West Virginia spring gobbler hunters will again have a challenging season as 2012’s spring turkey season unfolds. Though turkey production was up a bit the past spring, numbers of toms still are down from the lofty levels of a few years past.
According to Paul Johansen — West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Assistant Chief of Game Management — brood reports from DNR personnel indicated a slightly higher level of production in 2011 than the previous spring. This evaluation took place last fall, and doesn’t take into consideration any loss that occurred during the past winter.
According to the DNR, harvest numbers for the 2011 spring gobbler season show a take of 9,216 bearded turkeys, a decline of 10 percent from the 2010 harvest of 10,209 birds. Division of Natural Resources wildlife officials surmise a combination of inclement weather, high gas prices, and lower turkey numbers were major factors in the lower kill.
“Our biologists had predicted a slightly lower harvest based on poor productivity in 2009,” said Curtis I. Taylor, Chief of the Wildlife Resources Section. “Preliminary reports from field personnel also indicate a lower hunter turnout, probably due to high fuel prices and many rainy days during the season.”
The 2011 spring kill is the lowest since 1990, when 9,152 birds were checked.
The harvest was down 12 percent each in Districts 1 and 2, down 9 percent each in Districts 3 and 6, down 16 percent in District 5, and up slightly in District 4. Top counties were Mason with a kill of 447, Preston at 325, Kanawha with 310, 291 from Jackson, and Wood yielding 276. Rounding out the top 10 counties were Marshall at 254, Greenbrier with 253, Harrison at 242, Wyoming giving up 242, Fayette with 237, and Putnam producing 237.
Following the 2011 spring season, Taylor indicated a dry June upped the survival rate of young poults, and helped bolster wild turkey population. But he added that it would take several years of good turkey production to get back to the level of 10 years ago.
Though spring turkey numbers have been on the decline, for the reasons previously mentioned, don’t get the impression that there aren’t good numbers of turkeys out there. It’s just that populations have declined from lofty numbers enjoyed a decade ago.
Perhaps of most importance to this year’s season is the production during the spring of 2010. Those toms, which are this season’s vocal two-year-olds, should be in good numbers. There was a second nesting during 2010 that supplied a fair number of birds.
What follows is a look at some of the better public hunting opportunities in the state, based on spring gobbler harvest trends in recent years.
Mason County topped the field last season with a spring harvest of 447 gobblers and jakes. Found in the extreme western part of the state, bordering the Ohio River, Mason provides a mixture of habitats that include hardwood ridges, farmland, and bottomlands.
Hunters looking for public land in Mason County can choose between Chief Cornstalk and McClintic wildlife management areas.
Chief Cornstalk WMA covers nearly 12,000 acres. It is mostly wooded, with 85 percent existing as hardwood forest. The terrain varies from gentle to moderate slopes.
Camping is permitted via the 15 primitive sites found within the public hunting area. Chief Cornstalk is located near the towns of Gallipolis Ferry and Southside.
McClintic WMA’s 3,665 acres offer much more diversity than most of the state’s public hunting areas, which tend to be dominated by hardwood forest. Hunters can expect to find a mixture of farmland, brush land, wetlands and forests here. The area is found between Point Pleasant and Mason.
In addition to Cornstalk and McClintic, Mason County shares Green Bottom WMA with neighboring Cabell County. Green Bottom covers nearly 1,100 acres. Green Bottom features forested bottomlands, wetlands and also cultivated lands. It’s found about 16 miles north of Huntington along State Route 2.