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The prospect for a strong gobbler season seems to be positive, but weather conditions may have an influence.
Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
Three juvenile male turkeys make their way from a Bedford County hay field into the woods on a cloudy morning in late March 2013.
Courtesy Jay Strong
Lukas Strong helped contribute to last spring's spring turkey tally of 15,326 birds. He was hunting in Rockbridge County, where he lives.
Friday, April 5, 2013
It might not feel much like spring yet, but Virginia's hunting calendar could care less.
Virginia spring turkey season is at hand.
The popular season kicks off Saturday with the youth hunting day, open to chaperoned hunters 15 and under.
The general season opens April 13, running through May 18.
The state's estimated 60,000 turkey hunters should find decent action, as the state's turkey population is good.
A key element to spring turkey hunting is the success - or failure - of the hatch two years prior.
That's because 2-year-old gobblers tend to be the most vocal birds in the woods, and the sound of those raucous gobbles echoing through the trees or across the fields is not only the addictive elixir of turkey hunting, but helps those hunters locate and tag birds.
Solid turkey numbers
Looking back at the 2011 hatch shows that this spring holds promise.
Surveys conducted by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries show that the brood surveys after the 2011 hatch were better than in the year before or last year.
The agency determines the hatch index by surveying department employees, including conservation police officers and field biologists and technicians, on what they observe while driving.
During the 2011 survey period, those helpers covered 161,939 miles, and saw a total of 219 hens with poults. The total number of birds spotted per 1,000 miles was 34.22 and the average number of poults per hen was 4.835.
By comparison, in 2010, the average number of poults per hen was only 3.75 and the average number of birds per 1,000 miles was 18.71.
"This translates, I think, to a pretty good population of 2-year-old birds out there," said Gary Norman, the DGIF biologist who oversees the state's turkey program.
Conditions play a part
Just because the birds are out there, that doesn't always mean they'll be eager to cooperate with hunters.
Weather can have an impact.
In years where mild weather hits early, many turkey hunters drive themselves crazy listening to booming gobbles in late March, prior to opening day. Some have urged the DGIF to consider an early opener.
Mild spring weather can kick-start breeding activity, Norman said.
With forbs and grasses popping up, turkeys are able to get a nice charge of nutrition after the winter, and that can provide an energy boost.
Yet Norman stressed that there is a more crucial element.
"Daylight is the primary factor that is always going to be there," said Norman, who noted that a small gland in the turkey's brain senses daylight and produces a hormone that drives breeding behavior.
That can provide some comfort to hunters who might worry that prolonged winter weather might delay peak gobbling.
The biggest impact from weather is less about long-term patterns and more about day-to-day conditions.
When terrible weather hits on a Saturday, that will invariably reduce the number of turkeys tagged that day. Not only may gobblers be less vocal, but many hunters will stay home.
The key weeks
While gobbling can vary day to day, the general peak in actual breeding behavior will vary little from year to year.
Hunter success rates seem to support the idea that action can stay pretty good during the entire season.
Last year, the youth day produced an impressive 530 birds.
The kill hit 2,258 the next Saturday, the general opener.
The following week, from Monday through the second Saturday, produced by far the most birds of any full week in the season, with hunters registering 5,243 gobblers.
The kill dropped to 2,617 the next week and 1,860 the week after that.
Norman cautioned that the drop in the kill wasn't simply a matter of hunters removing a lot birds from the population.
"Obviously, the number of hunters drops off," he said. "Success per hunter hour is not that bad [as the season progresses]."
As the season wears on, Norman added, a key to success will be hunting later into the morning.
That's because as hens start heading off to nests, gobblers that have had company suddenly find themselves in need of company.
"I know some guys who will hunt till 8, then take a nap until 9 or 10, when gobbling starts picking up again," Norman said.
Weather JournalMany very icy despite 'bust' claims