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Biologist predicts average year for spring gobbler hunting

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — West Virginia’s four week spring gobbler season opens Monday in all 55 counties of the Mountain State. The much anticipated season comes as many West Virginians, like the rest of the world, are forced into isolation by the ongoing response to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Despite internet rumors, which caused some confusion, the Division of Natural Resources has NOT issued any special orders in regard to the hunting season. The only blanket restriction is to observe CDC guidelines and observe the orders issued by Governor Jim Justice for social distancing. Anyone coming into West Virginia from out of state must quarantine for two weeks under the Governor’s executive order. However there are no problems with you going turkey hunting.

As for the turkeys, Mike Peters, game bird biologist for the West Virginia DNR says there should be plenty.

“I look at brood production from two years ago, which would be 2018, because the average bird killed by West Virginia hunters is a two year old bird,” Peters said in a recent appearance on West Virginia Outdoors.

When Peters looked into his history book, 2018 was a decent year for turkey reproduction.

“Surveys showed we were 16 percent above the five year average. Our mast conditions in 2019 were above the five year average. I also look at the winter weather condition and we had a pretty mild winter. Putting all that together I would say we’re going to have a pretty average year as far as harvest goes,” he said.

Gobbling activity has been detected in scouting all across the Mountain State. Although turkeys will gobble year round, the gobbling has a purpose during the spring.

“Gobbling is part of the whole breeding process. They use it to set up territory and attract hens,” he said.

A few years ago, the Natural Resources Commission agreed to open the spring gobbler season a week earlier than the long standing opening day. The decision kept a four week season intact–but moved it back a week. Although some feared the decision would negatively impact turkey numbers, Peters said it hasn’t caused enough of a problem to warrant a change.

“I would argue even today the season is coming in too early. I know everybody complains by the time the season opens the birds are done gobbling and all henned up or whatever. But biologically we wanted to make sure most of the hens were nesting when the season opens. It’s tolerable, I don’t think we’re greatly impacting the population, but we are impacting it,” he said.

The Commission agreed to moving the dates back a week after years of complaints from sportsmen. Ironically, it didn’t stop the complaints. According to Peters some want it to come in even earlier, which he opposed. However, some want the last week of the season back. The Natural Resources Commission has been presented with a proposal to extend the season to five weeks and restore the old last week. They’ll vote on it at the May 31st Commission meeting, but if approved it would not take effect until the 2021 spring gobbler season.

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