North Carolina turkey hunters produced the second-highest harvest on record during this past spring’s season, taking 17,932 birds, an increase of 104 over the 2015 season.

“It was about what we figured it would be, some increase,” said Chris Kreh, a biologist who is upland gamebird leader for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. 

Continuing a trend, counties in the southeastern corner of the state producing the largest number of toms, including Pender, which led the state with a harvest of 487. Bladen, Duplin and Onslow counties also showed up among the top 10 counties in terms of total harvest.

“There are several southeastern counties that are really coming on strong,” Kreh said, “but we’ve got some counties along the Virginia border that are strong.

“But the (harvest) has shifted some to the southeast; it seems to be a trend. Some of those sites were the last ones that were stocked. Back when we were stocking birds, we didn’t even think we’d ever stock the piedmont. We found out several times along the way that they do well in places we didn’t think they would.”

Trailing Pender by only three birds, Rockingham County took down the No. 2 spot, with Halifax third with 426, Bladen with 424, Duplin with 419, Northampton with 404, Craven 381, Onslow 370, Stokes 368 and Caswell rounding out the top 10 with 353.

“The size of some of those (southeastern) counties is part of it, but if you look at the number of birds killed per square mile, you still have a lot of the same counties popping up at the top,” Kreh said.

The only big surprise to Kreh was a rather sizable increase in the harvest of jakes, 1-year-old gobblers. Hunters took 3,316 jakes this past spring, making up 18.3 percent of the harvest. That was an increase of 611 over 2015 levels, a 23-percent increase.

“I didn't expect jakes to change that much,” Kreh said. “The last few summer brood surveys were pretty consistent. And we didn’t see a vast difference in the percentage of jakes killed during the (week-long) youth season and the rest of the season. It was pretty consistent.”

As always, hunters took the lion’s share of gobblers on private land. They accounted for 1,005 birds on public game lands and national forest lands, with the large majority coming from the western mountains and the sprawling Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Cherokee County had the most public-lands birds with 90, followed by Graham with 62, Macon with 58, Burke with 47 and Jackson rounding out the top five with 44.