Virginia’s spring gobbler enthusiasts have two weekends in their sights right now with the Youth and Apprentice Weekend on April 2 and 3 and the season opener kicking off on Saturday, April 9.
Katie Martin, the deer, bear, and turkey biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), gives insight on what kind of action we can expect.
“The best news is that the Northwest Mountain region had a poult-to-hen ratio of 4.0 in 2020,” Martin said. “That region from Botetourt County to Northern Virginia has a lot of national forest land, and many of those counties, such as Highland and Bath, have had decreased turkey numbers in recent years, especially on public land. The improved reproduction is a much-needed boost.
“So this could be a very good year to hunt in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest,” Martin said. “Hunters looking for a place to go and individuals that don’t normally hunt public land might want to check things out. The Forest Service has worked hard to improve wildlife habitat with prescribed burns and with the creation of more, early successional habitat. Areas where habitat work has been done could draw turkeys in the spring and hens with their poults in the summer.”
Unfortunately, Martin said, the rest of the region endured reproduction below the long-term average of 2.5 in 2020. Those regions (with the poult-to-hen ratio in parenthesis) were Tidewater (1.8). Southern Piedmont (1.4), Northern Piedmont (1.3), and Southwest Mountains (1.9).
However, Martin noted that an important caveat exists concerning these figures in that the survey was done during the heart of the COVID pandemic, making data more challenging to gather with fewer staff able to participate. This makes the year and its figures possibly something of an outlier.
Also of note is that there should be more jakes prowling Virginia’s forests and fields this spring. The 2021 poult-per-hen ratio was 2.7. The figures per region were Tidewater (2.3), Southern Piedmont (2.7), Northern Piedmont (3.2), Southwest Mountains (2.4), and Northwest Mountains (2.6).
“Of course, jake behavior is much more unpredictable than that of 2-year-old gobblers, which annually usually make up the majority of the harvest,” Martin said. “But with the increased number of jakes that will likely be in the woods this spring, there could be a lot more gobbling, especially after some of the older gobblers have been harvested.”
Additionally, Martin encourages veteran sportsmen and women to consider taking youth and novice adult hunters afield during the Youth and Apprentice Weekend. “It’s an excellent time to introduce people new to the outdoors because the turkeys haven’t been pressured in a long time and the hunting pressure is light,” Martin said.
Finally, Martin notes that all-day hunting will last a week longer this year with that part of the season beginning on April 25. The biologist says the likely cooler evenings in April may lead to more active and vocal turkeys. Bottom line? The biologist believes that turkey enthusiasts should expect a good season with the total harvest varying little from ones in recent springs. For tips on where to hunt, how to be successful on public land, regulations, recipes, and more, see DWR’s Spring Turkey Hunting in Virginia.
–Bruce Ingram, Virginia DWR