ELKINS, W.Va. — The emergence of the 17 year cicadas across the central and northern counties of West Virginia last summer will be felt as hunters step into the greening woods of the Mountain State for the 2017 spring gobbler season. The cicada with their non-stop hum last summer was like a dinner bell for the wild turkeys of West Virginia.
The abundant food source produced a huge year for reproduction among the turkey population. However, Keith Krantz, Game Management Supervisor for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources cautions that may not necessarily translate to a bigger year for spring gobbler hunting.
“You can’t beat those cicadas, but just because we had such a good hatch doesn’t necessarily mean the harvest is going to go up,” Krantz explained. “The ones that make up the bulk of the harvest are the two and a half year old birds and they suppress the jakes from the breeding process.”
Hunters are likely to encounter more jakes than normal for this spring, just because of the off year production, but it’s unclear just how much gobbling they will be doing. Their participation in the process may be even less pronounced in the southern West Virginia counties. There, Krantz explained, the numbers of mature gobblers will also be up for hunters to pursue.
“In 2015, their hatch was 14 percent above the five year average,” Krantz said. “That would create a larger abundance of 2 and a half year old birds for this year’s hunting season.”
This will be the second year the DNR has opened up the spring gobbler season a week earlier than the traditional opening day. The change was made at the request of hunters who pushed for the earlier opening date with the Natural Resources Commission. It may not have created the benefit many believed it would according to Krantz.
“It didn’t really hurt anything, it just moved the harvest up a week. Having said that we don’t want to make it any earlier because we’d start taking males out before they get a chance to mate,” Krantz said. “But, I’ve always said as have old time biologists who set this whole thing up, the last of April and first of May is the very best turkey hunting.”
Many hunters are adamant about being there on opening day, but Krantz doesn’t believe that necessarily translates to success during spring gobbler season.
“Last year only 16 percent of our season harvest happened on the first day,” Krantz added. “I would say that was only because there were so many hunters in the woods.”
In fact hunting the last two weeks of the season may give hunters a better opportunity to successfully call to a bird since during the early part of the season many will be locked up with a flock of hens. Once those hens head off to next, the gobbler will be on the search again. . .
Regardless of when the season is set, the routine of turkey mating doesn’t change. An early spring with the woods greening up and warmer days or a late spring with foggy and cooler conditions has little to no impact on the mating habits. Breeding activity, biologists like Krantz will tell you, is triggered by photo-period and the difference in the length of daylight versus darkness. Those periods never fluctuate form year to year.
“They’re still going to do what they’re going to do whether spring is early or late,” he said. “It’s more of a perception on our part.”
The season opens Monday, April 17 and runs for four weeks.