NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Spring turkey hunting season kicks off this weekend with new rules you’ll want to know before you hunt in Tennessee’s wildlife management areas.

Saturday, April 15 is the start of turkey hunting season. If that seems a little later than years past, that’s because it is. The state delayed the hunting season by two weeks and reduced the number of turkeys you can bag from three down to two. The goal is to make the nesting season longer and prevent the population from declining even further.

“There have been some areas that we are aware of that we’ve seen some steep declines in populations,” said Roger Shields, the wild turkey program coordinator with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). “This is another measure to try and stop the decline.”

In the last few years, Shields said more than 60% of hunters have reported seeing less turkeys.

“We’ve also seen productivity in terms of reproduction declining,” he said. “And it’s a few years now where we had it below where we feel it’s necessary to maintain a stable population.”

So what’s causing Tennessee to lose its turkeys?

“Well, that’s the million dollar question, I suppose,” said Shields.

Wildlife experts have some ideas. First, predators like bobcats and owls have taken their toll on the turkey population. Also, extreme flooding on the Mississippi River a few years ago did some serious damage to the turkey population in West Tennessee. In addition, Tennessee just not really being an ideal home for baby turkeys, called poults, to survive, because many of our forests are too dense and our pastures are too open.

“We really need something in between where it’s a little bit open where poults can run around through the vegetation but high enough that they have cover overhead so they can be hidden. And we just don’t have as much as that as we probably need to really support the populations like we want,” Shields said.

If you look back over the decades, there hardly used to be any turkeys in Tennessee. In the 1950s, only a few counties had them. However, thanks to conservation efforts, the turkey population boomed in the 2000s and peaked in 2010.

Another new rule: ‘Fanning’ is not allowed. That’s a technique when hunters hide behind a decoy that looks like a turkey. The state said the change is to prevent hunters from mistakenly shooting a fellow hunter.

“We don’t want any kind of accident where somebody shoots at a tail fan thinking there was  a turkey there and ended up hitting another hunter,” said Shields.