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John McCoy: First-week turkey kill suggests average hunter turnout

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Before West Virginia’s spring turkey season begin, some hunters feared the state’s coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders might put so many hunters in the woods that turkeys would be slaughtered.

That hasn’t happened, at least so far.

According to preliminary harvest totals gleaned from the Division of Natural Resources’ electronic game-checking system, hunters killed more gobblers during the first week of this year’s season than they did during the same period last year, but not many more.

In 2019, the opening-week total was 6,425 toms. This year’s total came in at 6,481.

That’s only 56 more birds.

The difference, statistically speaking, was negligible — just 0.87%.

If this continues for the remainder of the season, the 2020 “coronavirus kill” might eclipse the 2019 harvest, but only slightly.

The DNR’s turkey project leader, Mike Peters, said before this season began that the number of turkey broods hatched in 2018 indicated hunters would see more naïve 2-year-old gobblers this spring.

The 2018 brood count came in 16% higher than the 5-year average. Peters said that, by extension, there should be more 2-year-old toms this year — but not enough to cause a dramatic increase in the kill.

“With normal levels of hunter participation, we probably could expect a fairly average kill this spring,” he said. “Our harvests are usually pretty consistent. This year is really a question mark because we don’t know how much participation we’re going to get.”

That question appears to have been answered.

If there are more hunters in the woods due to the stay-at-home orders, one of two things must be true: 1) There must not be many more hunters; or 2) There are many more, but they aren’t very good at calling and killing turkeys.

I’m sure that when this year’s spring season is over, and the DNR’s biometricians have time to crunch the numbers and thoroughly analyze all four weeks’ worth of harvest data, they’ll develop theories for why the season went the way it did.

My personal guess is there aren’t many more hunters out there than there usually are.

When Gov. Jim Justice urged Mountain State residents to stay active through the pandemic by going hunting and fishing, he told anglers they could fish from March 26 through April 24 without having to purchase a license. He didn’t suspend the license requirement for turkey hunters.

By all accounts, the number of anglers increased significantly through that period. I’m sure the 30-day license-requirement suspension had more than a little to do with that.

Turkey hunters still needed to pay to play. I suspect that’s why there aren’t many more camouflage-clad people out pursuing gobblers than there ordinarily would be.

On May 31, 1897, a newspaper reporter asked Mark Twain about rumors that he was on his deathbed in London. Twain famously said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

So, apparently, were fears that West Virginia’s turkey population would be decimated by hordes of hunters forced to stay home from work due to the coronavirus pandemic. It hasn’t happened yet, and it isn’t likely to happen during the season’s remaining two weeks.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.