Conventional wisdom isn’t always reliable.
For example, conventional wisdom tells us West Virginia’s wild turkeys experience two peaks of gobbling activity — one in mid-to-late April and another in mid-to-late May.
That’s handy information to have, but is it correct?
A recently released study hints that it’s considerably more complicated than that.
For four years (2016-19), biologists from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission collected gobbling data from automated listening devices placed at 94 locations throughout the state. The devices were placed solely on non-hunted properties to prevent hunter activity from biasing the results.
Whenever a turkey gobbled, the devices detected the sound and recorded it.
The units collected 53,943 hours’ worth of recordings. When those recordings were processed using automated software, researchers found 113,737 gobbles had been detected.
The project was designed mainly to determine if the autonomous recording units, or ARUs, were effective enough to be used in a larger study later on.
Even so, the preliminary gobbling data contained a couple of interesting findings: One, the timing of gobbling peaks varied widely from year to year; and two, sometimes there’s only a single peak.
The study focused on gobbling between March 1 and May 30. It found that, on average, 25% of the gobbling took place before the state’s spring turkey-hunting season, 60% during the season, and 15% afterward.
In North Carolina’s mountain region, gobbling peaked in very early April, dipped for a week, peaked again during the first week of the hunting season, fell off steadily for three weeks, then peaked again in mid-May.
In the state’s piedmont region, a distinct peak occurred in mid-April and another in mid-May.
Results from the coastal region varied significantly from the mountains and the piedmont, but since West Virginia doesn’t have a coast or anything analogous to it, I’ll not address those results here. If you’d like to read all the findings, look up “North Carolina gobbling chronology report” on the internet.
The findings really get interesting when they’re broken out into individual years. In the mountain region, for example, there were two distinct peaks in 2016 — one immediately before the season and one smack in the middle of it.
In the same region in 2017, only one distinct peak occurred, and it came just before midseason. In 2018, there was one whopper of a peak, but it came very late in the season with no appreciable gobbling activity in March or April. In 2019, there were two peaks, one in early April and another in early May.
The piedmont region’s results differed slightly in timing and in gobbling magnitude, but followed the same general pattern as the mountain region.
Researchers don’t seem quite sure why the gobbling peaks varied so significantly from year to year. They believe weather is a factor, as are fluctuations in local turkey populations.
Before the North Carolina report came out, several studies indicated the first peak of gobbling always occurred just after winter flocks broke up, followed by another peak after females began incubating their eggs. Now that this new report is out, it seems clear that gobbling peaks change from year to year. Further study could help biologists understand which factors drive the changes, and whether hunting-season dates should be adjusted accordingly.