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2014 Spring Gobbler Harvest Summary

Spring turkey hunters reported harvesting 17,582 birds during the 2014 season which recently concluded. The 2014 spring harvest was 9% lower than the recent record harvest of 19,265 birds set in 2013, but ranks 5th overall among previous spring season harvests. The harvest east of the Blue Ridge Mountains was 11% lower than last year's harvest (12,994 vs. 11,582). In counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains the harvest decreased 4% (6,000 vs. 6,271). Most of the birds were harvested by hunters using shotguns (90%), while rifles accounted for 8% of the harvest. The vast majority of birds were harvested on private lands (92%). The balance was reported from hunters hunting on federal (6%) or state (2%) lands.

Because the spring harvest is believed to be the best index to turkey populations, the record 2013 harvest and high 2014 harvest suggests a robust turkey population. Over the last 10 years, the turkey population has increased 2.7% annually. However, population levels were not uniform across the state. Populations in the Tidewater Region and the South Mountain Region are believed to be the highest in the state. The lowest densities can be found in the North Mountain and North Piedmont Regions. The South Piedmont Region had a healthy, but moderate population density compared to the other regions.

Strong reproduction in 2011 and 2013 has helped maintain current high population levels. However, recruitment in 2012 was below the average index reported during the last 7 years. Over the past 7 years the highest recruitment index was observed in 2011. Two-year-old gobblers make up an important part of the gobbler season as they typically gobble frequently and they generally compose a significant percentage of the harvest. The poor 2012 hatch helps explain some the decline in the 2014 harvest.

Weather is also an important factor impacting hunter success rates. Good gobbling requires good weather. More birds were killed on Saturdays than any other day of the week. Fortunately, Saturday weather during the 2014 season was generally favorable, with the exception of the weekend of May 10 when significant rainfall occurred throughout the state.

Recruitment and retention of hunters is a critical aspect to the future of hunting. The Special Youth Season and Apprentice season offers a unique day for young hunters and inexperienced adults to be introduced to spring gobbler hunting at a time when competition is low. Slightly more than 2% (394 birds) of the 2014 season total harvest came during the Youth and Apprentice Season. Weather conditions during the 2014 Youth and Apprentice season were favorable for hunting across the state. There appears to be a declining trend in harvest during the Youth and Apprentice Season over the past three years as nearly 3% of the spring harvest came during the 2013 season and 4% in the 2012 season.

In summary, the 2014 spring season was down 11%, but the harvest suggests the population is still at very high levels despite the poor reproduction in 2012. This robust turkey population offers Virginia hunters extensive opportunities for high quality turkey hunting throughout most of the Commonwealth. While the statewide results are encouraging, population levels and harvest are relatively low in the North Mountain and North Piedmont Regions. The relatively low turkey populations in these two regions was recognized in the Department's recently-completed Wild Turkey Management Plan. The 10-year plan contains goal and objective directions that address desired turkey population levels, turkey-related recreation, hunting traditions, allocation of fall harvests, safety, ethics & compliance with the law, and human-wild turkey problems.

For more details contact Gary Norman at gary.norman@dgif.virginia.gov or 540-248-9360.

Top 10 Counties for Spring Gobbler Harvest:

County Harvest
Bedford 531
Southampton 424
Rockbridge 402
Pittsylvania 390
Scott 383
Franklin 371
Halifax 366
Sussex 328
Botetourt 324
Caroline 312

Top 5 Season Harvests:

Year Total Season Harvest
2013 19,265
2002 18,345
2001 18,240
2003 17,988
2014 17,582