Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — With last year’s increase in turkey reproduction and a strong start to the 2023 spring turkey season, biologists and staff at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are cautiously optimistic about recent trends in Arkansas’s turkey woods. One trend that still has AGFC game wardens concerned is the continued use of bait by some poachers to illegally shoot their turkeys.
According to the AGFC’s Code of Regulations, hunters, whether on public or private land, may not hunt turkeys with the aid of bait. An area is considered baited if any food (including shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, chops, wheat or other feed that could serve as a lure or attractant for wildlife is present or has been present in the last 10 days. An area must be completely clear of bait for at least 10 days before it is eligible to be hunted.
So far this season, Arkansas game wardens have issued 75 citations or warnings for major violations related to turkey hunting. Twenty-one of those violations were hunting over bait.
“Catching people who are baiting turkeys requires a lot of time and hard work,” Col. Brad Young, chief of the AGFC’s Enforcement Division, said. “There’s a lot of preseason work identifying where the baited areas are, then you may spend a lot of early mornings out there before the violator shows up. It may take several sits before you finally catch them in the act.”
Young says wardens have many tools available to aid in finding baited sites, but the two most important tools are tips from ethical hunters and old-fashioned boot leather.
“We need our sportsmen and women to make those reports if someone is baiting turkeys on property near where they hunt,” Young said. “Even if we can’t catch them in the act immediately, our game wardens take notes and use the information for future operations. Some have sat on a known poacher’s site for a couple of seasons before they were able to catch them in the act, but it’s going to happen eventually. Fellow hunters who care about the resource are the best aid we have in that effort.”
In addition to being unsportsmanlike, baiting can have serious impact to turkey populations.
Baiting carries with it some concerns with disease transmission as well as concerns with nest predation. Studies conducted on nest success in wild turkeys indicate that nests in close proximity to a baited area have higher rates of nest predation than those further from these sites. Raccoons, skunks and other nest predators attracted to the free meal at bait sites were able to more readily find nearby turkey nesting locations, wiping out the chance of a successful hatch.
“A lot of our biologists and wardens, including myself, are avid turkey hunters, too,” Young said. “When a poacher shoots a turkey over bait, they’re stealing that bird from someone who is willing to follow the rules and accept the challenge turkey hunting gives. We take it personally, and so should every other hunter who’s doing it right.”