West Virginia’s spring turkey season opens on Monday, but West Virginia’s hunters shouldn’t expect to kill as many turkeys as they did last year.
That’s the word from state wildlife officials, who say the phenomenon that led to last year’s better-than average gobbler harvest won’t be repeated for quite some time — 17 years, to be exact.
Hunters killed 11,545 birds last spring for one simple reason: There were a lot more birds in the woods than usual. An emergence of 17-year periodical cicadas throughout most of the state in 2016 created a mini population explosion among turkeys, which in turn created a surplus of eager-to-mate 2-year-old gobblers in the spring of 2018.
Residual effects from that gobbler surplus will probably disappear this spring, mainly because those birds will be 3 years old, more experienced and considerably more wary of hunters.
Mike Peters, turkey project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources, believes this year’s spring kill should return to more normal levels.
“I think we’ll have a pretty typical year,” Peters said.
And what constitutes a “typical” year? In the four years prior to last year’s increase, Mountain State hunters bagged an average of 9,922 gobblers.
The good news for this spring is that there has been no bad news. Peters said the winter stayed free of snowfalls heavy enough to cause localized die-offs.
What’s more, last year’s hens produced plenty of young despite the wet weather.
“That was unusual,” Peters said. “Last year was one of wettest years we have on the record books. We were afraid all that rain would have an adverse impact on brood production.”
Much to Peters’ relief, the brood reports he received toward the end of last summer were surprisingly good.
“The wet weather didn’t seem to affect the turkeys,” he said. “The rain must have come at the right time.”
Last summer’s brood production, however, will affect the 2020 spring kill more than it affects this year’s harvest. The 2017 brood numbers, which Peters described as “pretty average,” will probably have a greater influence on this year’s results.
So will weather.
Weather usually doesn’t affect a four-week season as much as it does a shorter one, but a spell of really bad weather during the first week could have a significant impact on the harvest total. Last year, 47 percent of the kill occurred during the first week.
Even so, Peters said hunters who get “weathered” during the early part of the season shouldn’t be too discouraged.
“Twenty-two percent of last year’s harvest took place during the second week,” he said. “The third week accounted for 14 percent, and the fourth week also accounted for 14 percent. The other 3 percent took place during the [one-day] youth season, which was held on the Saturday before the main season opened.”
Peters said there are benefits to hunting later in the season.
“A lot of guys I know really prefer those last couple of weeks over the first two,” he said. “The weather gets nicer and nicer as the season goes along.”
More important, gobblers become a little more desperate to mate. Most of the hens have already been bred and are incubating eggs, so hunters who locate lovesick toms have a better-than-average chance to call them in.
All turkeys killed during the spring season must be bearded gobblers. The daily bag limit is one bird, and the season limit is two. Shooting hours begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at 1 p.m. The season will end on May 11.