The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announced a total of 18,860 turkeys harvested in Virginia during the 2017 spring gobbler season.
The 2017 harvest was 9% higher than the 2016 harvest. This year’s harvest was the third highest harvest in modern times. The record harvest occurred in 2015 where 20,580 birds were taken. The second highest harvest occurred in 2013 (19,265 turkeys). These record, or near-record setting, season harvests support data showing that wild turkey populations are at record levels for modern times.
Virginia’s wild turkey has increased 2.7% annually over the past 10 years. However, with moderate reproduction over the past five years, the turkey population has plateaued near these record levels. Crude population estimates put Virginia’s turkey population at a range between 185,000 – 195,000 birds.
Although the spring harvest increased nine percent, annual changes in spring harvest must be viewed cautiously because of the influence of unpredictable environmental and biotic factors. Hunters encountered unusually warm conditions in the early and middle weeks of the 2017 season.
In contrast, spring hunters faced cold, windy, and wet weather in the early weeks of the 2016 season. Both circumstances, unseasonably warm or cold, may serve to suppress hunting success rates.
Between the two extremes, unseasonable warm weather may have been a better alternative for hunters as the 2017 season posted a gain.
The warm weather did not hold throughout the season as cold and wet conditions prevailed at the end of the 5-week season. The worst weather scenario, cold and snow, greeted hunters in some western highlands near the end of the season.
The harvest on Saturdays accounted for 30% of the season bag while the harvest on Sundays accounted for 12% of the season total. Clearly, weekends contribute significantly to our spring harvest and the weather can moderate hunter success on these key hunting days. The proportions of the total harvest that occurred on Saturday’s and Sunday’s this year were nearly identical to 2016.
Youth and Apprentice hunters took advantage of their Weekend Season and tagged 627 birds, a five percent increase over 2016. Recruiting new hunters is a key expectation noted in our Wild Turkey Management Plan growing the Youth and Apprentice Season harvest to a higher level is a positive sign.
Two-year-old birds typically make up an important component of the harvest as these young adults are believed to gobble frequently and respond to hunters’ calls more than any other age class. Therefore, good reproduction two years prior to the spring season is believed to be an important foundation for harvests and gobbling activity.
Recruitment in 2015 was near the survey average so little change in the 2017 harvest was expected.
Virginia’s public lands are an import destination for many resident and non-resident hunters. With 1,664,110 acres of land in Virginia, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests offer tremendous gobbler hunting opportunities in the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains of western Virginia. In 2017, the spring gobbler harvest increased 26% on the George Washington National Forest acreage and 56% on the Jefferson National Forest!
Among regions, Virginia’s Tidewater counties have the highest harvest rates (0.93 gobblers/sq. mile of forest range). Westmoreland County is Virginia’s Turkey Capital with 2.6 gobblers harvested per square mile of forest range in 2017.
Ranking second is Northumberland County with 2.1 birds harvested per square mile of forest range. Order of the other regions is as follows: second – Southwest Mountain (0.82 gobblers/sq. mile forest range), 3rd – South Piedmont (0.63 gobblers/sq. mile forest range), 4th – North Piedmont (0.57 gobblers/sq. mile forest range) and fifth – North Mountain (0.49 gobblers/sq. mile forest range).
–Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries