DAN KIBLER COLUMN: NC turkey hunters set another record with spring harvest

Published 10:40 am Monday, June 10, 2024

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About two months ago, Hannah Plumpton, a biologist who supervises the wild-turkey program for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said she expected a good four-week spring season, “comparable” to seasons the state has experienced since 2020, but “maybe not as big as last year.”

Dan Kibler

Right on one count, maybe not quite on another.

North Carolina hunters did come up as big as “last year” – and they set a new harvest record of 24,095 turkeys, six more than the record-setting 2023 season.

Hunters took 208 birds with bows and 116 with crossbows. Jakes, immature male turkeys, made up about 10% of the total harvest, 2,398 birds. The rest were long-bearded gobblers.

Once again, the burgeoning populations in huge, agricultural counties in the southeastern corner of the state drove the harvest. Of the top 10 counties, seven were from that area. Two more were from northeastern North Carolina and the remaining county was from the northern Piedmont.

Duplin County was No. 1 with 873 birds, followed by Pender with 695, Halifax with 612, Columbus with 598 and Brunswick with 590. Sixth was Bladen with 587, followed by Sampson with 559, Northampton with 516, Franklin with  502 and Onslow with 475.

Closer to home, hunters took 114 birds in Davie County, 121 in Forsyth County, 272 in Rowan, 240 in Stanly and 249 in Anson.

The harvest will almost certainly deserve a great deal of scrutiny from Plumpton, who has been following huge harvest drops in other states around the Southeast, a trend being driven by a number of factors, at the core previous big harvests that outstripped the birds’ ability to reproduce and replenish their numbers. North Carolina and Virginia are the only southeastern states not watching their flocks diminish and their harvests fall appreciably. Not coincidentally, the Old Dominion and Tarheel State have the latest season-openings among states in the Southeast.

The southeastern North Carolina counties were the last to get birds when the Commission began trapping, buying and relocating birds across the state. Turkeys took hold in the huge, agricultural counties and flourished. The harvests have approached and exceeded the harvest in smaller counties that were traditionally the state’s best: Ashe, Alleghany and Caswell.

“A lot of (the harvest increase) is still being moved by the coast,” Plumpton said. “We’re still getting a hunting boom in that area. I expect it to level out in the next few years.”

Night-hunting arrests cost two hunters big fines, license suspensions

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has had in place three ways for sportsmen to report possible instances of poaching: a toll-free telephone number, by text and through its website.

Those efforts paid off with a tip last fall that resulted in the recent conviction of two men who killed 15 white-tailed deer at night with the use of spotlights.

Dylan Scott of New Hanover County and Nicholas Rackley of Duplin County were ordered to pay $9,030 in replacement costs for the 15 deer killed illegally last Nov. 27. Scott also got a $1,500 fine, had his hunting license revoked for 10 years and given 5 years of supervised probation. Rackley was fined $750, and his hunting license was revoked for five years.

The tip sent to NC WILDTIP included a photo of Rackley posing with 15 antlerless deer – a photo that had been forwarded to numerous people. After obtaining a search warrant, the Commission’s enforcement division  found four coolers of deer meat that had been processed in Pender County.

Tips that lead to arrests and convictions may wind up in rewards from $100 to $1,000. In the past six months, the Commission said 598 tips have resulted in rewards of $3,478. Tips can be submitted anonymously by texting WILDTIP to TIP411 (847411), by calling 800-662-7137 or through a secure reporting tool on the agency’s website: www.ncwildlife.org/Connect-With-Us/NC-WILDTIP-Turn-in-Poachers