Virginia Turkey Hunting Forecast for 2014

Virginia Turkey Hunting Forecast for 2014
Steve Alley of Craig County, Virginia shot this great 25 lb. gobbler this past turkey season.

If you're looking to do some Virginia turkey hunting this spring, this is your one-stop shop for population numbers, harvest info, and hunting opportunities.


Given all the turkeys I encountered this past spring in Southwest Virginia, I'm not surprised that the 2013 harvest was a record one of 19,265. The tally easily bested the previous high of 18,345 set in 2002 and was 26 percent higher than the 2012 total of 15,326. Regarding regions, East of the Blue Ridge sportsmen checked in 12,994 for an uptick of 23 percent. West of the Blue Ridge, hunters recorded 6,271, a boom of 31 percent.



The genesis of the 2013 record can be seen in the 2011 hatch; as veteran gobbler chasers know, the hatch two years before a season is the one that has most impact on the harvest because 2-year-old-toms are the ones most vulnerable to being called in and killed. Forest Game Bird Project Leader Gary Norman, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), reports that the poults/hen brood observation data was a very satisfactory 4.7 statewide in 2011 and was best in the North Mountain and North Piedmont regions.

This translated into a high percentage of two-year-old toms being a part of the 2013 harvest. The poults/hen brood observation data was also fairly good in 2010 with a 3.75 figure and was best in the eastern counties from the Northern Neck to the North Carolina line. This meant that a goodly number of 3-year-old toms — true trophies for sure — were a part of the 2013 tally.


HEVI-Shot HEVI-Metal Turkey

If speed equals downrange killing power, then HEVI-Metal turkey loads will make any hunter a turkey killin'™ fool. HEVI-Shot trades slightly lighter loads in their 3 ½-inch 12-gauge shells for extra speed, but if you can'™t kill a turkey with 1 ½ ounces of #4 or 6 shot, then maybe you should take up golf.

Traveling at a whopping 1,450 fps, the increased velocity allows you to stretch your shots a few extra yards and put a tag on that hung-up gobbler. The 3-inch 12-gauge shells have the same velocity with 1 ¼ ounces of shot. Loads are also available in 20-gauge.


Price: $11 per box of 5

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

HEVI-Shot Magnum Blend Turkey Loads

Can'™t decide on #5, 6 or 7 shot? HEVI-Shot'™s Magnum Blends make that decision for you. You get all three in a single shell. The patented Pattern Density Technology gives you the opportunity to kill birds at greater distances while giving you complete confidence to drop a gobbler with a single shot up close.

Three-inch 12-gauge shells carry 2 ounces of shot. Loads are also available in 20-gauge. Magnum Blends aren'™t cheap, but when you'™ve got a gobbler closing the distance, are you really thinking about a few extra bucks?

Price: $25 per box of 5

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey

Hornady'™s reputation as a bullet manufacturer is second to none. The company'™s relatively new line of shotgun shells fits right in with their high standards of quality and effectiveness. The Heavy Magnum Turkey loads incorporate Hornady'™s patented VersaTite wad, which maintains a tight, short shot string at farther ranges.

Loaded with 1 ½ ounces of nickel-plated 4, 5, or 6 shot, the 3-inch 12-gauge loads have a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps; the new 20-gauge loads travel at 1,200 fps and are packed with 1 3/8-ounce of #5 shot.

Price: $10.71 per box of 10

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Kent Diamond Shot

Speed or pellet count? It'™s a debate as old as turkey shotshells. Kent Cartridge ends that debate by giving hunters the freedom to choose a faster load or a heavier one. Ultimate Diamond Shot lead turkey loads are available in 3 or 3 ½-inch 12-gauge loads packed with #4, 5 or 6 shot.

Here'™s the kicker. You can select a 2-ounce load that travels at 1,300 fps or a 2 ¼-ounce load that moves at 1,200 fps in the 3 ½-inch shell. The 3-inch options are similar, except both 3-inch shells carry a little less shot. However, the speed difference is greater. The lighter load travels at 1,325 fps; the heavier load sails out your barrel at 1,175 fps.

Price: $10 per box of 10

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Kent Five Star Penetrator

A 50/50 blend of Tungsten Matrix and Diamond Shot, the Kent Five Star Penetrator gives hunters a one-two punch that drops gobblers in their tracks. Both shot types are #5 pellets, a favorite shot size among turkey hunters everywhere and an effective size for a variety of distances.

The blend results in dense downrange patterns and short shot strings for maximum killing power. Available in 3 ½ and 3-inch 12-gauge, both loads are packed with two types of #5 shot. The longer shell has a muzzle velocity of 1,325 fps; the3-inch load travels at 1,200 fps.

Price: $30 per box of 10

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Remington Nitro

Budget-minded hunters looking for a quality shell packed with lots of shot should take a close look at Remington'™s Nitro Buffered turkey loads. The 3-inch 12-gauge shells are crammed with an incredible 1 7/8 ounces of #4, 5, or 6 lead pellets, offering dense patterns and lots of killing power.

Also available in 2 ¾ and 3 ½-inch 12-gauge shells and 3-inch 20-gauge shells, Nitro turkey loads sail downrange at velocities of up to 1,300 fps.

Price: $11

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Remington Premier Magnum

Is it any wonder Remington is one of the leading sellers of turkey loads? Big Green'™s shells have been a fixture in the spring gobbler woods for decades. There'™s no question Remington'™s Premier High-Velocity magnum copper-plated turkey loads will keep the company at the forefront of the turkey market for many more years.

The shell'™s one-piece Power Piston wad and hardened copper-plated shot are flat-out deadly. The three-inch, 12-gauge loads are packed with a hefty 1 ¾ ounces of #4, 5 or 6 shot, and the 3 ½-inch 12-gauge loads come with 2 ounces of #4 or 5 shot.

Price: $17

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Winchester Double X

It may be a 10-gauge load, but it goes to 11 thanks to Winchester'™s custom-blended powders and patented Grex buffering. Two ounces of copper-plated #4 or 5 shot is packed into the 3 ½-inch load and it travels at a smoking 1,300 fps. Double X turkey loads are also available in 12, 20 and even 16-gauge shells for those nostalgic turkey hunters among us.

The 16s come in 2 ¾-inch 4s or 6s and are packed with 1 1/8 ounces of shot that has a muzzle velocity of 1,295 fps. The 12-gauge shells are available in 2 ¾, 3 and 3 ½-inch loads packed with #4, 5 or 6 shot.

Price: $13 per box of 10

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Winchester Long Beard XR

You need all the advantages you can get in the spring woods. Winchester gives you the upper hand with its Long Beard XR. The pellets, available in #4, 5 or 6, are coated with Winchester'™s patented ShotLok resin, which forms a barrier around each pellet.

It prevents pellets from deforming as they travel down the barrel, resulting in tighter patterns and fewer 'œflyer' pellets. That gives you a longer effective range and more dead turkeys. Available only in 12-gauge, Long Beard XRs come in 3 and 3 ½-inch shells.

Price: $20 per box of 10

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

Federal Mag-Shok Heavyweight LR

Turkey loads kick. There'™s no way around it. That recoil is one reason some hunters, particularly new or smaller-framed hunters, miss. Federal'™s Heavyweight LR take some of the punch of each shot without sacrificing killing power. They have nearly half the recoil of standard Heavyweight loads, but still travel at 1,300 fps at the muzzle.

The 2 ¾-inch 12-gauge shells are packed with 1 ¼ ounces of #6 or 7 tungsten-based shot; the 20-gauge shells are also 2 ¾ inches and are packed with 1 1/8 ounces of #7 shot.

Price: $25 per box of 5

Check out all the hottest new turkey shotguns for 2014.

The 2012 brood observation data, says Norman, was 2.8 statewide and was again best in the east. Now what does all this mean for 2014?

"I'm hesitant to give a recommendation for the region with the best gobbler hunting," said Norman. "Based on our harvest data I would choose the South Piedmont or Northern Neck. But good turkey hunting can be found throughout the state. Scouting is critical.

"[The turkey population is]stable at best, based on the relatively low recruitment we had in 2012 compared to the high levels we saw in 2010 and 2011," said Norman. "However, it's my hope we can sustain the recent increases even if things [poult production] level off — anything but a significant decline. But there are so many variables which make predictions like palm reading. We've got to keep in mind that 2011 recruitment was uncommon. The recent values are more on the normal scale of things."

The bottom line is that because of the 2012 brood data's decline to more "normal" levels, the Old Dominion's turkey hunters should not expect a record harvest in 2014. However, the 2011 brood data suggests we should expect to kill some nice older birds, particularly in the North Piedmont and North Mountain regions.

Norman believes that populations in the South Piedmont and Tidewater regions are the highest in the Commonwealth. But the season is still subject to the numerous variables that Norman mentioned. For example, if every Saturday of the season brings cold, rainy conditions, the kill could plunge; if the opposite occurs, the harvest could approach that in 2013.

MORE NUMBERS TO DECIPHER

Looking over the information that Norman gave me, several other aspects become clear. To best increase your odds of success, hunt hard early in the season on private land. The highest harvest occurred during the first week of the season, when 31 percent of the entire kill took place. On opening day, 15 percent of the kill for the entire season took place — an amazing statistic. Obviously, it can be argued that more hunters are afield that first week, so more gobblers will be harvested — and that's true. But I would also say that the longer we hunt an individual gobbler or locale, the more likely the turkeys will become "boogered up" to use an old Southern expression.

Second, hunters who gain permission to three or four prime farms, regardless of the region, have the best chances to score. That's why the fact that 92 percent of the gobblers were killed on private land is so meaningful. I frequently hunt in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, enjoy doing so, and have killed numerous toms there. But the turkeys are almost always more numerous on private lands. Six percent of the statewide kill occurred on federal land 2 percent on state lands.

Third, the annual Youth Day (which this spring takes place on Saturday, April 5) is an outstanding time for youngsters to tag a tom. The boys and girls 15 years of age and younger placed their tags on 522 males on that day, just under 3 percent of the entire harvest. Youth must have a valid apprentice license and be accompanied by a licensed adult or an adult exempt from a license purchase.

For all other sportsmen, the season begins April 12 and runs through May 17. From May 5 through 17, all-day hunting is legal. Hunters may take one, two, or three bearded turkeys, depending on how many were killed during the fall season. If, for example, one autumn turkey was harvested, two bearded spring birds may be killed.

HUNTING THE NATIONAL FOREST

At 1.7 million acres, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest (GWJNF) dominates the public land conversation in the Old Dominion. JoBeth Brown, public affairs officer for the GWJNF, suggests that the best way to go about finding a place to hunt on the public land is to access the agency's website, select the ranger district that you would like to hunt or is closest to your home, and then ask the following questions to a biologist or staff member.

"You'll want to ask where turkey hunting has traditionally been good in that district, and where recent clearcuts, water sources, prescribed burning, and various habitat improvement projects have taken place. Some ranger districts have Trails Illustrated maps for sale, and they can be very helpful in finding places to hunt."

If a ranger district does not have those maps, a staffer can direct the caller to where they can be purchased locally. A really impressive feature about the Trails Illustrated series is that they are constantly updated. Brown says that staffers can also direct sportsmen to where they can buy USGS maps for the national forest. I own a number of the USGS maps and have always found them very useful in helping me to target places with turkey hunting potential.

Of course, says Brown, although maps are wonderful tools, nothing is better than visiting a national forest area before the season begins and conducting on the ground research.

BEST PRIVATE LANDS

Turkey hunters can gain a fair amount of insight on where to go from the top 10 harvest counties from 2013 which were (with kill in parentheses) Bedford (631), Halifax (516), Pittsylvania (510), Franklin (425), Southampton (411), Scott (346), Caroline (327), Sussex (326), Campbell (318), and Westmoreland (304).

As interesting as this information can be, a much better indicator of which counties are currently producing lots of toms are the kill per square mile of forested habitat figures. The total harvest numbers above can reflect a quality turkey population or they may just mean that the county is so large that a goodly number of toms were checked in.

For example, the number one county in the square mile category was Richmond (2.06) and this domain did not come close to making the top ten harvest list. The same is true with the second and third place counties, Northumberland (1.65) and Lancaster (1.51), respectively. Gain permission to private land in any of these three East-of-the-Blue-Ridge domains this spring, and you will very likely experience an exciting outing.

Of course, some high harvest counties boasted high kills per square mile. A superlative example of this is Bedford (1.41). I recently gained permission to hunt a Bedford County rural property and can't wait to check it out. The rolling hills, agricultural concerns, and cattle farms of this Piedmont domain provide fantastic turkey hunting year after year.

STATE WMAs

Around the state, hunters can also find fine hunting on state WMAs and forests. Tidewater VDGIF biologist Todd Englemeyer states that the Dragon Run and Sandy Point state forests and Chickahominy WMA are worth checking out, as are lottery hunts exist at the Doe Creek and Mockhorn WMAs. Also in Tidewater, biologist Aaron Proctor offers us the Big Woods WMA in Sussex.

For the Southern Piedmont, Biologist Dan Lovelace states that Fairystone Farms WMA in Henry and Patrick Counties and White Oak Mountain WMA in Pittsylvania County "are very good spring gobbler hunting areas."

Biologist Katie Martin also keeps tab of the Southern Piedmont and rates Featherfin WMA in Prince Edward and Amelia WMA in the county of the same name as "excellent spring gobbler hunting spots." Both of these WMAs are quota-hunt only, though, during the spring gobbler season (except for youth day and from May 5-May 17). Horsepen WMA in Buckingham also is good, she says.

In the Northern Piedmont, district wildlife biologist Mike Dye lists the Mattaponi WMA in Caroline as well as the Phelps WMA in Fauquier County.

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