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DNR: Despite harvest decline, hunters had 'great' spring gobbler season

Gobbler kill

West Virginians bagged 11,210 gobblers during the recent spring turkey season, fewer than in 2018 but more than the 5-year and 10-year averages.

West Virginia wildlife officials say the state’s hunters just finished a “great” spring turkey season.

Preliminary figures compiled by the Division of Natural Resources show that hunters bagged 11,210 gobblers during the season that ended May 11. That total fell about 1,000 birds shy of the previous year’s total, but DNR biologists said a fall-off was to be expected.

“The numbers were down a little from 2018, but 2018 was exceptional,” said Mike Peters, the DNR’s turkey project leader. “The big cicada hatch in 2016 resulted in a huge brood year, and those birds were at that vulnerable 2-year-old age class last spring.”

By contrast, Peters said this year’s 2-year-old age class of gobblers was only average and the other age classes “were only OK.”

“When you take that into consideration, I thought we had a great year,” he said. “We had snow, rain, sleet and wind during the first two days of the season, but hunters enjoyed pretty good success after the weather got better.”

This year’s total represented a 3 percent increase over the five-year average and a 9 percent increase over the 10-year average.

Despite the overall downturn, hunters in DNR Districts 4 and 5 killed more birds this year than in 2018. The District 4 harvest increased by four birds, and the District 5 harvest rose by 27. The totals in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 6 came in lower than in 2018.

“The only red flag I saw [in the statistics] is that the harvest in District 1 dropped off [20 percent],” Peters said. “That’s a little unusual. Even with the decline, though, it still led the state in overall harvest.”

Chris Ryan, the DNR’s supervisor of game management services, said his own hunting season couldn’t have been much better.

“Of the four turkeys I shot or called in for people, three were 3-year-old longbeards,” he said. “They were ‘cicada birds’ that didn’t get taken last year. It will be interesting to see how many 3-year-old birds were in the harvest. We won’t have a handle on that until we get information back from hunters on our [annual] Spring Gobbler Survey.”

Hunters in District I bagged 2,762 birds, followed by District 6 at 2,352; District 5 at 1,839; District 3 at 1,659; District 4 at 1,521; and District 2 at 1,067.

Peters hasn’t yet crunched the week-by-week numbers, but he said his overall impression was that hunters did well during the first week, suffered a bit of a lull during the second week, and enjoyed an increase in success toward the end of the season.

This year’s top five counties were Mason, 464; Preston, 455; Jackson, 447; Wood, 362; and Harrison, 347.

Hunters during the one-day statewide youth season bagged 357 gobblers, 74 fewer than last year. Peters said he expects a higher youth harvest next spring because the state Natural Resources Commission recently voted to expand the season to two days.

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231 or follow

@GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.