This year's spring gobbler season came to an end on May 19, 2012. From the preliminary figures, the harvest for 2012 was 8,332. This is nearly a 10 percent decline from the 2011 harvest of 9,216. This is also about 14 percent below the current five-year average.
The top five counties were Mason with a harvest of 343, followed by Preston (330), Harrison (282), Wood (237), and Greenbrier (235). In counties of local interest, Randolph had a harvest of 150, up from 140 in 2011. Barbour had a harvest of 179, up from 159,; Tucker (62), up from 58; and Upshur (224), up from 212.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources game biologists have recognized the brood counts two years prior are quite accurate to predict the future harvests. Most of any years spring gobbler harvest is made up of two-year birds. From the studies the DNR conducted in 2010, the brood production that year was almost 30 percent lower than it was in 2009. This could be the primary reason why the 2012 spring gobbler harvest was lower, because fewer birds were available. The 2012 spring gobbler is the lowest since 1989 when 7,245 birds were taken by hunters. Future harvests will depend on brood production and survival. West Virginia DNR Director Frank Jezioro says, "Let's hope for a dry June and a more normal spring in 2013, if there is such a thing."
In spite of this decline, hunters in Wildlife District 1 (northern counties) registered a seven percent increase over 2011. The southern districts had the greater reduction in harvest. Districts 4 and 5 declined by 21 and 25 percent respectively. District 3, which includes Randolph County, had a nearly 5 percent decline.
Some people say the spring gobbler season is the most dangerous hunting season in the state. This year only one shooting incident marred the spring gobbler season. On April 28, 2012, a 32-year-old man from Charleston, WV, was shot in the left arm with fragments in the upper torso. The projectile came from a rifle. This incident took place in the Campbell's Creek area of Kanawha County. The shooter was identified as a 49-year-old Charleston man. As of June 12, 2012, this incident is still under investigation.
Another shooting incident occurred on March 10, 2012, but this was not during the spring gobbler season. A 15-year-old boy from Ovapa in Clay County was shot in the head with a rifle and killed outright. The shooter was identified as an older relative who thought he was shooting at a coyote. I sure would like for the state to make it through the remainder of the year without another hunting or shooting fatality.
With the year nearly half over and only two hunting accidents, all sportsmen and women can truly say, "the mandatory hunter safety course is doing its job." When I was a teenager and learning how to hunt, about 75 percent of the hunting incidents involved youth (victim and shooter) hunters. The number of hunting accidents was much higher than what it is today.
In other news that could possibly be of interest to local deer hunters, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank has announced that applications are now available and being accepted for the special resident-only controlled deer hunt. This will be held on the NRAO site in Pocahontas County. I am going to try to have a column about this special hunt in the near future.