Hunters produced a record harvest during the recent spring gobbler season for the fifth-straight year, with 15,421 turkeys taken, 945 more than in 2011. The 9.3-percent increase almost matched 2011's 9.5-percent jump over 2010's harvest total.
Evin Stanford, the biologist who oversees the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's big-game project, deer/turkey/feral swine biologist, pointed to three possible reasons for another record harvest.
"I think we have more turkey hunters; we likely have more birds to hunt; and the Youth Day harvest was really up in 2012," he said.
Young hunters took advantage of the first Saturday in April, tagging 839 turkeys, a huge increase over the 532 birds taken on Youth Day in 2011.
Most increases in the harvest were in counties in eastern North Carolina.
"We were later stocking birds in the east than other portions of the state," Stanford said. "We still have some holes to fill in our stockings, but not many.
"That means basically that turkeys are overspreading the east, which has some of the best turkey habitat in the state; they're doing well, so hunters are taking more eastern birds every year."
Of the 10 counties that led in total harvest, half were from the eastern third of the state, with the rest divided between Piedmont and western counties.
Rockingham County in the northern Piedmont ranked No. 1 with 423 birds taken, followed by Northampton with 420, Halifax with 399, Stokes with 366 and Bladen with 361. Rutherford (353), Pender (332), Wilkes (329), Caswell (315) and Duplin (298) rounded out the top 10.
Stanford issued a warning - not the first time he's done so - that North Carolina is an anomaly, because other southeastern states began stocking turkeys years earlier than the North Carolina. Those states ended their stocking programs earlier, and their harvests are dropping.
"We're going to be like them some day," Stanford said.
But many of those states also adopting more-liberal bag limits, and earlier and longer seasons than North Carolina.
"Now they're paying the price," Stanford said.
Increased predation also may be having an effect, Stanford said, especially on poults. Southeastern states and the National Wild Turkey Federation are trying to determine, through a University of Georgia study, exactly how predators affect turkey numbers.
"Everybody's spring and summer poult counts are down, including ours, and they'd been depressed for a while," Stanford said. "I guess it's just taking time for the adult population to respond (to summer brood drops)."