“The expected spring kill for 2012 should be lower than the 9,190 2011 kill.” So says WVDNR’s Chris Ryan, based largely upon their main indicator, the statewide brood counts of mother hens with chicks from two years prior, as in 2010. What’s more, that relatively middling level of harvest has been the norm the past five years. Regrettably, it’s only about half the record Mountain State kill, which was just a tad shy of 18,000 gobblers a short decade ago!
After a string of 17 consecutive state kill records between 1979 and 1995, the good old days of West Virginia’s population expansion and restoration are over. What an exciting ride it was, however. Ohio and Kentucky are now in their glory years for turkeys. So if you can, head for the Buckeye and Bluegrass states before their flocks saturate and tone down a notch, just like ours.
Confounding the home state flock situation is that statewide or “landscape” habitat quality for turkeys may be improving just while the flock has declined. Our forests have matured nicely which is generally considered conducive to critters like turkeys and squirrels. However, the multiple bouts of mast failure and cold wet chick killing springs of the New Millennium have apparently more than offset those positive aspects.
Fully aware of this turkey decline predicament, WVDNR embarked on a major study of gobblers to determine if the present hunting kill might be excessive. Their research and that of some surrounding states, both financed by hunters through the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) have indicated otherwise. In West Virginia for example, hunters are only bagging some twenty percent of the available gobblers each spring.
Several of the surrounding states have liberalized their spring hunting setups to some extent via all day hunting, earlier opening dates or longer seasons. Last year, there seemed to a sundry movement from outside sources to push all day hunting here (versus the present morning hunts only). There was no hue and cry heard for it by this corner then, nor is there now.
Though I never fully understood the true reasons behind it, there seemed to be some effort to provide something to offset the louder cries for an earlier opening season, especially in southern West Virginia, which there are plenty. That hue and cry may become a sonic boom with this year’s sensationally early arrival of spring.
And since we’re on state differences, here’s another. West Virginia continues to be one of the only to provide a second spring gobbler without the purchase of an additional tag. If anything, turkey hunters have demonstrated their willingness to put their money where their mouth is, especially if that revenue can and will be used for wildlife management purposes. This needs our consideration.
In closing, the conservative prescriptions and harvest rates here don’t seem to be helping the turkeys much. Maybe it’s time to try something different.