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TScottW99
06-30-2003, 07:10 PM
Sunday, June 29, 2003

Turkey hunters must take good news with bad


By MARK TAYLOR
THE ROANOKE TIMES



Virginia turkey hunters didn't set a record this spring, but they still deserve a big hand.

The total kill dropped just 2 percent from last year's record, a fairly impressive feat considering a few factors hunters had working against them during their early-morning jaunts into the woods.

Hunters killed 17,988 gobblers this spring, according to figures released Friday by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The kill included 11,810 gobblers east of the Blue Ridge and 6,178 birds west of the Blue Ridge.

It's pretty easy to put a positive spin on the total.

For one thing, weather conditions weren't exactly favorable during the spring. Many mornings - including plenty of Saturdays - were wet, cold and foggy. It's not impossible to kill turkeys on days like that, but it's often more difficult than usual. In general, turkeys tend not to gobble well on dreary days.

A relatively small group of two-year-old gobblers in the woods also probably made for tougher hunting. Two-year-olds are the most vocal mature gobblers, and usually the most eager to respond to a hunter's calls.

Because of a worse-than-average hatch in 2001, the number of 2-year-olds was down. That's also why many of the gobblers killed this spring were good-sized - a fairly large percentage were at least 3 years old.

Finally, spotty hard mast crops this past fall across much of Western Virginia may have affected the hunting, according to state turkey program director Gary Norman.

When mast is scarce, turkeys enter the spring breeding season in less-than-ideal physical condition. Birds with low fat reserves may gobble less, making them harder to locate and call.

Hunters in West Virginia faced many of the same challenges, and Virginians might take some pride knowing that the kill dropped 6 percent over there.

Several counties in the region were among the top 10 in terms of turkey numbers.

Despite having its kill drop nearly 100 birds from the 2002, Bedford County repeated as the state's top turkey county, with a kill of 648 gobblers. Pittsylvania and Franklin were second and third, the same positions they held last year, with kills that changed only slightly from 2002 to 2003. Botetourt County climbed from ninth in 2002 to fourth this spring with a kill of 419 turkeys, a jump of more than 30 percent. Patrick (336 birds), Rockbridge (321) and Amherst (313) counties also made the top 10.

If hunters thought they had it tough this spring, they may really be crying the blues the next two seasons.

Last spring's hatch was the worst in more than 30 years, according to data collected by the game department. That means those vocal 2-year-olds will likely be few and far between next spring. And remember, there won't be too many 3-year-olds out there either.

Solid information on this spring's hatch won't be available until next winter, when biologists gauge the hatch success by counting the number of juvenile birds in this coming fall's kill.

Things don't appear too encouraging.

The seemingly endless cold rains that plagued us through May and into early June may have had a devastating effect on the turkey hatch. Young turkey poults are very susceptible to cold, wet conditions and biologists expect mortality to be high.

If you've spent much time in the woods the past few weeks, you may have seen some hen turkeys. If you're like me and many of the folks with whom I've been talking, few of those hens had poults in tow.

http://www.roanoke.com/roatimes/news/story151654.html