Good turkey season forecast for Saturday’s opening day

Published 9:48 am Friday, October 28, 2011

Joshua Hooker of Smithfield holds the trophy he received for setting a record for the biggest turkey taken by a youth in the eastern half of Virginia in 2009. The turkey had a 12-inch beard and 1 1/2-inch spurs and was harvested in Southampton County. -- Gwen Albers | Tidewater News

COURTLAND–A mild late spring should mean good turkey hunting when the fall gun season opens Saturday, Oct. 29, in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

“When you have cold damp weather during May and June, the turkeys don’t do very well,” said Aaron Proctor, the southeastern district wildlife biologist for Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “The young ones can die due to exposure. When you have a dryer May and June that really favors the turkey brood. I think we’ve had favorable conditions in the south side peanut counties.”

Proctor said he also expects a good season because he’s been seeing large groups of birds.

“From what I saw, the turkey numbers are looking very good this year,” he said.

Turkey seasons have been expanded into January for some parts of the state due to an increased number of birds.

“We wanted to provide more opportunities for turkey enthusiasts and the numbers in the southeast are increasing,” Proctor said.

In Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, the gun season will run through Nov. 11, on Nov. 24, and Dec. 5 through Dec. 17.

Hunters can take one turkey per day and no more than two during the fall season. Turkeys can be either sex.

Last year, hunters took six turkeys in Isle of Wight County and 15 in 2009. The five-year average has been 11 annually, according to the Department of Game.

In Southampton County, 31 turkeys were taken in 2010 and 21 in 2009. The five-year annual average is 24.

In Virginia, 2,687 turkeys were harvested during the 2010 fall turkey season. This harvest was 24 percent below the 2009 reported kill of 3,538. Bedford led all counties with a harvest of 92 birds. Most of the harvest was reported on private lands. Thirty-seven birds were harvested on the Youth Fall Day Hunt.

Wild Turkey Project Leader Gary Norman said the decline in the harvest was not unexpected given the exceptional acorn crops seen across Virginia last fall. Turkey harvest rates typically decline when acorns are available. With good acorn crops, birds spend most of their time in forested habitats instead of openings or fields.

Furthermore, with abundant acorn resources birds do not have to move much to find these preferred, nutritious foods, Norman said. As a result their home ranges shrink and they leave less sign. Collectively, these circumstances challenge hunters to find and pattern fall flocks.