A total of 2,018 wild turkeys were harvested in Virginia during the 2019-20 fall turkey hunting season, 15% lower than last year’s harvest (2,363). The harvest declined five percent in counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains while the harvest decreased 26% in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. More than 93% of fall turkeys were reported through the electronic checking system (telephone, online, and app).
While Virginia’s turkey population is close to record levels for modern times, fall harvests will fluctuate due to a number of other factors beyond the population size. These factors, which vary across the state, include the length and timing of the fall season, annual variation in reproductive success, acorn abundance, hunting pressure, and weather.
There were significant changes in the length of the fall season this year. To meet Turkey Plan Objectives, the fall season was reduced in 32 counties where populations were either declining or stable. The season was expanded in several other counties where populations allowed. Finally, an additional day of fall hunting was provided on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, resulting in an increased harvest during this traditional turkey hunting week.
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 2019, the productivity estimate (2.5 poults/hen) was slightly below the long-term average (2.6 poults/hen) on a statewide basis. However, reproduction varied by region. Juvenile birds account for 40-60% of the fall bag so reproductive success greatly influences turkey population size 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 reproductive success and acorn abundance. The fall harvest in the Tidewater Region increased 32% over last year, the only region showing a higher fall harvest. Good reproduction, low white oak acorn crops, and a longer season in the Northern Neck likely contributed to the increase. The fall season in many South Piedmont counties was shortened to meet Turkey Plan Objectives, contributing to the 24% decline in harvest in this region. In Southwest counties, the fall harvest declined 28% despite good reproduction. Excellent reproduction occurred in the North Mountain Region but the harvest declined 22%, likely due to good abundance of red oak acorns. The harvest in the North Piedmont was about the same as last year (-6%).
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. The 2019-20 fall season was shifted one week earlier to stimulate interest in traditional 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 (2019–2020) (PDF)
|Season/Method||Number Harvested||% Total Harvest|
|Type of Turkey|
|East of Blue Ridge||1,206||60|
|West of Blue Ridge||812||40|
|First Two Weeks||410||20|
|Wed. & Thanksgiving||476||24|
|Top 10 Counties|