FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The 2023 Spring Gobbler Season is ready to go in West Virginia. Hunters on Monday will have five weeks to stalk what’s sometimes the most unpredictable critter in West Virginia’s game lineup. The season begins with two days of youth hunting for Saturday and Sunday. The regular season opens on Monday.
Mike Peters, Game Bird Biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources predicts hunters will find a good number of birds on the landscape for the spring season.
“I would say we’re looking pretty good. Two years ago poult production was really high compared to the previous four or five years and we’re coming off another mild winter and mast was fairly decent,” said Peters.
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The brood count from 2021 is a huge factor since most of the birds which will be called in and harvested during the season are two-year old birds. Therefore population figures for the wild turkey are expected to be up. But over time, it’s been realized population doesn’t always correlate to a successful hunting season.
“We used to assume there was 100 percent participation rate from hunters, but nowadays, we know participation varies from year to year. At the same time we also know hunter numbers are decreasing over time too. So even though we like to assume hunter harvest reflects overall population, there are a number of other factors in there as well,” he explained.
Over the past five years, the harvest figures for the spring gobbler season have been on the decline. Peters said that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer turkeys, it may be a result of fewer hunters. Some hunters in West Virginia like to believe predators are having a bigger impact than you would think. Peters said the theory is hard to quantify.
“That’s always a hard one to gauge, especially when you talk about larger predators like coyotes. They clean everything up. I’ve really not gotten a lot of reports about coyotes impacting turkeys. Everybody just assumes they do and they probably do take their fair share, but that’s just a tough thing to really get a grasp on,” he said.
The season will run for the next five weeks. After being extremely conservative in season timing over the past 30 years, the agency loosened up those restrictions a few years back. Initially they took the normal four week season and opened it a week early at the request of a large number of sportsmen. A year later, they tacked on the fifth week to the back end of the season. Peters said he watches those factors closely from year to year.
“I’ve been looking at that really closely because Sunday hunting is in there too and becoming more popular. I’m really keeping a close tab on those metrics to make sure we’re not impacting our population. What I can say is our harvest has gone down slightly in the last five years, but our harvest is being spread out over a longer period of time. So, we’re killing about the same number of turkeys, we’re just killing them at different times,” said Peters.