State’s spring turkey season yields a record 706 birds

Western Kent County was one of three zones that stood out as turkey “hot spots” in the spring season’s harvest. These turkeys were spotted just east of Marydel in late April. (Delaware State News file)

Western Kent County was one of three zones that stood out as turkey “hot spots” in the spring season’s harvest. These turkeys were spotted just east of Marydel in late April. (Delaware State News file)

DOVER — Delaware’s monthlong spring turkey season saw a new state record.

The season, which ended May 7, yielded 706 birds. The previous record was 687 in 2014, DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife announced last week.

Delaware allows only the harvest of turkeys with beards — almost always males — during the spring season, the only time of year turkeys may be hunted in the First State.

“The recovery of the wild turkey in Delaware is a remarkable conservation success, made possible by the stewardship of hunters and the Delaware Chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation,” said Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis. “Such stewardship includes the division using hunting license revenues and federal funds derived from the purchase of hunting equipment to restore and sustain the state’s wild turkey population, which helped establish the sport of turkey hunting in Delaware.”

“The turkey harvest really started climbing in 2005, and we have experienced a five-fold increase in harvest over the last decade,” said Joe Rogerson, Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist and program manager with Species Conservation and Research. “The growing popularity of turkey hunting combined with a robust turkey population and abundant habitat has provided a fantastic spring hunting opportunity.”

Highlights of the 2016 season included the harvest of 36 “non-typical” turkeys, consisting of gobblers with more than one beard and one turkey with two spurs on each of its legs. Since Delaware opened turkey hunting in 1991, this was the first turkey harvested in Delaware that had multiple spurs on a leg, as nearly all male turkeys have one spur on each leg. Of the birds with multiple beards, the majority — 36 — had two beards, 10 had three beards and three had four beards.

“Multiple beards, while uncommon, is a genetic condition,” Mr. Rogersoon said. “Probably fewer than 5 percent of the males have multiple beards so it isn’t extremely rare but it certainly isn’t a common feature.

“Typically the beards are immediately adjacent to each other and it isn’t until the hunter gets their bird in their hand that they realize the turkey had multiple beards,” he said. “They usually kind of stack on top of each other so the beard strands kind of lay on top of each other giving the appearance of one beard until it is physically examined.”

Birds were harvested in 17 of 18 wildlife management zones. Three zones stood out as turkey “hot spots” — zones 4 and 6 in western Kent County, and zone 11 between Seaford and Georgetown in Sussex County — accounting for 38 percent of the total statewide harvest. Zone 1A, which is in New Castle County north of I-95/295, was the only zone where no birds were harvested.

This year, nearly nine out of 10 birds harvested in Delaware came from private land — 86.3 percent of the 706 turkeys harvested. Hunters also were successful on public lands, with 92 birds bagged. Quality hunting opportunities on public land were available statewide as evidenced by turkeys being harvested from 20 different public land areas.

For hunters planning ahead, the 2017 wild turkey season will start April 8 and run through May 6, with the special youth and disabled hunter day set for April 1. Also, before hunting wild turkeys in Delaware, hunters are required to take a turkey hunter education class. For more information, go to Delaware Hunter Education Courses at www.dnrec.delaware.gov.

In addition to setting overall turkey harvest records, Delaware hunters also harvested a record 14,681 deer during the 2015/16 hunting season.

“To set records for the overall harvest of both deer and turkeys during the same hunting season is certainly a testament to effective wildlife management and the great opportunities available to hunters for these two important game species,” Mr. Rogerson said.

For more information on wild turkeys in Delaware, please contact Mr. Rogerson at (302)-735-3600.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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