Spring gobbler harvest is up

Ken Cobb

From the looks of the preliminary figures, it appears that Mountain State spring gobbler hunters had a good year. According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, a total of 11,539 gobblers were harvested this spring. This is up from 10,361 taken in 2016, or 11.4 percent. The 2017 spring gobbler harvest is the highest since 2006, when 11,735 birds were taken. This also is more than 18 percent above the 10-year average.

Weather conditions varied throughout the season and across the state. Five of the six wildlife districts reported increases over last year. Only District Four, which takes in the southern counties, had a decrease from last year.

The Top 5 counties were Preston (475), followed by Mason (448); Jackson (408); Wood (380); and Harrison (327). Three of these five counties are located along the Ohio River. Youth hunters took 458 gobblers during the special one-day youth season on April 15. This is up from 378 in 2016, or 21 percent.

In counties of local interest, Barbour had a harvest of 204. This is up from 165 in 2016, or 24 percent. Grant was at 145, down from 161, or 10 percent; Pendleton at 112, up from 88, or 27 percent; Pocahontas was at 143, down from 144 with no percent difference; Randolph was at 248, down from 250, and no percent difference; Tucker at 97, up from 90, or 10 percent; Upshur at 303, up from 228, or 33 percent; and Webster at 150, down from 156 with no real percent difference.

Just what the fall harvest will be will depends on the mast conditions and food supply. Last year, all soft mast except for wild black cherry was below the 2015 production. Apple, yellow poplar and wild grape, three of the most important soft mast foods for wild turkey, was down considerably.

This spring, we have had an ample amount of rain with no killing frosts. If we were to have a killing frost soon, just about all of the fruit trees are out far enough to where I don’t think they would be hurt. Right now, we can only observe and keep our fingers crossed.

The record spring gobbler harvest is 17,875 set in 2001. For about a 12-year period around the turn of the century, there were several years of bumper crops of mast for all kinds of wildlife.

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The future of sport hunting and recreational shooting sports depends in being able to recruit new participants. This is why I firmly believe in the various youth hunts we have in our state, along with the civic organizations that promote youth shooting events like the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Izaak Walton League of America.

In this day and age, the recruitment starts when the kids are grade-school age. It really made me feel good when last January I came across a father who was squirrel hunting with two small children. It appeared this gentlemen was starting his children out right when it comes to shooting sports and outdoor activities.

As the youth get older, recruitment has to expand from high school trap shooters to urban residents with more ethnically diverse audiences. Here is where today’s senior hunters need to educate adults who are non-hunters. Seasoned hunters must “set an example” they are just not takers of wildlife. In reality, real hunters are individuals who protect, steward and preserve all kinds of nature.

While I cannot speak for all who hunt, I can still speak about sport hunters and sport hunting collectively.

Most hunters I know are ardently committed to preserving our game animals and hunting lands, along with the hunting heritage for the next generation. While this commitment may be driven by the passion for hunting, it still benefits many others in the long run.

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