Best Bets For West Virginia Turkey in 2012

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

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.

PRESTON COUNTY

Last season Preston County provided the second highest spring turkey harvest with a take of 325 birds.

Public hunting lands are limited in this northern county. Briery Mountain WMA was closed recently, due to the creation of a military live-fire range on Camp Dawson. Briery Mountain WMA was a tract contained within Camp Dawson, which is owned by the West Virginia State Armory Board.

Hunters looking for public land on which to hunt spring gobblers should look to Snake Hill WMA, which lies in both Preston and Monongalia counties. Snake Hill contains more than 3,000 acres, and is along a portion of the Cheat River canyon.

Hunters tackling Snake Hill can expect to find terrain that varies from gently rolling hills to the very steep slopes that border the Cheat River. Elevations range from 900 to 2,200 feet.

Heavily forested, the cover is primarily oak and hickory hardwoods. There is a scattering of clearings present, including ones created due to gas well locations.

Camping is not permitted within Snake Hill WMA, however campsite are available at nearby Coopers Rock State Park.

Snake Hill WMA is located 3 miles north of Dellslow and can be accessed by county routes 75 and 75/2 (Snake Hill Road).

KANAWHA COUNTY

Kanawha County, which contains the state capitol of Charleston and associated suburban areas, provided the third highest spring kill last season with a harvest of 310. Kanawha features two sizeable public hunting areas.

Morris Creek WMA covers nearly 10,000 acres in both Kanawha and Clay counties. This steep and heavily forested, state-owned public hunting grounds is near the Elk River.

It can be reached via CR 67 from the Clendenin area, as well as CR 65 in the Leatherwood Creek portion. Camping is not allowed on the state WMA, but it is available on nearby Kanawha State Forest.

Kanawha State Forest adds another 10,000 acres to the public hunting ground mix in this county. This state forest contains a mix of terrains, from stream bottomlands to both moderate and steep slopes. It's covered in a mixture of hardwoods.

Take exit 58-A off of Interstate 64, and then SR 214 to the second traffic light. Turn left at the light and follow the Kanawha State Forest signs.

The adaptable wild turkey often does well in developed counties like Kanawha, even within portions of such places that have limited hunter access. Enterprising hunters often score on spring gobblers by doing their legwork and getting access to these areas.

JACKSON COUNTY

This western West Virginia county produced the fourth largest spring gobbler harvest in 2011, when hunters scored on 291 bearded birds. Hunters have two of public lands that support wild turkeys to choose from in Jackson County.

Frozen Camp WMA provides more than 2,500 acres of public hunting land. Expect to find hilly, wooded slopes on Frozen Camp, with a few open ridge tops and open bottomlands.

This public hunting area is found east of the town of Ripley, and south of SR 33 at Marshall.

Woodrum Lake WMA provides nearly 1,700 more acres of public hunting in Jackson County, though 240 acres of that are covered by Woodrum Lake.

The terrain surrounding the lake, which is formed by an impoundment of the Pocatalico River, is considered hilly. Forest cover is present in the form of oak-hickory and oak-pine mixes.

The WMA can be reached from Interstate 77 by either SR 42 at Romance or SR 19 at Kentuck.

WOOD COUNTY

The western county of Wood rounded out last spring's top four spring gobbler counties with a harvest of 276 birds.

Sand Hill WMA, which is shared with neighboring Richie County, is the only public land option in Wood County. Sand Hill covers just less than 1,000 acres.

Sand Hill includes portions that have experienced recent timbering activity and oil/natural gas development.

The terrain on Sand Hill is hilly and wooded, and interspersed with haul roads from the logging and drilling activity. Forestland is oak-hickory.

Access to the north portion of the WMA, which covers 267 acres, is from old U.S. Highway 50 at the Wood and Richie county line. Hunters should be forewarned that this tract has a significant amount of acreage within a safety zone due to an underground sandstone mine.

The southern portion of Sand Hill can be reached from U.S. 50 or from SR 28 (Volcano Road), south of Mountwood Park.

OTHER HOTSPOTS

As was noted earlier, other top spring turkey producing counties, from last year's hunt were Marshall, Greenbrier, Harrison, Wyoming, Fayette and Putnam. All provide some level of public hunting land.

Marshall County, found in the state's northern panhandle, plays host to Dunkard Fork WMA. At only 500 acres, hunting opportunity is limited. The slopes are moderately steep, and covered in oak-hickory and cove hardwoods.

Though many of the higher harvests in recent years have taken place in areas of with a mix of forestland and agricultural lands, there's much to be said for the opportunity provided within the high elevation forested counties, such as Greenbrier. Greenbrier boasts lots of public land, including a sizeable state WMA, a state forest, and more than 100,000 acres of national forest.

Meadow River WMA is state-owned and primarily bottomlands, but has enough upland cover to support wild turkeys. Greenbrier State Forest, found in the southern part of the county, adds more than 5,000 acres of forested turkey habitat available to spring hunters. Also, Neola WMA is part of Monongahela National Forest and contains nearly 105,000 acres. Part of Neola is located in neighboring Pocahontas County.

In Harrison County, look to the nearly 1,000 acres of Center Branch WMA for spring gobbler action. Mixed hardwoods, including cove hardwoods, cover the WMA. This formerly mined area contains strip bench flats, scattered high walls, and is interspersed with access roads.

Though Wyoming County has no public hunting areas, like much of the southern West Virginia coal belt, a large portion of the county is owned by private timber or mining companies, many of which allow public hunting.

Pocahontas Land Corporation is an example of land companies that own significant acreage in this region, and allow public recreation. Do your homework regarding ownership, because some of the corporate land is leased to private hunting clubs. Still, you may be rewarded with a quality opportunity. Be warned, though, that this is some of the most rugged land in the state.

Fayette County, which also features the rugged terrain typical of southern West Virginia, boasts two sizeable state-owned hunting areas. Beury Mountain WMA covers more than 3,000 acres, while Plum Orchard Lake WMA has 3,200 acres. Plum Orchard Lake takes in 200 acres of that total

Finally, look to Amherst/Plymouth WMA for another 5,000 acres of hunting land in Putnam County. Most of this steep-sided WMA is covered in young oak-hickory forest. A mile and a quarter of the Kanawha River forms the border of Amherst/Plymouth.

DETAILS

Maps of many of the state's wildlife management areas are available online via the agency's Web site at www.wvdnr.gov.

The 2012 spring season runs from April 23 to May 19. A youth hunt takes place on April 21.

The daily bag limit is one bearded turkey, with a season limit of two.

Be sure to consult the brochure provided with your current hunting license for further details.

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