Spring turkey hunters reported harvesting 15,687 birds during the 2011 season. The statewide harvest was 3% higher than last year's total of 15,190 birds. Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains increased 3% with a harvest of 10,441 birds compared to 10,130 birds last year. The harvest in counties west of the Blue Ridge (5,265) was 4% higher than last year's take (5,054). Most (85%) of the birds taken were adult gobblers. Forty-six bearded females were harvested. Overall, the spring harvest suggests a stable or slightly increasing turkey population.
Youth hunters reported taking 340 birds during the youth spring hunt. Last year youth hunters took 347 birds on the spring youth hunt day.
Based on the Department's 2010 Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey, hunting effort declined in 2010 due to the recession. Cooperating 2010 hunters indicated they hunted 23% fewer times on average due to economic concerns. Although hunter effort during the 2011 spring gobbler season is unknown, it is likely fuel and other economic concerns again contributed to reduced hunting effort. Assuming effort may have again been negatively impacted by economic concerns, the increase in the spring harvest was indeed encouraging.
Many hunters checked birds in excellent condition, with weights exceeding 25 pounds reported. Last year's exceptional mast crop likely resulted in birds being in excellent physical condition. Energy demands from the winter weather were likely below-average because of last winter's relatively mild weather.
One bird was harvested in Frederick County with a 16" beard. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the national record for beard length is 22.5 inches.
Gary Norman, Wild Turkey Project Leader, predicted a similar spring gobbler harvest based on average production reported in the 2009 season. Two-year old birds generally comprise a large percentage of the harvests, so the spring kill is typically related to reproduction two years prior to the season. Recruitment in 2009 was average compared to recruitment levels we've seen over the past 5 years. Recruitment has been fairly consistent over the past 5 years and the turkey population has been essentially stable largely due to these average recruitment years.
Many variables influence recruitment; weather typically plays a critical role in survival of young birds. Extended cold and wet weather can lead to high poult mortality rates. Current weather conditions (as of mid-May) have not been conducive for good brood survival with extended cool and rainy days. These cool and wet conditions may spell trouble for early hatched broods. But, it is still relatively early in the reproductive cycle and many hens are still incubating nests. The peak hatch in Virginia is not expected until later May and early June. Hens likely went into the spring season in excellent physical condition so that may help hen success. Again, there are a host of variables that impact recruitment. Let's hope for favorable weather in the balance of the reproductive season so the turkey population will get a good boost with a good hatch this summer.