Virginia fall turkey harvest drops off by 44 percent

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By Staff Reports

This is the third of three in a series reviewing 2014 big game hunting results.


RICHMOND –– As with Virginia’s deer season, turkey harvests reflected a decline from the previous year as the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) released its harvest numbers for the fall/winter hunting season.

A bumper crop of acorns across the state coupled with management actions to meet population objectives and some higher than normal disease mortality all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends. 

In Virginia, 2,988 turkeys were harvested during the 2014-15 fall turkey season, a 44-percent decline from the previous season.  The harvest decreased 36 percent in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains while counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains decreased by nearly half.

Botetourt and Pittsylvania led all counties with a harvest of 85 birds each.  More than 90 percent of the harvest was reported on private lands.  Only 29 birds were harvested on the Youth Fall Turkey Hunt Day.

The 2014-15 season was the first year hunters could hunt turkeys and other game on Sundays. Interest in Sunday hunting appeared light as only five percent of the harvest was reported on Sundays during the firearms seasons. The 2014-15 fall season was the fourth year where two weeks of hunting was provided in January.  The harvest during the January season was 179 birds, down from 265 birds during the 2013-14 season.  Although the harvest was light, many enjoy hunting with less competition and hunters often have the opportunity to track birds in the snow.

In western counties, the harvest was nearly evenly split among rifle hunters (34 percent), shotgun hunters (28 percent), and muzzleloader hunters (25 percent), with archers and pistol hunters making up the balance.  In contrast, nearly half of all turkeys harvested in eastern counties were taken by shotgun hunters, as a number of counties in eastern Virginia restrict use of rifles for hunting. 

Wild Turkey Project leader Gary Norman indicated a decline in the harvest was expected because mast crops were generally above average across the state.  Good mast crops depress harvest rates as turkeys move less to find food and typically spend most of their time in forested areas, using smaller home ranges and remaining out of view.  In years with poor mast conditions, like last year, birds travel longer distances and routinely spend time in fields and clearings, in view of the public which typically results in higher hunter success rates.

The magnitude of change between years is significant and the wide contrast in mast crops between years is believed to be the primary cause. Despite the low fall harvest, it is believed that turkey populations are in good condition as cooperators in an August survey reported seeing near record numbers of broods and total numbers of turkeys. The widespread availability of acorns, the turkey’s favorite food, simply made for tough hunting conditions as birds were hard to locate.