A total of 2,363 wild turkeys were harvested in Virginia during the 2018-19 fall turkey hunting season, a difference of only 5 birds from the 2017-18 fall season bag of 2,368 birds. The harvest declined slightly in counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains (-2%), while the harvest increased slightly in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (+2%).
While Virginia’s turkey population is close to record levels for modern times, fall harvests will fluctuate due to a number of other factors in addition to population size. These factors include annual variation in turkey productivity, mast conditions, hunting pressure, and weather. Reproductive success, or “the hatch,” can vary widely; inclement weather in May and June can lead to nest losses or death of the young turkey poults. In 2018, the productivity estimate (1.6 poults/hen) was the lowest on record and much below the long-term average (2.6 poults/hen). Juvenile birds account for 40-60% of the fall bag so this year’s poor reproduction set the stage for a decline in the turkey population and fall harvest.
Acorn abundance also has a significant impact on fall harvest rates. In years with abundant acorns, wild turkey home ranges are small, which makes them harder for hunters to find. As a result, harvest rates decline. On the other hand, during years of acorn scarcity turkeys must range further to find food and this typically helps hunters find and harvest more birds.
Gary Norman, Wild Turkey Project Leader, said fall turkey harvest patterns varied across the state according to the various patterns seen in turkey production and mast crops. A good acorn crop in the North Piedmont Region should have resulted in a decline in 2018 fall turkey harvest but moderate reproduction resulted in a 7% increase. Fair to poor acorn crops combined with very low production resulted in an 8 percent decline in fall turkey kill in the South Piedmont. The largest increase in fall harvest was seen in the North Mountain Region (16%), where acorn crops were poor yet turkey production was the best seen in 2018. Perhaps the worst of conditions were seen in the South Mountain Region, where acorn crops were scarce and reproduction was very poor; acorn scarcity would have predicted an increase in the harvest, but poor recruitment likely moderated the observed decline (3%). Little change was seen in the fall harvest in the Tidewater Region where white oak acorns were found in good numbers but reproduction was poor.
Norman went on to say that “despite efforts to promote interest in fall turkey hunting, the long-term decline of fall turkey hunters and turkey hunting effort may be having the biggest influence on the relatively low fall kill. Other states have seen similar decreases in fall turkey hunting interest by sportsmen.” One of the goals of the DGIF Wild Turkey Management Plan is to reverse the general decline in fall turkey hunting interest. The October youth and apprentice fall turkey hunting weekend and the late January fall season were designed to encourage interest in fall turkey hunting. Additional surveys of hunters will be necessary to fully understand how these opportunities may have enhanced participation in fall turkey hunting.
- For more information on wild turkey population goals, visit the Department’s Turkey Management Plan
- County-by-County Fall Turkey Harvest Data (2018–2019) (PDF)
|Season/Method||Number Harvested||% Total Harvest|
|Type of Turkey|
|East of Blue Ridge||1,268||54|
|West of Blue Ridge||1,095||46|
|Top 10 Counties|