Wednesday, April 3, 2013


    It was on my short drive home from school on a wet mid-March afternoon that I had my first encounter with one of Spring’s long-anticipated sights—a gang of big black fanning birds spread about a distant field edge, plucking grubs from the softened earth.  

My senses overloaded with visions of drizzly April mornings, the air dank with the aroma of redbud and dogwood blossoms, and booming gobbles resonating from hardwood hollows.  This time of year, a light rain is a welcomed benefactor, and turkey fanatics fine tune their putts and purrs with their always-handy tools.  It’s spring, and it’s time to talk turkey.

The Regulations

    This year, the spring gobbler season will take off on April 6th with the arrival of Youth Day, open to youth 15 and younger.  Look to the DGIF website for information about purchasing an apprentice license.
    April 13th marks the beginning of the general season, and hunting is permitted until noon through May 4th.  All day hunting begins May 6th, and runs till the season’s close on May 18th.
    As in years past, there is a daily limit of one bearded bird.  Three birds can be taken in a licensed year, pooling fall and spring harvests.

The Facts

    Biologists note a gradual 1.2-percent annual decrease in the turkey population over the past decade.  This is considered a stable population, a welcome one that still fluctuates by the year.

    Spring harvests in 2011 ranked three-percent higher statewide than in 2010, and with equal increases in numbers found east (EBR) and west of the Blue Ridge (WBR).

    2012 brought a two-percent decrease in harvests statewide, with hunters WBR noticing a 9-percent drop and those EBR, a very slight reduction from 2011.  But a general consensus among hunters deemed the 2012 season a fluke.  Many believe that a mild winter encouraged an early green-up triggering mating two weeks early.  This theory is supported by the Youth Day harvest of 530 birds—a 53-percent increase over 2011’s 347.

Mild winter and spring conditions resulted in a high poult
yield and low mortality rate through the summer of 2012,
which may reflect generously on hunters's harvests in
upcoming seasons.  Photo by Matt Reilly

A Good Year?

    In contrast, this year’s long, tapering winter should keep foliage at bay until the season’s opener.  Gary Norman, DGIF wild turkey project leader, furthermore predicts, because two-year-old birds make up the large majority of gobbler harvests annually, an above-average poult production in 2011, along with the generally mild weather experienced later in the spring, should warrant positive turkey densities across the state in 2013.  Combine these elements, and those chasing gobblers this spring can favor their chances.

Where To Hunt?

    Eastern slope counties like Bedford, Botetourt, and Franklin, and Southern Piedmont counties like Halifax, Pittsylvania, and Southampton—all large counties—often rank high when considering the number of harvested birds.

    However, biologists stress that reproduction and, likewise, population density is local.  In terms of birds killed per square mile in past years, it’s realized that hunters’ best shot at a turkey will be in the Tidewater and Southern Piedmont counties of Westmoreland (2.06), Richmond (1.90), Northumberland (1.43), Lancaster (1.37), and Surry (1.36). 

    In these counties, large, agricultural tracts of private land are not hard to come by, and provide good hunting for hunters willing to ask permission from landowners.

    However, don’t rule out public land.  The department maintains several WMAs that boast decent turkey hunting, such as Featherfin WMA in Appomattox and Big Woods WMA in Sussex.  The western Thomas Jefferson and George Washington National Forest lands span many top ten counties in terms of overall harvest numbers.

Talk, Don’t Play, Turkey

    Hunting accidents are rare occurrences, but they happen, and every precaution should be taken to avoid one.

    Turkey hunters commonly wear full camouflage to hide themselves from the wild turkey’s keen eyesight.  Wearing blaze orange while on the move, or taping a tree near your stand with orange tape can help make your presence known to fellow hunters.

    Never stalking a turkey is the other side of this equation.  You may be after another hunter’s gobbles and decoys. 

    Finally, if you are successful, pack out your bird adorned with orange, so other hunters can’t mistake your trophy from one they’re about to take.
    Chances are, DGIF Executive Director and devoted turkey enthusiast, Bob Duncan, has been clucking and purring for weeks.  Are you ready?  Overall, factors indicate an average to slightly above-average 2013 spring season, with plenty of big, sharp-eyed, flighty game birds to match wits and share a beautiful spring morning with.

We’d Love to Hear From You!

    If you’ve got trophy pictures or Youth Day stories, send them in via the contact page!

Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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