Virginia.gov

2015 Spring Gobbler Harvest Summary

Spring turkey hunters harvested a record high number of 20,580 gobblers during the 2015 season which recently concluded. Because the spring harvest is believed to be the best index to turkey populations, the 2015 spring harvest suggests Virginia's turkey population is at record levels for modern days. The 2015 season harvest was 17% higher than the 2014 harvest. The previous record of 19,265 birds was set in 2013. The harvest east of the Blue Ridge Mountains was 20% higher than last year's harvest (11,582 vs. 13,874). In counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains the harvest increased 12% (6,000 vs.6,706). Most of the birds were harvested by hunters using shotguns 92%, while rifles accounted for 7% of the harvest. The majority of birds were harvested on private lands 92%. The balance was reported from hunters hunting on federal 6%, or state, 2% lands.

High spring harvests reported in 2013, 2014, and 2015 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. Based on spring kill per square mile of forest range, Virginia's highest turkey densities can be found in Westmoreland (2.7), Richmond (1.97), and Lancaster (1.96) counties. These counties are clustered in Virginia's Northern Neck region and they have a 4-week fall season. In counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the highest densities (spring gobbler kill per square mile of forest range) were found in Clarke (1.69), Wythe (1.34), and Carroll (1.10). The state-wide average gobbler harvest was 0.82 birds per square mile of forest range.

The 2015 season was the first year Virginia spring hunters could hunt on Sundays on private lands. Sundays were popular as 11% of the total harvest took place on this additional weekend opportunity in Virginia's inaugural Sunday Season. Most of the Sunday harvest took place on the first Sunday (42%) of the 5 additional Sundays; a total of 2,170 birds were reported on Sundays.

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% (448 birds) of the 2015 season total harvest came during the Youth and Apprentice Spring Turkey Hunting Day. Weather conditions during the 2014 Youth and Apprentice season were favorable for hunting across the state. Interest in the youth season and apprentice hunting day remained about the same as 2% of the harvest was reported in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Interest appeared higher several years ago as 4% of the 2012 season and 3% of the 2013 season were tagged by youth and apprentice hunters.

Strong reproduction in 2011, 2013, and 2014 has helped create our current record turkey numbers. Population growth was slowed by poor recruitment in 2012 but has recovered with good reproduction in 2013 and 2014. 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. Jakes or 1-year-old birds are passed up by many hunters but they still contribute 8% to the total spring harvest. Some hens with beards were reported, but they are rare (0.3% of 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 2015 season was generally favorable. Approximately 35% of the harvest was reported on Saturdays.

In summary, the 2015 spring season set a record harvest and suggests Virginia's turkey populations are at all-time records for modern days. Good reproduction in 2013 was a key factor leading to the increase. More opportunity to hunt with the addition of hunting on Sunday likely contributed to the record although we will never know if the Sunday harvests added to the harvest or replaced birds that would have been killed later in the season. 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, turkey population levels and harvest have room for improvement in the North Mountain, North Piedmont Regions, and Virginia's National Forests. The status of Virginia's turkey population and management through 2022 is available 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 543
Pittsylvania 502
Halifax 447
Franklin 421
Southampton 387
Scott 379
Caroline 375
Campbell 353
Fauquier 340
Botetourt 338

Top 5 Season Harvests:

Year Total Season Harvest
2015 20,580
2013 19,265
2002 18,345
2001 18,240
2003 17,988