Wild Turkey Harvest Sets Record High for 2020 Season

North Carolina’s 5-week wild turkey season had its highest ever recorded harvest of 23,341 birds, according to recent results from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s annual turkey harvest summary. The 2020 season far surpassed the previous record of 18,919 harvested birds set three years ago in 2017.

Agency biologists said most of the increase in harvest is likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic statewide “stay at home” orders, under which people had more time to hunt, including youth hunters. Harvest during the week-long youth season increased by 110 percent over previous years.

To put this harvest in perspective, biologists typically compare it to the average harvest of the previous three years. Additional statistics for this season are:

Harvest in the mountains increased by 14 percent

Harvest in the piedmont increased by 26 percent

Harvest in the coast increased by 37 percent

Harvest on public game lands decreased by 0.4 percent

Number of adult gobblers harvested increased by 18 percent

Number of jakes harvested increased by 87 percent

Jakes comprised 20 percent of the harvest this year, as compared to 12-15 percent in previous three years.

The top five counties for the number of turkeys harvested were Duplin, 686 birds; Bladen, 571 birds; Columbus, 539 birds; Pender, 532 birds; and, Franklin, 516 birds. When considering the size of counties, the top counties for turkeys harvested per square mile were: Franklin, Rockingham, Duplin, Stokes and Caswell.

“Our estimates of hunting pressure come from a mail-in survey, so we will not have exact figures for the 2020 season for quite some time,” said Chris Kreh, the agency’s wild turkey biologist. “However, many hunters were telling us that pressure was up considerably this year, especially on game lands.”

In each of the previous three hunting seasons, approximately 70,000 to 76,000 hunters pursued turkeys each spring, with an average of 14 to 15 days of hunting for each turkey killed.

“It will be very interesting to see the mail survey estimates of hunting pressure for the 2020 season,” Kreh added.

Kreh and other Commission staff fielded many questions about the impact of increased hunting pressure and harvest, with some hunters concerned that this may lead to population declines.  There are, however, several reasons to be optimistic.

“The timing of our hunting season offers considerable opportunity for breeding before males are harvested, so hens are still able to nest and raise poults as they always do,” Kreh said. “Additionally, our two-bird limit and 36-day season, which includes youth season, are fairly conservative, and have safeguarded the population against overharvest for many decades.”

Kreh also pointed out that the Commission’s goal for turkey hunting emphasizes hunting quality, rather than simply maximizing harvest, which means that an increase in harvest, even a pretty substantial one, is still very likely to be sustainable.

“Our turkey population is very robust, and in most areas, it can handle this additional harvest and hunting pressure quite well,” Kreh said.  “Hunters may hear fewer gobblers than they are used to for the next year or two, but since hens and reproductive output are still largely protected, I don’t expect the overall population to decline”

For additional turkey harvest information, including harvest numbers by county, game land, season and weapon type, read the summaries here under the Harvest Reports tab.

The agency posts annual harvest summaries on its website, for all game species, as well as live harvest reports, which are available anytime throughout the hunting season. For more information, visit the Commission’s wild turkey page.

About the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

Since 1947, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been dedicated to the conservation and sustainability of the state’s fish and wildlife resources through research, scientific management, wise use and public input. The Commission is the state regulatory agency responsible for the enforcement of fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws and provides programs and opportunities for wildlife-related educational, recreational and sporting activities.

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