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Gobbler Survival Study

Second-year trapping for the gobbler survival study was completed April 4, 2006, with 79 toms radioed (15 juveniles, 33 2-year old birds, 31 ≥ 3-year olds). After trapping operations ceased and before the first day of gobbler season (April 24), one 2-year old gobbler was killed by a mammalian predator and another adult tom died from unknown predation. Another 2-year old gobbler was illegally killed just prior to the season.

Of the remaining 76 birds, 14 were harvested (18%) and checked as legal kills. There was one jake (7% harvest rate), 6 two-year olds (19%), and 7 ≥ 3-year olds (23%) taken. Following is a breakdown by study area:

WV1: (Traditional fall hunt counties – Goal: 30 birds). The study area had 29 radioed toms (7 juveniles, 14 2-year olds, 8 ≥ 3-year olds). Only one 2-year old (8% harvest rate) and 2 ≥ 3-year old toms (25%) were checked in. No other mortalities occurred in this study area during the season. The overall harvest rate for this area was 10%.

WV2: (Non-Fall Counties – Goal: 45 birds). This area had 47 instrumented gobblers on the opening of spring season (8 juveniles, 17 2-year olds, 22 ≥ 3-year olds). One juvenile (12.5%), 5 2-year olds (29%), and 5 ≥ 3-year olds (23%) were submitted for checking. One adult and one 2-year old were killed illegally during season (trespass, shooting with hen kill). Two other mortalities (one 2-year old and one adult) occurred during the season (predated/scavenged; roadkill). The overall harvest rate for this area was 22%.

If all “other mortality” birds were considered to have succumbed from firearm related crippling injuries during the spring season, the maximum crippling loss would be 5.3%. With one possible crippling loss from the first study year, the maximum 2-year crippling loss would be 3.3%

Statewide, data for 2 spring seasons show 150 instrumented birds entering the gobbler seasons. Twenty-five gobblers have been legally checked (16.7%), with a harvest rate of 6% (3 of 53 juveniles) for jakes and 22% (22 of 99 adults) for older toms.

There have been no birds harvested during 3 fall hunting periods in counties open to fall season. Annual harvest mortality has remained fairly consistent between the first 2 years of the study, as illustrated in the following table. A harvest rate of 25% for adults occurred in 2005, with a rate of 21% in 2006. The legal take of jakes was 5.3% in 2005, 6.7% in 2006.

Year # Radioed Birds Legal Spring Harvest Illegal Spring Harvest (During Season) Maximum Potential Crippling Loss
Legal Fall Harvest
Total Kill (Legal, Illegal, Max Crippling Loss)
11 (14.9%)
1 (1.4%)
1 (1.4%)
13 (17.6%)
14 (18.4%)
2 (2.6%)
4 (5.3%)
20 (25.0%)
25 (16.7%)
3 (2.0%)
5 (3.3%)
33 (22.0%)
2-year Average
12.5 (16.7%)
1.5 (2.0%)
2.5 (3.3%)
16.5 (22.0%)

Data from 2005 suggested gobblers on public areas may be harvested at a much higher rate than toms on private lands. Preliminary figures for the 2006 spring season show at least 7 of the 13 legally checked-in toms (54%) were public land birds. Over 60% of radioed birds were either captured or being tracked on private property. This, again, indicates that toms on public lands are probably receiving higher hunter pressure and increased kill rates than those on privately owned areas.

From September 1, 2005 to June 1, 2006, there were 82 gobblers who survived the 14-day censor period. There were 27 (32.9%) mortalities during this 9 month span: 14 (51.8%) of these birds checked in during the 2006 spring season; 5 (18.5%) were killed illegally; 4 (14.8%) died from predation/crippling loss during the one month gobbler season; 3(11.1%) succumbed from predation (primarily mammalian) during the other 8 months; one (3.7%) birds radio signal disappeared during the period. Of the 27 mortalities (33% mortality rate), 85% could be attributed to firearms related activities. Survival during the 9-month period was 67% (compared to 73% during same period in 2005), most of which can be attributed to adding predation-related kills during the spring season to the max cripple loss category—and the fact that juvenile birds made up only 18% of birds tracked (compared to about 50% in 2005).

Fall trapping in September and October of 2006 added 22 birds (5 adults, 6 yearlings, 11 juveniles), bringing the total number of radioed gobblers back to 73. Mortalities and radio failures during October, November and December has resulted in a sample of 64 toms currently (January 2007) being tracked. Winter trapping operations have been initiated, with a goal of 75 instrumented gobblers just prior to the 2007 spring gobbler season.

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2003 West Virginia Division of Natural Resources