It’s time to dig the camo out of the closet, dust off the diaphragm and box call, and bring out those 3” magnums as Spring Turkey Season opens on Monday, April 28. Gobblers have been sounding off all over the county, celebrating their survival of another winter and announcing their availability for the neighborhood hens.
Last year, more than 11,000 birds were taken statewide which was 14.7 percent above the five year average. Numbers this spring are expected to be near that or possibly down a little due to the severe winter and poor mast crop last fall.
About 160 birds were checked in Pocahontas County last spring. While Pocahontas used to be “the only” destination for turkey hunting, now turkeys can be found almost everywhere. In fact, gobblers were checked in every county last year. Spring gobbler season was first introduced in the state in 1966 when a grand total of 12 were taken. It was somewhat controversial as some hunters claimed that hens got scared off their nests by hunters. That can happen and many of those nests are abandoned, but many hen turkeys will nest a second time, sometimes as late as July, and rear a successful family. For late families, they don’t have to contend with cold, damp weather and can usually find more insects for the young, adding to their success rate.
Traditionally, turkey hunting was always a fall sport, but gradually hunters began to understand the nuances and skills involved in going after the gobblers and the spring hunt grew quickly in popularity. By 1983 the spring turkey harvest outnumbered the fall turkey take for the first time and has continued to increase yearly. Of last year’s overall harvest of 12,161, spring birds outnumbered the fall kill by eleven to one. The peak of the turkey years may be behind us as overall harvest numbers have gradually declined. The 12 highest statewide harvest years occurred between 1992 and 2003 according to the 2013 Big Game Bulletin available at WVDNR.gov, with the peak kill in 2001 of 21,380 turkeys.
The decline in numbers could be attributed to several things but a decline in hunter participation is probably a big part of it. Also, overall age of the forest continues to increase meaning less brush and young growth cover for the young birds.
The season will last through May 24 and shooting hours are one half hour before sunrise until 1p.m. Two bearded turkeys may be harvested – but only one per day. The use of electronic calls and bait is prohibited. Hunters dressed completely in camouflage can be easily mistaken for something else, so if approached by another hunter, please let them know you are there. Whistle, sing, wave a red flag or whatever it takes. Hunting accidents happen too often so be sure of your target and its background.
There are lots of turkeys out there and next week there will be lots of hunters out and about. Fifty-five-to-60 percent of the harvest will occur in the first week of the season, so be careful out there and good luck.
Dave is a telescope operator at the NRAO and can be contacted at email@example.com.