The Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) announced a harvest of 24,447 turkeys during the 2023 spring turkey season (Figure 1). This represents the highest spring turkey harvest ever recorded in Virginia. The previous record was 20,580 set during the 2015 spring hunting season. Ryan Brown, DWR Executive Director, stated “Turkey populations remain healthy and abundant across most of Virginia, enabling hunters to enjoy a record-setting spring turkey season.”
DWR biologists anticipated the spring turkey harvest would increase during the 2023 season as indicated by above average brood survey results in 2021. The Department’s annual brood survey is a measure of productivity and recruitment within Virginia’s turkey population. In 2021, the survey indicated above average recruitment of turkey poults across much of the state. These birds are now 2 years old and 2-year old gobblers are typically very eager to respond to hunter’s calls. These 2-year old birds also tend to be more vocal, so they are often easier for hunters to locate. In addition to the increased availability of gobblers, favorable hunting weather contributed to a great season for many Virginia turkey hunters. Temperatures remained relatively cool and dry providing an ample amount of ideal hunting weather.
As in previous years, more birds were harvested East of the Blue Ridge (68%) than West of the Blue Ridge (32%). Adult gobblers (those with a beard at least 7” in length) made up 92% of the total harvest, while juvenile gobblers known as “jakes” (those with a beard less than 7” in length) accounted for only 8% of the harvest. Turkey harvests occurred overwhelmingly in the morning (93%) versus the afternoon (7%).
The majority of the spring turkey harvest took place on private lands (93%). Public land hunters (both federal and state) accounted for 7% of the total spring harvest, which was an increase from the prior two years. National Forest lands accounted for the majority of public land harvests.
Although many states within the region are reporting declining spring turkey harvests and populations, Virginia seems to be a bright spot regionally. Four of the top 5 turkey harvests have occurred since 2020, indicating that populations appear to be robust. However, there are several areas of the Commonwealth where objectives to increase turkey populations are not being met. DWR biologists continue to monitor these areas for potential management solutions. Using best available science and stakeholder input, the agency will begin revising the Wild Turkey Management Plan during 2023 and will provide more information as the process gets underway.