The Virginia Game Division is planning significant changes in next fall's wild turkey hunting season east of the Blue Ridge mountains.

The season in the east traditionally has been about six weeks long. Game officials want to cut that to two weeks, but permit hunters to take one hen in their yearly allotment of two birds.

In the past, eastern hunters could take two birds a year, gobblers only.

Jack Raybourne, head of the Game Division said turkeys are thriving, which is why the agency intends to permit hunting hens. He said if the program is successful. "There is every reason to suspect the easter season could be extended in future years."

That would bring it more in line with regulations west of the Blue Ridge, where hunters have about a six-week season and can take one hen in their allottment of two birds a year.

Raybourne said the changes are planned because it is extremely difficult for even the best hunters to differentiate between a hen and a young jake in the fall, even under the best conditions."

He said game officials suspect many hens are being taken by accident and then are not reported.

"It makes for a very untenable situation for the concerned hunter," he said. "In any case we know we have the birds and can afford to hunt either sex."

Raybourne estimated the Virginia turkey population at 25,000 to 30,000 birds and the annual hunter harvest at about 6,000.

He said natural mortality is about 60 percent a year, whether the birds are hunted or not.

The commission will act on the proposal at a public meeting April 13 in Richmond. Public comments on the proposed changes should be directed to the executive director, Virginia Game Commission, Box 11104, Richmond, Va. 23230.

The changes would not affect the spring gobbler season, which opens Arpil 14.