North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Turkey Season Brings Record Harvests

Author: NCWRC blogger/Thursday, July 6, 2017/Categories: Hunting

Turkey Season Brings Record Harvests

Turkey season in the Old North State came to a close this May with hunters taking home a record-breaking number of gobblers.

“This season has been the most successful turkey harvest to date, with 18,919 turkeys bagged,” said Christopher Kreh, the Commission’s upland game bird biologist. “The highest previous record was 18,409 birds reported in 2013.”

The season began statewide April 8 and ran through May 6, preceded by a youth-only week from April 1 through April 7. The daily limit was one turkey and the season limit was two turkeys per hunter, only one of which could be taken during youth season.

“We had really nice weather during the weekends and on Good Friday, which gave our hunters more opportunities to find a bird,” said Kreh.

In 2017, the top three counties for total harvest were Rockingham (495 turkeys), Halifax (455 turkeys) and Northampton (452 turkeys). Over the past few years, harvests have increased in areas previously less populated by turkeys, particularly in the eastern part of the state. The counties with increasing harvests were also the last ones where turkeys were released back in 2005.

“In most of those places, turkeys have been there for a decade,” said Kreh. “There’s been enough time for them to migrate into those areas, which is why we see the population expanding.”

Though the 2017 turkey harvest was a record for the entire state, not all counties saw increases. In fact, turkey harvests have declined considerably in some traditionally strong areas in the last few years. Harvests in counties such as Alleghany, Watauga and Person, are 30 percent lower now than they were over a decade ago.

Spring reproduction and poult (i.e., baby turkey) survival from previous years affect current harvest rates, and this season’s jakes (i.e., one-year-old males) comprised only 12 percent of the reported harvest. According to Kreh, the percentage typically lies somewhere between 15 to 20 percent. The low percentage of jakes in this year’s harvest may be reflective of poor reproduction during the summer of 2016.

“We know turkey populations can endure a few years of poor poult survival,” said Walter “Deet” James, a wildlife biologist and avid turkey hunter. “Turkey populations can bounce back quickly as their population tends to grow exponentially under desirable habitat and weather conditions.” 

And grown exponentially it has. In 1970, North Carolina’s turkey population was at an all-time low of 2,000 birds, but by 2015, the population had developed into an estimated 265,000 birds. A trap and transfer program initiated in 1953 and a limited male-only spring season contributed to the vast population growth.

The Commission actively monitors the wild turkey population using the latest research, such as the recent Gobbling Chronology Project. We hope to maintain a healthy turkey population for years to come.

For more information, including hunting regulations, please visit our wild turkey webpage.


Katherine Abbott


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