posted on June 26, 2012 23:03
Spring turkey hunters reported harvesting 15,326 birds during the 2012 season. The statewide harvest was 2% lower than last year's total of 15,698 birds. Very little change was seen in counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains (EBR) but there was a slight decline in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (WBR).
The EBR harvest was essentially stable with a less than 1% increase. The EBR harvest was 10,527 in 2012 compared to 10,429 birds in 2011. In stark contrast, the harvest in WBR counties declined 9%. Last year 5,265 birds were killed in counties WBR, while 4,799 birds were reported in 2012. Fifteen percent of the gobbler harvest was reported on opening day. More gobblers (36%) were taken during the second week of the season than any other week of the season. Reproduction over the past two years has been near average. Little change in the spring harvest between years can be expected with average reproduction and with other population factors remaining similar. Most birds were harvested with shotguns (86%). Rifles accounted for 7% of the harvest while the balance were taken with bows, pistols, and muzzleloaders.
Over the past 10 years the turkey population has declined 1.2% annually. Due to the variation in harvests we now consider the turkey population to be stable. While we consider the statewide population to be stable, turkey populations across the state are not uniform. Based on kill per square mile of forest range, our highest turkey populations are in the tidewater and south piedmont regions. It is interesting to note, many of the counties that received birds (during our trap and transfer program) from Bath County now have higher population estimates than Bath County.
There are many important biological variables that may affect turkey populations and ultimately spring gobbler hunter satisfaction. Food is keenly important as hens need higher energy and protein levels for over-winter survival and for the different phases of reproduction, including egg laying, incubation, and brooding. Last year's mast crops were spotty but hopefully hens were able to build up body reserves. This year, winter and spring weather was exceptionally mild. With mild winter and spring conditions, hens' survival and body condition should have been good.
Spring weather also influences spring green-up which was particularly early this year. Early spring green-up likely provided foods that may have initiated the reproductive process earlier this spring. Some hunters believe the reproductive season was two weeks ahead of normal. Weather can also be a detrimental factor for turkey populations, especially if conditions are wet and cold over several days. In short, over-winter survival may have increased due to good fall foods and a mild spring. Early spring green-up likely resulted in earlier than normal reproductive chronology. The positive conditions for females likely contributed to gobbler survival as well, and should have resulted in better gobbling.
Last year 347 birds were taken during the Spring Turkey Youth Hunt. This year 530 birds were harvested during the Youth Season, a 53% increase over last year. Although young turkey hunters only accounted for 4% of the total harvest, youth spring hunts are a good opportunity to introduce young people to hunting. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also offers a Youth Fall Turkey Hunt and many other opportunities for young hunters to go afield hunting or fishing. The Apprentice Hunter license is a great way to introduce adults to hunting. These incentives will hopefully increase recruitment of young hunters and retention of current hunters. Additional information can be found on the Department's website: www.HuntFishVA.com.