North Carolina hunters recorded the second-highest wild turkey harvest on record during the 2015 spring season, downing 17,828 gobblers, according to statistics released by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The harvest was 9.4-percent higher than the 2014 spring season and trails only the 2013 harvest of 18,409 birds as the highest on record.

“It’s hard not to feel good about it,” said Chris Kreh, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s upland gamebird biologist. “When you see the statewide harvest total going up, that reflects we still have expansion going on across the state.

“I also think on a statewide level, turkeys are expanding,” he said. “(Turkeys) are filling in a lot of habitat, especially in eastern North Carolina.”

Two Northern Piedmont counties led the harvest: Rockingham with 536 birds and Stokes with 500.

“Rockingham and Stokes are examples of really good local reproduction,” Kreh said. “On a simple percentage basis, Stokes County had a 50-percent increase in its turkey harvest from a year ago, while Rockingham County had a 38-percent increase.

“I think people were taking advantage of more turkeys there, which is a bigger part of the equation in the short term, but I think a longer-term factor is simply an increase in turkey numbers,” he said. “It matches what people have been telling me this year.”

Halifax County, the No. 1 county in 2014, dropped back to No. 3 with 462. Pender (445), Duplin (429) and Bladen (420) were fourth through sixth. Northampton County, No. 2 in 2014, was seventh this past spring with 407, followed by Caswell with 378 and Franklin and Onslow counties with 345 each.

Kreh was pleased with the trend of larger statewide harvest totals.

“(The harvest) has been increasing at a substantial rate,” he said. “If you go back to the late 1990s, the state trend has been going up for two decades.”

The 2015 youth harvest accounted for 1,386 birds. As far as public-hunting results, hunters took 353 gobblers from the Nantahala National Forest’s half-million acres. The half-million acres of the Pisgah National Forest boasted 196 birds. Of smaller game-land areas, Croatan (45), South Mountains (39), Uwharrie (39), Lower Roanoke River Wetlands (30), Caswell (28), Sandhills (25), Alcoa (23) and Butner-Falls (21) made up the rest of the top 10.

Kreh said wild-turkey reproduction and survival that didn’t show up in the annual brood survey may have been a factor in this spring’s excellent harvest. Even though brood surveys the past several years have shown average to below-average hatches, enough turkeys have spread into formerly unoccupied areas to boost turkey numbers and harvest numbers.

Kreh said wild turkey reproduction and survival at those spots may have been a factor in 2015’s excellent results. But that situation also may fluctuate on the down side.

“If you look at individual counties in the western part of the state, places like Ashe and Alleghany, years back we had higher turkey numbers and big flocks, but reproduction has dropped now,” he said. “(In 2015) we had 15 counties where the harvest dropped by 10 percent, but that wasn’t totally unexpected. Factors like local weather and reproductive output can affect turkey populations, so 10 percent is not an alarming fall.”