Talking Turkey – Interview with VDGIF Conservationist Gary Norman – Part 2

In Part One of our interview with Gary Norman, Forest Game Bird Project Leader for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, we learned of his recent award for conservation efforts he led for wild turkeys and ruffed grouse. He talks now about how the data for these studies was collected.

“The basic or primary responsibilities are to evaluate population status of turkey and grouse, and we have a bunch of surveys that we do to establish trend data on how the population is going of each species. For example, with ruffed grouse, we run a roadside survey. It’s 10 miles long where we stop every mile and listen to, and count, the number of grouse that we hear drumming, and turkeys that we hear gobbling. That’s one of the indices that we use to track grouse populations.”

“With wild turkeys the primary information that I look to are the harvest data, the number of birds killed in the fall and the spring. The spring kill, we believe, is our best population index, so we put a lot of weight in that spring harvest number. Beyond that, we have special research projects that we do. They’re really management questions that we want to address. And each case is trying to evaluate any potential causes and low numbers of turkey or grouse. In each case, we’ve used radio telemetry to put on birds, and to track them for as long as a radio will go, or as long as they live. And we are able to determine their survival rates, harvest rates, look at the causes of any natural mortality that’s occurring.”

He continued, “And we also incorporate reproduction as an important variable in that formula, trying to determine whether the populations increasing or decreasing. And with that, we pay particular attention to the females – turkey hens, grouse hens, that have these radios on. We track them to where they’re nesting – we get close enough, but not so close that we actually interfere with them, but we determine if they’re nesting – later on, if they are able to go the 28 days to successfully incubate and hatch a clutch. And then from that, after hatching, how many birds live to be 28 to 30 days old.”

“We’ve found that the critical time for these ground nesting birds is while the hen is incubating the nest, and then after hatching, for the first two weeks of their chicks’ life is a real critical factor. Weather can be a significant factor affecting the poults’ survival as well as predators.

“So we’re looking at a suite of factors that might affect reproduction, and try to come up with the bottom number in terms of the number of young that are being recruited in the population. And in both cases, turkey and grouse, we found some issues with reproduction being not as high as it would need to be to sustain really significant population growth.”

Mr. Norman wanted to thank local residents Roger Propst of Monterey and John Pound of Hot Springs for their invaluable assistance with the studies.

He is also currently studying the effect of West Nile Virus on ruffed grouse, and asked that any grouse hunters interested in participating contact him.

“Phone number is 540-667-5694 – email address is”

In Part Three of this story, we will find out the next steps once data was collected.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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