Hoosier turkey hunters are accustomed to looking at the previous year’s harvest as they prepare for the upcoming season. However, I’m not so sure that the spring harvest of 2011 will paint a pretty picture for 2012.
Consider that there were 11,669 wild turkeys taken in 88 of Indiana’s 92 counties last spring. The previous season, Indiana hunters took 13,742 birds (15 percent more). Nevertheless, we should remember that a record harvest occurred in 2010, smashing the 2006 record harvest.
According to Wildlife Research Biologist Steve Backs, last spring’s harvest decline was primarily caused by inclement weather and subsequent flooding. Of course, most hunters are aware of how bad weather affects hunter success. Nonetheless, we must consider “nesting and brood production,” and how too much rain will affect future hunting opportunities.
Shortly after the spring hunting season closed last year, I talked with Backs about the severe April rains that affected much of the state. He was optimistic, and claimed that it might have positive results. Because the rains came early — before most hens nested — Backs suggested that many turkeys were probably forced to move into drier areas. Then, as the nesting got underway, the nests might not have been affected by the wet conditions.
Unfortunately, after speaking with Backs again at the time of this writing, it didn’t appear that brood production was up in the summer and fall of 2011.
“We are in the process of tallying the brood observation cards, but the initial report is that we’re just not seeing a lot of poults per hen,” noted Backs.
Backs added that he had recently returned from a meeting where biologists from surrounding states reported problems with nesting hens from the heavy rains that occurred across the Midwest last spring and summer.
Many Hoosiers have already read about poor brood production in recent years, and how it affects upcoming harvests. Backs said that Indiana has had several years of below-normal production, but is still “holding his breath” for the 2011 production report.
“We’ve entered the era of post-restoration period where all states of the Midwest are starting to sense that we are going to be dependent on annual production as well as production that occurred 3 to 4 years prior; the reason being that past production will affect the total number of adult hens that are out there to produce, stated Backs.
To wrap up the bad news, Backs mentioned that Indiana is done with seeing the harvest go up, up and up. Instead we are in the phase where it could easily bounce up-and-down annually.
In 2008 and 2009, Hoosiers cashed in on 12,000-plus turkeys. Although last spring’s harvest was a little down, it has followed the typical harvest trends we have experienced since 2002 — the first year that hunters took more than 10,000 birds in Indiana.
Many hunters complained last spring of hearing fewer gobbles than usual. And, of course, hearing fewer birds usually means lower hunter success. We can assume that bad weather contributed to less gobbling, or at least hunters hearing less than they did the previous season.