Turkey permits to be issued by state’s Forest Service

Turkeys walk along the tree line on Horsepond Road, Dover, in late October. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

Another change to hunting policy this year is that the Delaware Forest Service will be issuing their own turkey hunting permits instead of doing so through DNREC as they have in previous years.

It was announced last month that permits to hunt turkeys in state forests will be issued through a separate lottery starting in the 2019 spring season. The 2019 Delaware turkey hunting season runs for four consecutive weeks from April 13 to May 11, with a special youth and non-ambulatory disabled hunter day scheduled for April 6.

Turkey hunters will be able to request a permit for Blackbird State Forest, Taber State Forest and Redden State Forest. Hunters may also indicate their request for preferred weeks and locations.

The change will now provide hunters with up to two weeks of permitted turkey hunting: either at a DNREC Wildlife Area or a Delaware State Forest. State forest hunting is still free to the public and requires no separate usage fees. The DFS receives no funding from income generated by hunting license and registration fees. Despite the change, all previous turkey hunting license and registration requirements will remain in effect: harvested wild turkeys must still be registered through the state turkey hunting check stations. Hunters are also required to complete a turkey hunting safety education course.

Although seemingly a small policy change, DFS is rolling it out as the first step in a five-year plan to help support and grow the turkey population in the state’s public forests.

“We’re taking over the permitting process so we’ll have access to the hunters who use the state forest so we can build a relationship with them and get their feedback,” said Kyle Hoyd the department’s assistant forestry administrator. “We weren’t able to do that before because of DNREC’s standards, but now we can communicate with hunters and survey them on things like when and where they’re hunting and suggestions on how to improve the hunt.”

DFS has taken note lately that the turkey population has been dwindling in state forests while their natural predators are flourishing at the same time.

“We’re hoping the hunters can give us feedback that will lead to better land management and creation of more turkey habitat through things like clear-cutting and installing food plots,” said Mr. Hoyd. “Down in forests like Redden, we’re not seeing turkey populations thrive like they once did and we don’t know if it’s environmental or predator-related. We are seeing a lot more foxes and raccoons though, who are their main predators and can have a huge impact on nesting turkeys and their eggs.”

Well-placed “clear-cuts” can help build turkey habitat, said Mr. Hoyd.

“We already do some clear-cutting, but we’d like to go in and do more spread out small acre clearing which can be great for turkeys and install more food sources — that can also help support the deer population,” said Mr. Hoyd.

Pending feedback from hunters, Mr. Hoyd also says the DFS is considering opening the forests to trapping to target predators.

“We’re hoping to open up trapping for foxes, raccoons and other predators soon,” he said. “It’s what DNREC currently does on state land, but we’ve never really thought is was necessary until now where we are seeing a lot more predators than turkeys.”

Essentially, the permits themselves will be the same as DNRECs, but they’ll be obtained either at a state forest office or from the Department of Agriculture’s website.

In addition, the DFS will use a system that allows hunters to call in if they no longer need their permit so it can be reassigned to another individual on the waiting list. This was developed in response to a lack of hunters during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The DFS will also provide hunters with a survey card they will need to fill out to apply the following year that includes questions on how many turkeys they saw, days hunted, what tracts they hunted, etc.

This year, state forests will also be participating in all antlerless deer hunting seasons to respond to increased reports of deer-related crop damage. Also, they have plans to open new, deeper sections of forest roadway to allow hunters to drive their vehicles further into state forests.

For more information regarding the changes or to obtain a permit application, visit agriculture.delaware.gov/forest-service/.

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