Wild turkey harvest sets record with 2023 season

A successful turkey hunt in Burnt Pines. [Courtesy N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission]

North Carolina’s 5-week wild turkey season had its highest ever recorded harvest of 24,089 birds, according to recent results from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s annual turkey harvest summary. The 2023 season surpassed the previous record of 23,341 harvested birds set three years ago in 2020.

“This year’s total harvest statewide was 9.5% higher than the average of the previous three years,” said the agency’s Upland Game Bird Biologist Hannah Plumpton. “Also, all three ecoregions had noticeable increases in harvest in relation to the 2022 season, particularly in the coastal region.”

To put the harvest in perspective, biologists typically compare it to the average annual harvest over the previous three years. Stats for this season are:

    • Harvest during the week-long youth season increased by 11%, with 2,478 birds reported.
    • Harvest in the mountains increased by 5%.
    • Harvest in the piedmont increased by 6%.
    • Harvest in the coast increased by 14%.
    • Harvest on game lands increased by 14%.
    • Number of adult gobblers harvested increased by 15%.
    • Number of jakes harvested decreased by 20%.
    • Jakes comprised 11% of the harvest this year, a 4% decrease.

The top five counties for the number of turkeys harvested, all in southeastern North Carolina were Duplin (829), Pender (689), Bladen (652), Sampson (585) and Brunswick (571).

When considering the size of counties, the top five counties for the number of turkeys harvested per square mile were Franklin, Duplin, Northampton, Caswell and Vance.

Turkey harvest in North Carolina is somewhat different than several other southeastern states, where turkey harvest peaked several years ago and has now declined somewhat in recent years. North Carolina’s record harvests are largely being driven by increases in the southeastern part of the state. Harvest in North Carolina’s piedmont and mountains was up this year, but trends in some counties in those regions have been stable or declining. The increases of harvest in the 2023 spring turkey season are likely reflecting the improved wild turkey reproduction that was observed in 2021.

Commission biologists continue to closely monitor wild turkey harvest and reproduction across the state and have initiated several special research projects in recent years. One project investigated Gobbling Chronology across the state, providing a detailed picture of when gobbling peaks in each region. Currently, the Commission is involved in an ongoing Wild Turkey Ecology research project, in cooperation with North Carolina State University, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Louisiana State University.

This project will be completed this year and will provide foundational information about turkey nesting, survival, predation, hunter harvest and many other critical pieces of information. The information will help the Commission make the best decisions in conserving and managing wild turkey populations and habitat.

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. For more information, visit the wild turkey page.

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