Turkey gobblers are sounding off, according to reports from hunters over a wide area of Virginia. The big birds appear to be in good shape following a decent mast crop last fall and the absence of extreme winter weather. When turkeys go into the spring breeding season healthy, they have a higher energy level, which can result in earlier and more aggressive gobbling.
Hunters are counting the days till the April 13-May 18 spring season. There will be a youth hunt day Saturday.
"Gobblers are really getting it on," one hunter reported after hearing three toms sounding off by 6:30 a.m. one morning this week. Another hunter reported spotting a huge flock of turkeys that included 15 strutting toms.
The past fall, hunters checked 4,432 turkeys, a 28 percent increase over the previous year, and the best take in five years. Last year's spring kill of 15,326 was 2 percent lower than the previous year. Bucking that trend, the 530 turkeys reported taken on youth day 2012 represented a 53 precent increase over the previous year.
Several Virginia sportsmen have gotten an early start on hunting by heading south where seasons open earlier. Carson Quarles of Roanoke killed a mature, 23-pound tom bearing a 10-inch beard while hunting with Harlan Starr of Chattokee Lodge in Cedar Bluff, Alabama.
Four hunters from Botetourt County recently killed Osceola turkeys in Florida. Michael Pauley killed a gobbler and a hen that had an 8.5-inch beard and spurs. Pauley is one species short of completing a bearded hen Grand Slam.
Others scoring on Florida trips were Ned Honts, who killed a 21.5-pound Osceola, and John Bowman and Richard Pauley.
Here's who will decide the future of turkey hunting
Virginia is in the process of developing a wild turkey management plan that will serve as a roadmap to guide turkey management for the next decade. (See my column.) The force behind the plan is a 13-member stakeholder advisory committee. Here is a brief introduction to each member:
- Daune Angell: Retired ER doctor who lives in Floyd County where she and her husband do wildlife management work on 200 acres they own. She has hunted since age 9, and is a hunter education instructor. She dropped out of the National Wild Turkey Federation over funding issues. She is opposed to rifles for turkey hunting.
- Carol Croy: Wildlife biologist for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests headquartered in Roanoke. Has a Ph.D. in forest ecology from Mississippi State University. Her work includes restoration of Appalachian ecosystems through a variety of silviculture practices.
- Mary Elfner: Coordinator of the Virginia Important Bird Areas for the Virginia Audubon Council. Held a similar position in Georgia, where she received numerous honors. Has a M.S. in wildlife biology and environmental policy. Lives in Richmond.
- Steve Fritton Jr.: A turkey hunter for 45 years and member of the NWTF since its beginning. Past president of the Richmond and State chapters. Has taught turkey hunting clinics, competed in calling contests and provided guided hunts for charity. Lives in Hanover. A physical education instructor at John Tyler Community College for 42 years.
- Gratten Hepler: A fall turkey hunter for 51 years; hunted with dogs since 1972. Participated in Virginia's first spring season in the '60s. Lives on a farm in Alleghany County. Member of the NRA and Izaak Walton League. Would like to see more wildlife habitat management work on national forests.
- Clint Keller: A soon-to-retire police officer in Front Royal who has a passion for the outdoors that is evident by his involvement in numerous sportsmen organizations. A bowhunter and hunter education instructor for more than 20 years. Believes turkey hunting has improved but it is not where it could be. Habitat is the key.
- Cully McCurdy: Regional wildlife biologist in Virginia and West Virginia for the NWTF. Likes hunting and shooting and coaching/refereeing high school soccer. Active in the Ruffed Grouse Society and Quality Deer Management Association. Lives in Pocahontas County, W.Va.
- Richard Pauley: One of the most knowledgeable turkey hunters in the state. Completed a World Slam in 2010. President of the award-winning Botetourt Longbeards Chapter of the NWTF. Life member of the federation and NRA. A champion for more opportunities to hunt turkeys. Operates insurance agency in Daleville; lives in Buchanan.
- Fred Payne: Lives in Charlottesville where he is a lawyer and serves as attorney for Fluvanna County. Hunts turkeys spring and fall. Has a turkey dog. Often hunts with a single-shot rifle and hand-loaded ammunition. Member of a number of sportsmen organizations, including the NRA. Played semi-pro baseball; umpires Little League.
- Earl Sechrist: A fall hunter since 1958 and spring hunter since 1968. Collects turkey books. Lives in Midland.
- Wilmer Stoneman: Represents agricultural interests as associate director of governmental regulations for the 150,000-member Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Familiar face at gatherings of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and General Assembly. Sunday hunting foe.
- Dick Thomas: Vineyard operator who lives in Goochland/Amherst. A leader in the Virginia Vineyard Association. Has expressed concern over damage to vineyards by wild turkeys. Interested in establishing a kill permit system.
- Chip Watkins: Lives in King William and does wildlife management practices on the 600 acres he owns. Has a landscaping business. President of the Twin Rivers Scratch and Strutters Chapter of the NWTF Chapter past four years. Recently started a duck club and guide service.
- Sure signs of spring: The first flounder of the season are being caught along the seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore, including Wachapreague, Oyster and Quinby. The first flounder citation of the season, a 7.5-pound trophy, was taken by an angler deep-dropping for blueline tilefish off Virginia Beach. To the south, the first big red drum of 2013 have been caught on the beaches of Ocracoke and Hatteras, N.C. That should lead to big drum catches off Virginia's Eastern Shore in a couple of weeks.
- Most of us never catch a largemouth bass weighing 10 pounds. Doug Hannon, known as the "Bass Professor," has documented landing 800 bass that weighed10 pounds or more. He also was host of ESPN's Sportsman Channel and inventor of the Wave Spin tangle-free fishing reel. Hannon died in Florida at age 66 following surgery.
Events, seasons, dates
- Department of Game and Inland Fisheries public input hearing on proposed hunting regulations, April 4, Wytheville Meeting Center, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Wytheville.
- Department of Game and Inland Fisheries public input hearing on proposed hunting regulations, April 4, DGIF headquarters, 4010 West Broad Street, Richmond, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
- James River Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society Banquet, April 4, Jefferson Lakeside Country Club, Richmond, information from Randall Strawbridge at email@example.com
- Youth spring gobbler hunting day, April 6, for youngsters age 15 and under, must be supervised by an adult information from www.HuntFishVa.com/youth.
- Banquet sponsored by Bland County Many Beards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, April 6, Rocky Gap High School, 123 Eagles Road, Bland, contact Lawrence Scott, 540-240-2424, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Fly fishing basics by Josh Williams, April 8, Tri-County Forestry and Wildlife Association, Roanoke Moose Lodge 248, 3233 Catawba Valley Driver (Virginia 311), Roanoke County, social time 6 p.m., dinner 6:45, meal $10, RSVP required, call Marian McConnell, 540-309-4747.
- Department of Game and Inland Fisheries public input hearing on proposed hunting regulations, April 9, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Northside High School, Roanoke.
- Department of Game and Inland Fisheries public input hearing on proposed hunting regulations, April 9, Taylor Middle School, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Warrenton.
- Department of Game and Inland Fisheries public input hearing on proposed hunting regulations, April 10, Prince Edward High School, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Farmville.
- An update: The New River Trout Unlimited Chapter Spring Thawout April 11, 7 p.m., Montgomery County Government Center. Program on muskie, bass and trout fishing in the New River Valley. Speakers Joe Williams, fisheries biologist of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, along with Shawn Hash and Steve Pflieger of Tangent Outfitters. Guests welcomed. Information from Jason Williams, email@example.com
- Spring gobbler season, April 13-May 18.
- Sportsmen and the (Chesapeake) Bay Clean Water Series, for anglers and hunters of the Eastern Shore, April 23, 6:30 p.m., new VIMS facility, 40 Atlantic Ave., Wachapreague, Va., details from Tatum Ford, firstname.lastname@example.org, RSVP requested.
- Botetourt Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet, April 27, social 5:30 p.m., meal 7 p.m., Lord Botetourt High School, Daleville, singles $55, couples $75, additional information and tickets from Richard Pauley, 540-992-1883 (work) or 540-254-2564 email@example.com and Ed McCoy, 540-339-0622 firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Virginia Hunter Skills Weekend, May 3-5, Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center near Appomattox, ages 11 up, $110 includes instruction, food and lodging, classes cover everything from a variety of hunting skills to cooking game, www.holidaylake4h.com/vahunterweekend.php.
- Hunters for the Hungry banquet, Sept. 14, Moose Lodge on Virginia 311 in Roanoke County, tickets $25 for a single; $40 for a couple, tickets and information from Ralph and Lois Graybill, 540-427-5125, and John and Wanda Reed, 540-427-4788.
Have an event? Contact email@example.com.