Illinois spring turkey hunters harvested fewer birds in 2011! According to preliminary statistics, 15,121 birds were harvested last season. Hunters bagged 16,565 during the spring turkey season of 2010. The South Zone claimed 6,469 turkeys, compared to 6,916 in 2010. Meanwhile, the North Zone once again claimed the majority of the harvest with 8,652, compared to 9,649 last year. Both South and North Zone harvest totals include results of the youth turkey seasons.
Although several factors could be to blame for the harvest decrease, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) officials say the main cause for the decline was weather-related. The wettest April in recorded history occurred in 2011. According to IDNR officials, the average rainfall in Illinois was up 93 percent over previous years.
“This year’s (2011) wild turkey season will probably be best remembered for being the wettest April in recorded history,” states Paul Brewer, Forest Wildlife Program, Wild Turkey project manager.
Illinois has seen its share of bad hatches and poor brood production due to cold and wet weather during previous years. I questioned Brewer as to his opinion on how the extreme rainfall that caused flooding throughout much of the state would impact nesting hens and brood production for 2012.
“While analysis of our brood surveys are not yet complete, preliminary analysis did indicate decreased production early in spring and summer. However, with drier late-summer weather we received many reports of broods with good numbers of young birds, indicating a good recovery of reproduction in late summer,” shared Brewer. He added that the floodwaters probably had some temporary impact on food sources, but more importantly it probably confined nesting in some counties to a smaller area.
“This (flooding) may have slightly increased nest predation, as the amount of area where turkey nests could be found by predators was compressed. Some areas of Illinois also had a large hatch of periodic cicadas, which some other Midwestern states have linked to improved wild turkey production,” stated Brewer.
My husband, John, and I can attest to some pretty rough days in the turkey woods last year. I recall one occasion when John and I were working a bird in Wayne County, located in the South Zone. The gobbler sounded eager to find the “hen” that was so interested in him. The turkey was no more than 100 yards from us when we heard distant thunder roll across the sky. The thunder we kept hearing was on the move and heading in our direction.
Moments before the storm hit, the longbeard let out a loud gobble and was only 40 yards from our set-up position, but hidden by briars. Just when everything looked dismal, the bird stepped into an opening. At that moment, John’s Winchester roared. We quickly loaded the turkey into John’s vest, then ran to seek shelter from the storm now upon us. Thankfully, lighting never struck us — just torrential rain that soaked us to the bone. Little did we know at that time, many Illinois turkey hunters were struggling with similar issues and that the harvest would decrease for the first time since 2008.
According to preliminary harvest statistics, Illinois’ South Zone top-five counties include Jefferson, Pope, Union, Randolph and Wayne. The Jefferson County harvest boasted a slight increase in 2011 when 402 birds were bagged, compared to 2010’s total of 396. Pope County hunters took 356 in 2011, while Union County hunters harvested 324 birds. Randolph County checked in 321, as Wayne County hunters’ took 314 turkeys.
When looking at these preliminary totals, it is clear to see that Jefferson County leads the way for consistency in making the top-five county list. In the last five years, it has been on the list each time. Despite all of the rain that fell in 2011, it still managed to show a harvest increase.
Other South Zone counties that did not make the top-five list but still had spring harvests worth mentioning are Fayette, Franklin and Saline County. They reported harvests of 213, 200 and 134, respectively. These were higher than the harvest totals of 2010, when Fayette hunters took 208, Franklin hunters 175 and Saline hunters 132.
The South Zone county of Johnson is worth mentioning because in 2008, spring turkey hunters took 213 birds, 237 in 2009, 298 in 2010 and 269 in 2011. The harvest remains fairly steady in spite of weather, poor hatches, brood production, etc.