Public Land Turkey Harvest Soars During First Week Of Season

COVID-19 could be the factor that has put 30% more WMA hunters in the woods.

Brad Gill | March 27, 2020

Whether it’s a perfect storm of factors, or a result mostly brought on by COVID-19, there’s no telling, but the fact is that WMA turkey hunter participation and public-land turkey harvest is noticeably up when compared to last year’s season opener.

“Overall public-land harvest is up 43% compared to last year’s first six days,” said Rusty Garrison, director of WRD.

This 43% increase comes from birds taken on WMAs, national forests, corps lands and several other federal properties that have been reported to WRD’s Game Check. Reporting all turkey harvest to Game Check is a requirement.

During the first six days of the 2020 spring gobbler season, 489 public-land birds have been reported. Last year during the first six days of the season, 343 birds were reported through Game Check from public lands.

“We have more people hunting, and when you have more people hunting, you’re going to have more birds harvested,” said Ted Will, assistant director of WRD.

WMA turkey hunters still have the option to sign-in for hunting by physically going to a check-in station and signing a sign-in sheet. However, WMA turkey hunters can also sign-in online through or by using WRD’s Outdoors GA app.

When looking at the online sign-in numbers only, we see a 30% increase in hunters who have signed-in to WMAs during the first five days of the 2020 season. Last year, 1,314 hunters signed in online during the first five days. This week, 1,706 hunters have signed in online.

Personally, Ted can testify to seeing an increase of hunters in the woods.

“He was going hunting this morning, but he was never able to hunt,” Rusty chimed in.

Ted’s son had located a good area on the Oconee National Forest, and they were going to try it this morning, March 27.

“Where we needed to go, there was a vehicle there, so I backed out to go listen somewhere else,” said Ted.

All of Ted’s back-up plans were taken with other vehicles. In about a 3-mile stretch, Ted estimated about 10 vehicles pulled off and hunting.

“It’s certainly one positive we’re seeing in a very unprecedented time. Hunting is something people can do to get away from all of this,” said Ted.

While the opening-week weather was beautiful, warm and dry, factors that will indeed put more folks in the woods, a pretty strong argument can be made that a big ingredient putting more hunters in the woods has been the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced a number of folks out of work and school.

“Without looking at (last year’s) weather, I’m inclined to think that weather is not that big of a factor,” said Tina Johannsen, WRD’s assistant game chief. “Certainly folks being sent home from work probably got more folks out in the woods. We know from the ’08 recession numbers that when people are out of work, they go hunting.”

Brandon Young, of Waycross, is one hunter who is experiencing more time in the woods since COVID-19 temporarily put him off work from the Sports Shop in Waycross.

“Tuesday was our last day for a while, so I’ve hunted Wednesday, Thursday and this morning at Dixon Memorial WMA,” said Brandon. “I haven’t killed one yet, but I’ve been close. I got close again this morning, it will happen very soon.”

Brandon said opening morning at Dixon Memorial saw possibly the lightest amount of turkey hunting traffic than he’s ever seen on opening weekend. However, this past Wednesday morning, he saw eight other trucks.

This year alone, Dixon Memorial has already given up nine turkeys to hunters. Last year’s total season harvest was only eight turkeys for the entire season.

Caleb Williams, of Blackshear, shot this bird on Sunday morning, March 22 at Ohoopee Dunes WMA.

Although public-land harvest is up 43%, it’s not an indicator that statewide harvest numbers have jumped that much.

“When you’re talking statewide harvest versus public-land harvest over the first six days of the hunting season, you’re only talking about a difference of 146 birds on public land (from 2019 to 2020),” said Ted. “From a statewide perspective, it takes a significant number of birds to move that needle when compared to the harvest numbers we’re dealing with on just public-land harvest.”

Statewide during the first six days of the 2020 season, hunters reported 3,657 birds, versus 3,457 birds during the first six days during the 2019 season. That’s a difference of 300 birds or a 6% increase from last year’s season opener.

Whether you’re after public or private birds, the extended weather forecast looks good for hunting, and it looks like the COVID-19 crisis is at least a few weeks away from settling down. We’re expecting more birds to roll.

“We’re tickled that people are getting out there to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Tina. “Remember to respect each other, even more so than normal. Tempers are short, and folks are scared. Be respectful of each other and please use Game Check.”

Turkeys must be reported within 72 hours through Georgia Game Check.

To keep up with harvests on your favorite WMA, or in a favorite county, real time results are available on the WRD website.

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