Turkey hunters are enjoying great hunting so far this spring. Good weather conditions and stable turkey numbers over most of the Commonwealth have certainly contributed to hunter success this year for both the Youth & Apprentice and the Spring Gobbler opening weekends.
A total of 3,047 gobblers were harvested the opening weekend of the 2017 Spring Gobbler season, compared to 2,291 in 2016.
Opening Weekend 2017
- Saturday, April 8th 2,019
- Sunday, April 9th 1,028
- Weekend Total 3,047
In comparison, Opening Weekend 2016
- Saturday, April 9th 1,610
- Sunday, April 10th 681
- Weekend Total 2,291
Harvest numbers for the Youth & Apprentice weekend – Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2, were also up. Across the state hunters enjoyed seasonal temperatures with almost no rain or significant winds. Youth and Apprentice hunters reported harvesting 624 birds. On Saturday 433 turkeys were reported killed (69 percent of total w/e harvest) and 191 (31 percent) on Sunday. The 2017 harvest was 4 percent higher than 2016, when 598 birds were harvested.
“Spring turkey hunters should enjoy quality spring gobbler hunting in 2017 throughout the Commonwealth,” according to Gary Norman, DGIF Wild Turkey Project Leader.
“The Spring Gobbler Survey report for the 2016 season gives our best forecast for the upcoming season. I don’t expect a significant change in the upcoming season harvest levels. As always, weather is a critical issue, namely weekend weather in the first 2-3 weekends,” Norman added.
The Department’s Brood Surveys suggests reproduction has been average over the past four years. Under these conditions populations are expected to remain stable. Given that turkeys are believed to be at record levels for the Commonwealth, stable is desirable.
Norman says one negative issue is that turkeys are not uniformly spread across our landscape. Stable but low population levels are red flags that the Department is addressing with shorter fall seasons. Unfortunately, we have not seen above-average recruitment in these problem areas for many years.
“The unseasonable warm weather in February has accelerated the signs of spring, including gobbling. Some hunters have expressed concern that we will miss peak gobbling times this spring. My thinking on this concern is that March weather generally has more impact than February on the chronology of mating, egg-laying, incubation, and hatching, and it’s presumptive to think March will be as warm as February. However, we can expect some early springs and 2017 may turn out to eventually be one,” said Norman.
While an early spring can accelerate reproduction, such conditions only move the timetable up by 10-14 days. Day-length is more critical to these biological processes than warmer temperatures.
“Starting hunting closer to nest incubation will improve, not detract from hunter success rates. Currently, we start spring hunting at the peak of egg-laying (mid-April). A 2-week advance in reproduction would start our season when most hens are on the nest and under these conditions; gobblers are typically more responsive to calling. Our long (5-week, 6 weekends) season should capture this peak gobbling period. If there is any impact, I expect to see it at the end of the 2017 spring season,” according to Norman.
–Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries