View Full Version : VA Turkey Kill Troublesome

02-20-2003, 08:39 AM

Turkey kill troublesome, deer and bear see little change
When the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries released its preliminary kill figures for the 2002-03 bear, deer and fall turkey seasons, it did so with the statement that "overall there were no surprises." No surprises?
I consider a 32-percent decline in the turkey kill a major surprise. Maybe shock is a better way to describe it. The kill of 8,084 turkeys was less than half of the 16,861 record set in 1990. It is lower than any figure the past 15 years and comes at a time when we are into the seventh season of new regulations designed to significantly increase turkey numbers along with spring and fall kills.
Few of us saw the drop coming. Gary Norman, wild turkey project leader for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, had predicted that the 2002-03 kill would ease past the 11,826 take of the previous season. My preseason Web site prediction was for a kill of 12,000 birds. I was off a cool 3,916. That's a whole bunch of empty roasting pots! What went wrong?
Before I probe that, let's take a brief look at the deer and bear kill results. The reported deer kill was 213,023, which represented a slight decline from the previous season take of 215,872. No surprises here. My preseason prediction was 213,500. I might gloat that it was off a modest 477, but I'm still smarting over my failed turkey prediction.
The best word to describe the bear kill is stable. It was 928, a 6.2 increase over the 2001-02 kill of 874 and a 7.2 percent decrease from the record kill of 1,000 in 2000-01. I can't recall making a bear kill prediction, but I do know that some bear hunters were surprised that the take was so high.
Danny Thorn, president of the Virginia Bear Hunters Association, said he was expecting a 20-percent decline. When the bears consumed the modest acorn crop in the western section of the state, many went into hibernation early, removing themselves from contact with hounds and hunters, he said.
In its official news release, the DGIF put a positive spin on the turkey kill, saying that the fall figures "remain only slightly below the average for the last five years." The problem with that is the five-year average hasn't been anything to brag about. Biologists say 2002 was still another year of poor reproduction, which means fewer young birds in the population. Over the past 23 years, as long as records have been kept, the average ratio has been 3.3 juveniles per hen in the fall kill. That dropped to a 2.3 average the past five years (the 2002 figure isn't available).
"A good hatch can mean a good fall season; conversely, a bad hatch may translate to fewer young birds in the population," said Gary Norman, turkey biologist for DGIF. Young birds can make up as much as 60 percent of the fall population.
Looking back, spring was cold and wet. Late May saw a string of record freezing weather. This could have been fatal to many young birds. West Virginia blamed a 25-percent drop in its fall kill on wet, cold weather in the spring, and wet weather during the hunting season. But here is the strange thing. The decline in Virginia's fall kill occurred at a time when people were reporting turkey everywhere. You could drive down the interstates and spot them in fields.
There is no question, the population has been climbing. So why is the kill dropping? Should we be looking for clues elsewhere, such as the lack of hunters or hunting interest? The last figures I have shows that the number of fall hunters dropped from 105,726 in 1993 to 76,452 in 1999. When officials sold hunters on adopting more restrictive fall turkey regulations which began with the 1996 season, they promised that the result would be a growing turkey population and by now significant increases in the fall and spring kills.
Maybe the biggest impact of the new regulations has been less recruitment of new turkey hunters. Have we reached the point that there are larger numbers of turkeys and fewer hunters to pursue them? Is that having more of an impact on the kill than the weather is no reproduction? Does it even mean that a resource isn't fully being utlized?
The top five turkey counties were Botetourt, 265, Scott, 265, Bedford, 246, Alleghany, 208, Franklin, 205, Rockbridge, 201. Back to the deer kill, Matt Knox, DGIF deer biologist, got his wish of a lower kill following a surprising 14.4-percent increase the season before. A higher kill would have meant that the DGIF is not meeting its nearly statewide objective of keeping the herd stable, he said.
Even with the lower kill, there is a chance that more liberal regulations will be proposed next month to trim the herd even more. Sixty percent of the kill -- 128,416 animals -- was taken east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The west accounted for 84,607 deer. The female kill was nearly 41 percent. Bowhunters took 18, 479 (9) percent while muzzleloaders killed 48,468 (23 percent.) The top five counties were Bedford, 6,725, Loudoun, 6,646, Fauquier, 5,986, Rockingham, 5,535 and Shenandoah, 5,196.
Time was when the bear kill almost entirely was confined to the western portion of the state. Eastern counties have been gaining. This season, the west accounted for a stable 629 kills while the east climbed to 299, a 16-percent increase. Mast was good in the east and poor in the west, said Denny Martin, DGIF bear biologist. The weather and the mast affected the kill, he said. "Bad weather during the hound season prevented more intense hunting efforts because of snow and ice, particularly in remote, higher altitude western habitats," he said. "Eastern hunters had more mast and less inclement weather."
Nearly 65 percent of the bears reported killed were males. Bowhunters registered more than 25 percent of the season's total (244 animals). The top five counties were Rockingham, 133, page 71, Madison, 64, Augusta, 60, Albemarle, 52.

02-21-2003, 06:24 AM
another article on the subject.....


Virginia turkey program manager Gary Norman admits it's difficult to get an accurate estimate of the success or failure of each spring's turkey hatch. This year was a perfect example.
Before the fall season, Norman said his field staff was reporting decent sightings of juvenile turkeys, which they took to mean the hatch had been good. Because juveniles account for a large part of Virginia's fall kill - typically about 60 percent - Norman predicted the fall kill would be similar to last year's take of nearly 12,000 birds.
Once the check cards were counted, he got different information. The kill was 8,084, a drop of 32 percent from the 2001 season harvest.
Norman now has more solid information about last spring's hatch: It was awful.
By analyzing feathers from turkeys killed in the fall, biologists get a pretty good picture of the makeup of the population. In 2002, the studies showed 1.4 juvenile turkeys per adult hen. It's the lowest figure in the 23 years of the study, and not even half of the long-term average.
Hunters east of the Blue Ridge suffered the most. They took 4,125 turkeys, a drop of 45 percent from the previous year. The kill was down just 10 percent west of the Blue Ridge.
The hatch was poor statewide, so why the difference between the eastern and western kills?
A generally poor mast crop in the west helped hunters take more birds because the birds tend to move into open areas to feed when food is scarce in the woods.
"They're easier to see, easier to hunt and easier to kill," Norman said.
The opposite occurred east of the Blue Ridge, where hard mast crops boomed in many areas. Because turkeys had plenty of available food in the woods, they were harder for hunters to find.
Norman remains somewhat surprised by the poor hatch. A cold snap in May shouldn't have had much impact because most hens were still incubating their eggs. Early summer didn't bring the kind of prolonged, heavy and cold rains that can kill newly hatched poults.
Norman is left wondering if the drought might have had an impact. He also wonders if the low hatch may be the turkey's natural way of slowing the growth of a population that has grown steadily in recent years, even though that kind of natural population control is more common among large animals such as deer.
The poor hatch likely will affect more than just last fall's turkey kill. Because 2-year-old gobblers make up the majority of birds taken by spring hunters, spring gobbler hunters may experience tougher-than-usual hunting in the spring of 2004.