The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) announced a harvest of 17,929 turkeys during the 2019 spring gobbler season. The 2019 harvest was 11% higher than last year’s harvest. The 2019 Youth and Apprentice weekend harvest was 623 birds, higher than 2018 (465), but similar to the 2017 harvest of 627 birds.
DGIF Turkey Biologist, Gary Norman, said the harvest was encouraging because reproduction was low in recent years, which would have predicted fewer 2 and 3 year old birds. These age classes typically comprise the majority of the harvest and they normally gobble a lot, which is important to spring hunters. Since younger gobblers are typically not with hens as much as dominant older birds, they are more likely to respond to hunters’ calls.
“We’ve experienced a long string of years with poor reproduction; we’re over-due a good hatch like the one we experienced in 2011,” Norman said. He went on to remark, “Unfortunately, production in 2018 was particularly low, so hunters will be facing a tough year in 2020.”
More birds were harvested in counties east of the Blue Ridge (12,348, 69%) than west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (5,581, 31%). The eastern harvest was 18% higher than 2018, but the western harvest declined 2% in 2019.
Locally, 163 gobblers were harvested in Accomack County, a five year record and up 31 from 2018. In Northampton County, 59 birds were harvested in 2019, which was 10 fewer than 2018, and ironically a five year low for the county.
Turkey densities are best reflected by the harvest per square mile of suitable habitat. These data suggest Virginia’s Tidewater Region has the highest population densities (0.80 gobblers/sq. mile of suitable turkey habitat). The second tier of regions includes the South Mountain (0.48 gobblers/sq. mile suitable habitat), South Piedmont (0.47) and North Piedmont (0.42). The North Mountain (0.34) is a third tier.
Norman went on to say, “Annual changes in harvests are driven by a number of factors like turkey population size, weather, and hunter participation rates. Long-term harvest trends are indeed more important than annual harvest changes.” Over the past 10 years, population trends, based on spring gobbler harvest, have increased in the North Mountain Region (4%), North Piedmont (3.8%) and Tidewater Regions (2.4%). Population trends in the South Piedmont and South Mountain have been stable. Statewide, the spring harvest data suggests the population has been stable since 2010. Norman remarked, “Stable isn’t necessarily bad when we’re at record levels.”