CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The sun rises Monday on the first day of the spring gobbler season in West Virginia. However, this is a season like no turkey hunter has ever seen before in the Mountain State. In recent years, decisions were made which resulted in an evolution to gobbler hunting in the sate. It’s the first time ever the state will see a five week season.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for many years took withering criticism for opening the season too late in the minds of many hunters. The agency always defended the season timing so as to insure all breeding was completed. Eventually, biologists reached a point where they relented . It was concluded the state’s turkey population could sustain opening the season a week earlier–but they were still leery of extending it to five weeks. The traditional last week of the season was lost with the change. Since then, a lot of hunters have run the other way and called on the agency to reinstate what had always been the last week of the season. This year the agency has agreed to the call again and the season will be five seeks long with the old last week reinstated.
Amid all of those discussions and maneuvers, the Legislature authorized statewide Sunday hunting which effectively has added five additional days into the hunting season as well. It will be a full 35 day season for West Virginia hunters to enjoy.
Mike Peters game bird biologist for the West Virginia Davison of Natural Resources said because of this year’s nuance, he’s not sure what to expect. Normally, hunters take two year old gobblers. So Mike usually will check and see how many two year old turkeys there might be available.
“I go back two years and I look at brood production reports and if you look two years back the production was on the low side. It was around 32 percent lower than 2018’s brood production. If I just looked at that, I would say our harvest is going to be down from last year,” he explained.
But, then there’s the fifth week to factor into the equation. Peters thinks it will be a very productive week for hunters.
“It’s another week of opportunity for hunters, so in the grand scheme of things I think it will equal out and because of that I think the harvest will be similar to last year,” Peters said.
The five week season will offer a considerable change in the hunting dynamics. The landscape will go from nearly barren to full foliage. The temperatures will go from some snow and frost to consistently in the 80’s or more. The birds will go through a complete metamorphosis.
Kent Hall, a lifelong hunter who has created a reputation for knowing how turkeys tick thinks the first week may see us in some cases putting the cart before the horse.
“Always keep in mind that dominance has to be established. Dominance overrules the desire to breed. That dominance has to occur before any breeding takes place. That’s what’s happening right now,” he explained in a conversation on West Virginia Outdoors.
Hall said he treats every day like opening day, but noted early on hunters will find a lot of hens still flocked together and not interested in breeding and gobblers will probably be fighting and working to establish the dominance he explained.
During the 2020 spring gobbler season, hunters killed 11,314 birds during the four week season. Many will be watching to see how the five week season stacks up in comparison. Although the season was extended by a week, afternoon hunting is still prohibited in West Virginia. During his presentation to the Natural Resources Commission earlier this year, Game Management Supervisor Gary Foster noted there was still some reservation about opening up full day hunting until data can be established to prove the extra week isn’t negatively impacting the state’s turkey numbers.