Despite a near total dearth of 2-year-old toms on the landscape, Virginia hunters killed a remarkable 20,525 turkeys this past spring gobbler season, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

This is the second-highest spring turkey kill on record in Virginia. The record spring came in 2015 when 20,580 birds were reported. The 2020 number is up 14.5 percent from last year.

Prior to the season, many biologists and avid turkey hunters wondered how the season would go. Statewide poor hatches in both 2017 and especially 2018 resulted a lack of 2-year-old gobblers, the ones that seem to gobble the most and often come running to the call. Many hunters reported hearing very little gobbling during the season. With older birds more experienced and wary, they are tougher to kill, so the conventional wisdom goes.

Conversely, last year saw a good turkey hatch, resulting in a bounty of young toms, referred to as “jakes.” The immature (and naïve) are quick to respond to calls, check out decoys and like to travel in packs. They’re like spike-horned, yearling bucks, young and dumb – which is why they are often the first bird most novice hunters take. Jakes comprised 15.3 percent of the spring kill this year.

The numbers for other states are still being calculated but many people were predicting record or near-record harvests in many eastern and southeastern states. Why? Covid-19.

Dr. Michael Chamberlain (University of Georgia) and Dr. Bret Collier (Louisiana State University) are two of the most note wild turkey researchers in the United States today. In early April they were assessing how spring turkey hunting during a time when many Americans were either off-work, out of school, or otherwise free to hit the woods every day, all day was going to affect the total turkey kill.

Their analysis related also to new understanding about how hens select gobblers for breeding and how nesting occurs (or doesn’t) in states where the brunt of the hunting time coincides with the peak of the breeding time.

Chamberlain noted on April 14 in a weekly Facebook blog he calls “Turkey Tuesday,” that the pandemic was resulting in dramatic increases in hunting pressure throughout areas of the Southeast. “Hunter effort,” basically the amount of time hunters spend afield, was up 47 percent in Georgia on state wildlife management areas, with similar pressure in Mississippi. Georgia’s statewide turkey kill was up 29 percent over 2019, and up 43 percent on public lands. In North Carolina, 2020 harvest was up 34.8 percent over the average from the previous three years. Tennessee’s statewide harvest was up by 50 percent at that point. This, “despite no appreciable increases in production within the past few years,” Chamberlain wrote.

I don’t have final, authoritative statistics from these states, but I’m betting numbers will be high.

In a paper the two professors wrote, they noted, “Wild turkeys are the only game bird in the [Lower 48] United States hunted primarily during their breeding season.” One concern is that “excessive removal of males prior to and during breeding could negatively impact reproduction, as could greater disturbance to females who are laying and incubating.”

Interestingly, the pandemic may have reduced harvest pressures in western states since many hunters coming from other states had travel restrictions and many states tightened non-resident license availability.

So, did we kill too many turkeys in Virginia this year? The next couple of years will tell.

The fact that we didn’t obliterate any existing records seems, on the surface, a positive. But, then again, the fact that nearly an entire year-class of gobbler (those aforementioned 2-year-olds) was missing from the landscape, means those older, dominant toms that do much of the breeding during prime nesting time may have hit hard.

The DGIF announcement noted that state turkey populations are still estimated to be at near record levels. A 2020 Spring Turkey Hunter Cooperator Survey is expected to provide insights once results are analyzed.

More Stats

The 2020 Youth and Apprentice weekend harvest increased 40 percent from 2019 for a total of 890 birds. Nearly 20 percent were killed on the opening weekend of the main season.

Hunters east of the Blue Ridge Mountains tagged 69% of the birds reported. Bearded hens constituted 0.4 percent of the totals, similar to prior year numbers.

Private land hunters killed 94.6 percent. Most of the 657 public land birds were killed on the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest, a total about 25 percent higher last year.

Bedford County again led the state in total turkey kill by county, followed by Southampton and Franklin. Local county harvest numbers included: Caroline, 197; King George, 141; Stafford, 74; Spotsylvania, 105; Culpeper, 215; Fauquier, 369; Essex, 186 and Westmoreland, 320. Other Northern Neck counties also generated sound turkey number with Richmond hunters logging 268 birds and

Northumberland registering 336 and just missing “Top 10” status.

Jackson, Bache Die

The outdoors community lost a couple of its mainstay members recently.

James “Bub” Jackson Jr., 70, of Williamsburg, died Sunday in an apparent boating accident when fishing in Diascund Creek Reservoir.

Jackson was a noted hunting personality who often brought his “Virginia Whitetail Collection” of incredible deer, turkey and more to outdoors shows around the country. He appeared on several outdoor television shows and contributed material to several hunting and fishing magazines.

Ronnie P. Bache, 73, of Spotsylvania, died May 18, after a short battle with cancer, according to his obituary. Bache, an avid angler, is perhaps best known as being the owner and promoter of the BASSARAMA fishing show that was held every winter in Richmond. The show was one of the most popular regional fishing shows, featuring exhibits, seminars, and row-after-row of exhibiting companies selling lures, rods and reels, and boats and accessories. Many local fishing guides were regular speakers at Bache’s outdoor extravaganzas.

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