Last week, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources released the preliminary figures for the 2013 spring gobbler harvest.
This year, the total harvest was 10,974 bearded turkeys. This is a 32 percent increase over the 2012 harvest of 8,303 and 13 percent above the previous five-year average. The state record is 17,875 bearded turkeys set in 2001. The 2013 harvest was higher in all of the six game biological districts and in 50 of the state's 55 counties.
The harvest in Barbour County was 161. This is down from 182 in 2012. The harvest in Tucker County was 57, down from 62 in 2012. Morgan County was at 54, down from 56. The harvest in Hampshire County was 120, which is the same as last year. Mineral County was 86, the same as last year.
The top five counties were Preston, with a harvest of 403, Mason (360), Harrison (355), Kanawha (327) and Ritchie (325).
The harvest in Randolph County was 215, but this county was well down the list when comparing the numbers. Considering the spring gobbler harvest in Randolph County in 2012 was only 94, I would have to call this a respectable improvement.
Several of the state's game biologists expected a higher harvest this year because of the carry-over birds from last year's lower harvest numbers. The weather was indeed more suitable for hunting spring gobbler this year, especially during the first week. This is when the vast majority of spring gobbler enthusiasts are in the woods.
The harvest in some of the other counties of interest to local hunters are as follows: Grant was at 129, up from 114 in 2012; Hardy 212, up from 101; Lewis at 222, up from 181; Pendleton 117, up from 95; Pocahontas was 162, up from 124; Upshur 262, up from 199; and Webster 117, up from 94. This year's increase has stopped a gradual decline that started in 2007.
For the past few years, I have felt there has been some declining interest in spring gobbler hunting. However in 2012, the results from a survey conducted by the West Virginia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the WVDNR Wildlife Resources Section indicated a 42 percent increase in hunter participation. This survey is done by volunteer sportsmen and women who donate their time to gather information to help the DNR to manage wild turkeys.
Last year, cooperators took 1,832 hunting trips and heard 2,388 gobblers. The gobbling rate was 34.8 gobblers heard per 100 hours.
Hunters wanting a copy of the annual survey report need to participate in the actual survey. Spring gobbler hunters wanting to help are encouraged to contact Tammie Thompson at the Elkins Operations Center by calling (304) 637-0542.
Those want to be involved will be mailed the necessary forms and a questionnaire prior to the spring hunting season. This survey is easy to conduct, and a hunter does not have to harvest a gobbler to provide useful information. Most of the data collected pertains to what individual hunters or scouts hear, see, or has an opinion.
Deer bow hunters can also participate in this survey; but due to the timing of the season, results from the bowhunters survey will be one year behind other surveys. The bowhunter survey is valuable in determining population trends of all wildlife species, which includes wild turkey.
While the overall abundance of mast was up considerably in 2012 from 2011, the distribution was inconsistent in all ecological regions. Some areas were similar to the bumper crop of 2010 and other areas were lacking as in 2009. The DNR would like to have a moderate-to-average rainfall this spring. With this set-up, the turkey population should be able to rebuild itself to the levels the state had approximately 10-to-15 years ago.