The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announced a harvest of 20,525 turkeys during the 2020 spring gobbler season.
This is the second highest harvest on record, with the highest occurring in 2015 when 20,580 birds were harvested. The 2020 harvest was 14.5% higher than the 2019 harvest. The 2020 Youth and Apprentice weekend harvest increased 40% from 2019 for a total of 890 birds. The opening weekend of the season was the highest two-day period of harvest throughout the season, totaling 3,993 birds or 19.5% of the total harvest.
Weather, annual reproduction, mast crops and hunter effort all have impacts on annual fluctuations in turkey harvests. Several of these factors likely led to the increased harvest for the 2020 season including fair weather conditions throughout most of the season and increased hunter effort attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the hunting season and most hunting lands remained open, hunters may have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend more time afield this year. The 2020 Spring Turkey Hunter Cooperator Survey will provide insight on this aspect of the season once the results have been analyzed later this summer. While turkey reproduction was lower than average in 2017 and 2018, turkey populations across the state are still at or near record levels. Average to above average reproduction was recorded across the state in 2019 so hopes are high for continued stable turkey populations and hunter success.
As in previous years, more birds were harvested East of the Blue Ridge (69%) versus west of the Blue Ridge (31). The eastern harvest was up 15% from 2019 while the western harvest increased 14%. Adult gobblers (those with a beard at least 7-inches in length) made up 84.2% of the total harvest, while jakes or juvenile birds (those with a beard less than 7-inches in length) accounted for 15.3% of the harvest. Bearded hens made up only 0.4% of the annual harvest, which is similar to what has been recorded in previous years.
As always, most turkeys were harvested on private lands (94.6%). Public land hunters (both federal and state) harvested 5.4% of the total spring harvest. A majority of the federal land harvest occurred on the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest where a total of 657 birds were harvested. This was 25% higher than the National Forest harvest of 518 birds in 2019.
Bedford County once again came in as the top county for spring harvest. Southampton followed close behind and Franklin County was third highest. These three counties have consistently ranked in the top five for total harvest due to their high turkey populations and amount of suitable turkey habitat. A few new counties did enter the top 10 this year, with Carroll County coming in sixth and Scott County coming in 10th.