do.

The fall season is different than the spring season. I would hate to see that opportunity taken away from sportsmen. I disagree with eliminating the season altogether.

If a limit of one turkey is going to help the turkey population remain sustainable, and that’s what the biologists recommend, then I’m all for it.”

Matt Enoch, Manhattan

“As far as the fall season is concerned, I do have some mixed feelings. One, it certainly can’t hurt anything as far as populations are concerned. However, the fall season is a season of tradition. I do feel like when you take those things away, they don’t come back.

I’m kind of split there. I think we should temporarily get rid of the fall season until we get the population figured out, but I wouldn’t want it to be a permanent solution.”

Jacob Zutterman, Wamego