Looking for off-the-beaten-path places to seek a gobbler this spring in West Virginia? Read on! (May 2010)
Over the past decade there have been a number of counties that have consistently showed themselves as the "heavyweights" as far their spring gobbler harvests go. Year in and year out Mason, Preston, Jackson, Wood, Marshall, Greenbrier, Roane, Summers, Harrison and Ritchie counties could be counted on to show up in the top 10 harvest counties in the state as far as total spring gobbler goes.
Over this same time frame there have been a number of counties whose spring kills have remained pretty consistent or have actually gone up, while some of the other premier counties have tumbled down the ladder the past two or three seasons.
Several counties that have seen their kills drop pretty dramatically over the past two to three seasons include Ritchie with 317 birds checked in 2006 versus 182 in 2009. McDowell had 270 toms checked in 2006 versus 183 in 2009. Marshall had 306 checked in 2006 versus 213 in 2009. Several other counties that have recorded fairly dramatic decreases would include Ohio, Nicholas and Hardy.
As one might expect a number of factors affect the overall turkey populations throughout the state, Brood success each spring has a significant impact on the next seasons' success. When we have cold, wet weather in late May/early June you can rest assured the overall brood success is going to be average to below average. Other factors affecting brood success would include encounters with predators, the general vigor and health of brood hens and exposure to avian diseases.
There are a number of other counties scattered throughout our state that have had several seasons of consistent kills strung together for the past several years. Mercer, Braxton, Monongalia, Marshall, Hampshire, Barbour, Wayne, Tyler, Taylor, Lewis, Hardy, and Raleigh would all fall into this "consistent" bracket. Actually, when you get right down to it even the counties with the lowest kills recorded in the state can and do provide some good spring gobbler hunting.
When you look at a county like Hancock up in the Northern Panhandle, you notice that it had a 2009 harvest of 98 birds. Doesn't sound too impressive does it? However, when you break the harvest down by the number of toms killed per square mile of area, the resulting kill per square mile of area of .65 toms is slightly better than Wetzel. Wetzel had a kill of 212 birds, which works out to .59 toms per square mile of area. When you look at overall kill, a county like Wetzel naturally looks like a better choice initially.
However, once you start examining the per square mile take of a total area, Hancock starts to look pretty darn good.
Another county that fits this mold is Tyler. It had a kill of 151 birds, which results in a kill of .58 birds per square mile of area. Not spectacular, but still when all criteria have been weighed a pretty good place to go spring turkey hunting.
There are a number of questions that should be considered when you are doing a spring gobbler kill data comparison and looking at a potential "sleeper" county. What sort of pressure does this county get? How close are any major towns in this county? Are there any contacts there that I can get reliable info from? How far from my home is this area?
Fortunately, for most of us one or more of these counties stands to be within a reasonable distance of one's home. A lot of folks will combine one of these spring hunting expeditions with a little camping, fishing, boating or canoeing. In addition, most of these areas have decent motels usually within a short drive of the area you plan to hunt anymore. Another possibility is one of the numerous state parks and the various forms of lodging they may have to offer.
As for my "sleeper" counties, my list would include Monongalia, Ritchie, Roane, Hardy, Mercer, and Marshall counties. All of these counties, except Monongalia, don't have a major population center. Even in Monongalia County, with Morgantown as its major urban hub, you can get to some fairly remote areas with a modicum of driving.
To top it off, most of these counties have over the years appeared in the top 10 lists on the spring gobbler kill at one time or another, except for possibly Mercer. I have hunted all but one of the aforementioned counties with Mercer being the only exception to date. However, I do have a number of friends who hunt this county and the reports I get from them usually range the spectrum from good to great.
Monongalia has provided good to exceptional hunting for the past decade. There are a handful of wildlife management areas (WMAs) worth considering which would include Pedlar (766 acres), Snake Hill (3,092 acres) and Indian Creek (1036 acres). Coopers Rock State Forest which sits astraddle the Monongalia/Preston county line has 12,713 acres, and has a number of remote areas with little road access for the enterprising gobbler hunter who doesn't mind a hike.
Ritchie County has, for the past 20 years, been one of the better counties although it has tailed off fairly dramatically the past two or three seasons. However, given that it is relatively small in size, it still provides some pretty decent turkey hunting. You have about half of the Hughes River WMA (10,000 acres) and the Ritchie Mines WMA (1,768 acres) both in this county. Also from a lodging/accommodations stand point, North Bend State Park is centered in this county and it will provide you with quality digs if you opt to use this as your base of operations.
Many years ago, Hardy was one of the old traditional mountain counties for spring hunters. This county has a deep-rooted spring gobbler hunting tradition, as it was one of the first counties that offered good turkey hunting back in the late 1960s and 1970s when the initial growth in spring gobbler hunting was taking off. It is still providing pretty good hunting still today. A sizeable chunk of the George Washington National Forest (50,852 acres) lies along the eastern border of the county against the Virginia line. Lost River State Park can provide you with comfortable lodging.
For the past 10 to 15 years, Mercer County has been a pretty consistent place to hunt from a spring standpoint. The county's harvest usually hits 220 to 300 birds per spring season. However, the harvest has tailed off significantly the past two seasons with kills of 253 birds in 2008 and 212 in 2009. Even with the kill at 212 this works out to .50 toms per square mile of area.
As recently as 2005, Mercer posted a spring kill of 389 birds. With the great habitat found in this county I'd be willing to bet on a fairly decent rebound. Camp Creek State Forest has 5,200 acres of prime habitat and there's a pretty decent campground at the Marsh Fork area at the southern end of Forest.
Marshall County is another county that over the previous decade has occasionally showed up in the top 10 in total spring kill. In 2009, there were 213 birds killed and with an area of 315 square miles this brings it in at .68 gobblers per square mile of area. This means it is a pretty decent place to hunt for a longbeard.
This is the ridge and valley country up in the Northern Panhandle with a mosaic of numerous small farms and rambling hardwood farm lots. The only drawback here is that there is little public hunting area here to peruse, so you'll need to do a little legwork to secure permission to hunt. If you can get the prerequisite permission to hunt, I don't think you will go away disappointed.
In the final analysis, the Mountain State is blessed with top shelf spring gobbler hunting, regardless of what area you finally settle on. These "sleeper" counties are but a handful of other places you might consider if you are itching to try a new area. Sometimes a little change is all one needs to re-energize their efforts!