State spring gobbler season forecast promising

The spring gobbler season is fast approaching and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is expecting better harvest numbers for 2015.

Department Wild Turkey Project Leader Gary Norman said, “[The harvest] is mainly based on trying to back-date age classes of birds that will be available to hunters.”

One of the reasons the department is optimistic about the season, Norman said, is due the numbers from the fall harvest.

The fall harvest data report featured a statewide dip in harvested turkeys, which was partially attributed to a larger mast crop of acorns.

“We had a real abundant mast crop, so that’s another reason why I think we’re going to be OK,” Norman said, noting that this high mast crop “contributes to more birds carrying over to the spring.”

A high spring harvest for turkey populations would continue a recent trend that started in 2012. According to The Outdoor Report on March 25, the spring of 2013 was a season with 19,265 turkeys harvested.

In 2014, there was a 9 percent drop in the spring harvest numbers. This trend held true for Shenandoah County, but Warren aw a spike in harvested turkeys from 60 in 2013 to 78 in 2014.

Alongside the spring harvest, the department also conducts its annual Spring Gobbler Survey as a way to track turkey population trends.

Norman said that, for most of the state, the turkey population is “in good shape” and that “some areas of the state” have seen record highs for turkey populations.

“We still have some areas of the state where we’re having problems and we are not certain why,” Norman added.

As a result of research, the department reduced the fall hunting season to two weeks for 11 counties, including Warren.

The fall season for Warren and the additional 10 counties runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7 and, like every county in the state, includes Thanksgiving.

According to Norman, part of the problem with regions such as this could be predation from animals such as coyotes as well as expanding deer populations.

“Coyotes, of course, have really taken off and they’ll be a predator of not only the nest, but of the adult birds as well,” Norman said.

With the spring harvest, however, Norman indicated that it typically does not heavily impact overarching turkey populations since — true to the name — gobblers are the primary focus.

On the same token, Norman also noted that the department is concerned about legally harvested female turkeys as well as hens that are poached or unintentionally shot when being mistaken for bearded gobblers.

“There are a small percentage of females that have beards, so each year there are some females that are harvested legally,” Norman explained.

Norman estimated that “97 percent” of the turkeys harvested each year are males, and are mostly between 2 and 3 years old.

“Typically, you’ll see our best hunting opportunities are when hens are beginning incubate nests,” Norman said. “Generally that is toward the latter part of April.”

Norman said that although there are “other opportunities” for hunting in the season, the first two weekends of the season is a period of “peak gobbling.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com