Michael A. Sawyers
I told Curtis Taylor that running a state wildlife agency is a lot like running a newspaper. The people you mostly hear from are those who are sure you don’t know your butt from a groundhog burrow.
Taylor, of course, is the fellow who directs things at the West Virginia Wildlife Resources Section, which is a part of the state’s Division of Natural Resources.
I’m not a doctor and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I think his blood pressure elevated when Taylor read our June 9 column about West Virginia legislators planning to study an earlier opener for spring gobbler season. He wants readers to see, in Paul Harvey’s words, the rest of the story.
“I just got back from a meeting (with turkey managers from various southeastern states) and they are wringing their hands about the declines in their turkey populations,” Taylor said during a phone conversation this week, specifically mentioning South Carolina. “Some of them now believe they are opening too early, before reproduction takes place and hens are on nests.”
The Mountain State’s spring gobbler season now opens on the fourth Monday in April. Taylor is steadfastly opposed to moving it to the third Monday in April, something that legislators will consider.
He said he’s told state senators and delegates that they can pass whatever law they want, but when the turkey population goes south it will be on them.
“Some hunters want to go after gobblers as soon as they hear them gobble, but that first peak of gobbling is when the males are trying to attract the hens.
“The second peak of gobbling (about the time the season starts or shortly thereafter) means the hens are on the nests and the gobblers are still looking for action.” This past season, the West Virginia gobbler kill increased dramatically, rising more than 30 percent when hunters checked in more than 10,000 birds.
Taylor said a telemetry study conducted jointly with Virginia both surprised and appalled him in regards to illegal killing of turkeys.
“In my opinion, the turkey is the most poached animal in West Virginia,” Taylor said. “You just don’t poach a deer, grab it and go. But with a knife and a plastic bag you can shoot and be walking out of the woods with turkey breasts in five minutes.”
Taylor said when a turkey’s radio collar signaled there was no movement by a bird, researchers immediately followed the beep to the location.
“Most people who killed the birds saw the radio collars and didn’t take the turkey, but we would find shot in the bird and radio. However, we tracked some of the signals to people’s houses,” Taylor said, adding that natural resources police officers took over from there. “I guess those people don’t watch The Discovery Channel.”
Taylor said one radio-equipped dead turkey was audibly tracked and found at lake bottom on the Plum Orchard Wildlife Management Area.
“Turkeys aren’t deer that have a fawn or two every year no matter the weather,” Taylor said. “With turkeys, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. You get a cold, wet spring and you can have zero reproduction.” Taylor believes firmly that the Division of Natural Resources, not barbershops or the state legislature, is the place where turkey management decisions should be made.
“Years ago, when we first started thinking about having spring gobbler season, we wanted to do it when it would not impact reproduction. We wanted to open the hunt when more than 50 percent of the hens were on nests. We need to keep that approach.”
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at email@example.com.