West Virginia’s wild turkey population has fallen like a lead balloon from its record levels of 2001. That bygone year produced the highest ever spring harvest at just shy of 18,000 gobblers. To put the decline in perspective, last year’s tally is less than half that! So what’s the story and better yet, what’s the prospect for this year’s spring season that kicks off Monday April 22?
Before you get too upset over the recent past, the older folks out there might well remember the first such gobbler season of 1966 when only 12 birds were bagged! By that standard a nice round harvest of around 10,000 gobblers for this spring of 2013 wouldn’t seem so bad at all. And that’s just what we’re calling for here and now.
And how can we forget that nice ride of turkey restoration between 1966 and 2001 when the state flock blossomed to the point of saturation all the way from that initial 12 up to the 18,000 level. In short, the flock finally saturated or topped out. A given landscape can only support so many critters of a particular kind before their proverbial cup “runneths” over.
The species of concern may begin to compete with its own kind for limited food resources ever more in the process. What’s more, a host of predators from hawks and owls to bobcats and coyotes learn to take a liking to the new item on the menu not to mention the eggs thereof.
However, the state flock seems to be on a bit of a rebound now after somewhat the storm and extreme weather misery of the first decade of the New Millennium. Though now gratefully behind us, there were multiple successive years of mast failure, wild storms with winter kill that wreaked havoc. Despite all that to the plus side, there is nary a square mile of the Mountain State forests, fields and woodlots that doesn’t harbor some the big birds. Not nearly so backyard friendly as deer, turkeys are there nevertheless, ever the elusive, cautious and eagle-eyed ones. So don’t call them birdbrains…
Though the local counties were the last to be stocked with wild blood transplants circa the late 1980’s, sometimes the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The big decline seemingly bypassed the down home turf counties of Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell, Boone and Lincoln. In fact, they all harbor very good populations of the wild turkey. Much of this local range now surpasses the high elevation National Forests of the state’s eastern front in terms of birds per square mile.
Some of the very best bets for the West Virginia wild turkey have proven to be those zones of scattered woodlots with hay or other agricultural fields say at about a 60-40 mixture. Many of the Ohio River’s bordering swath of counties running from Mason all the way up through the entire Northern Panhandle and everywhere else where those conditions exist are prime examples.
If you venture out this year for gobblers, just remember that if populations, individual flocks and turkeys didn’t change, juke and weave about to make fools out of the best of us; fussing, discussing and certainly hunting them wouldn’t be nearly so much fun. So enjoy and be careful so you’re still around for the 50th Anniversary version just two years away.