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Talkin' turkey - and bear - season totals

February 12, 2006

The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources released 2005 turkey and bear seasons totals for fall and results are mixed.

The bear seasons (gun and bow) were excellent, but the fall turkey season was again down in most parts of the state.

2005 Bear Season: West Virginia hunters bagged 1,613 bears in 2005, just under the record of 1,713 set in 2003. The total was significantly higher than the 1,233 bears reported in 2004.

Gun hunters bagged 1,041 bears, which was a record. One key was a good mast crop in most areas of the state. When food is plentiful, bears delay going to den and are more available to gun hunters in the December season.

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Bowhunters bagged 572 bears in 2005. This was a 55 percent jump over 2004 total for bow season.

2005 Fall Turkey Season: The fall turkey season was a very different story. The numbers are starting to look like the deer totals, which is to say they are a train wreck.

The statewide harvest was 1,110 turkeys in the fall, the lowest fall turkey kill since 1967. In just four years, The harvest has dropped nearly 70 percent, from 3,505 kills in 2001.

An alarm should be going off somewhere in Charleston.

A DNR press release claimed wet, cold springs have reduced nesting success and good mast production that scatters the birds as reasons for the awful numbers.

I would suggest another possibility: Overhunting.

Anyone with a minimal understanding of turkey management knows the fall season is the hardest on the bird population. By contrast, the spring season has a very low impact on turkey populations.

The reason is simple. In the fall season, the majority of the harvest is young-of-the-year birds and adult hens. Taking the hens out of the population has a direct effect on how many eggs will be produced the following spring.

Spring gobbler hunting is just the opposite. A gobbler will mate with as many hens as possible, so if a hunter takes a gobbler out, the surviving gobblers will step right in to take care of his business. Thus, the turkey population will not be adversely affected. This is very basic turkey management policy.

"Next year's turkey hunting may be better since brood production this year was 80 percent of our long-term average production, up from the previous several years," said the DNR's Paul Johansen in an outlook of turkey hunting in West Virginia. "And this, combined with a better-than-average fall mast crop, should lead to better winter survival of turkeys."

That sounds good, but it doesn't seem to reflect the sense of urgency I would expect when the fall turkey harvest has experienced a 70-percent decline in just four years.

My guess is this sense of urgency will only increase when the folks buying the licenses let the DNR know that they are not producing the kind of results they expect.




Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted by e-mail at bandersn@weekend-sportsman.com

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