Going for Gobblers: Where to Go Fall Turkey Hunting in Ohio
October 15, 2013
If you're looking to bag a tom to cook up with a delicious turkey recipe this Thanksgiving, check out your best bets for fall turkey hunting in Ohio here.
"The outlook for success for fall turkey hunters here in Ohio is always pretty good," said Mike Reynolds, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's (ODOW) lead turkey biologist and spokesman. "I say that because there are very few guys who go hunting for turkeys in the fall, so there's little competition. There's little chance you are going to have interference from other hunters, and the autumn offers a long season lots of opportunities to take a turkey."
Those opportunities have been enhanced this season, as eight additional counties have been opened to allow turkey hunting in the fall.
"We took a close look at how many hunters buy fall turkey hunting permits in certain areas, and opened some more counties up," said the ODOW spokesman. "Not all the new counties offer a lot of good habitat, but where there is (good habitat), the local turkey populations are strong and hunters in those newly opened counties should have good success."
In the southwest corner of the state, Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties are now open to autumn turkey hunting. In north-central Ohio, Huron, Seneca, Delaware, Franklin and Fairfield counties are now open to the autumn sport.
Hunters in those new counties — as well as the others open to hunting the fall — should see plenty of birds, according to the ODOW expert.
"We definitely saw even more birds — and more young birds — in the spring than in recent seasons. Hunters saw, and harvested, lots of jakes in the spring, and with the weather we experienced I think we can anticipate a good hatch in 2013," Reynolds said. "The fall should be very good with plenty of birds available for hunters."
Whether those available birds remain apparent and accessible to hunters is another thing.
"No matter the number of birds out there, hunter success in the fall often depends on the acorn crop," explained Reynolds. "If we're looking at a large, abundant acorn crop, that tends to keep individual flocks smaller and more dispersed and largely in the woods, so it makes them harder to locate.
"Hunters have to dedicate more time to scouting and cover more ground to identify areas where they have been feeding and then find the flocks.
"If the acorn crop is poor, instead of being hidden in the woods as they feed, you'll see more turkeys out in the pastures or agricultural fields, feeding, where more hunters can see them and know where to locate and hunt them."
TURKEYS BY THE GROSSENBACHER
One of those avid fall turkey hunters who expects to take advantage of the long autumn season is Josh Grossenbacher. Actually, it's part of his job as turkey products manager for Port Clinton-based Zink Calls. Zink offers waterfowl and turkey calls and the popular line of AvianX turkey decoys, among other hunting gear.
"Last fall the hunting was incredible," said Grossenbacher. "After the hatch we had in the spring of 2012, we were seeing birds everywhere last fall — and they were in large flocks including lots of poults, which reinforced the reports that the previous spring's hatch had been a really strong one. The hunting was so good," he continued, "we killed all our birds early in the season last fall and were done. We had to go out of state to continue to hunt turkeys last fall.
"Then in the spring (2013 season) we saw lots of jakes. That means gobblers are going to be more plentiful this fall, and we can't wait. Gobblers are vocal and it makes it more fun to be in the woods when they are lots of birds to see and hear."
Given that it's an either-sex season in the fall, the Zink spokesmen explained, he takes advantage of the opportunity by harvesting hens.
"The fall is the only time of the year we can help try to control the population of hens, and taking some of them out makes it easier to hunt the gobblers the following spring. They aren't as likely to get henned-up, and it makes it easier to call the toms in."
Another advantage to targeting hens in the fall is that they are easier to call in come autumn than are the gobblers, which Grossenbacher refers to as "one of the toughest gamebirds to kill.
"Gobblers just really aren't callable in the fall," explained Grossenbacher. "They are scattered and separate from the hen flocks in the fall. And when you do bust a bunch of gobblers, they don't tend to re-group nearly as soon as the hens and poults. Sometimes it takes all day for a flock of gobblers to come back together. And as they do, they're a lot more cautious than the hens and the poults and the jakes. That makes for a long, tough hunt.
"And here in Northeast Ohio, where we do most of our hunting," continued the Zink pro, "there's quite a few hens. Yet fall turkey hunting is an overlooked opportunity. It gets overlooked by hunters who could be taking advantage of the resource — and by hunting in the fall and taking out some hens, I absolutely believe it will help their cause in the spring when they target gobblers."
That said, Grossenbacher added that the hunter who wants to harvest an autumn gobbler must begin the quest by first locating a flock of the mature bachelors.
"In the fall, the toms aren't vocal. That means instead of listening for birds when scouting, you have to see them to find them," he advised. "Or at least their sign."
GOING FOR GOBBLERS
Grossenbacher said that if he's scouting for a fall gobblers, he spends lots of time driving country roads, knocking on doors of landowners where he has permission to hunt in the spring to learn if any gobblers might have been seen — and where — or noting where he sees gobblers himself, and paying attention to more than deer and deer sign when hunting deer.
"Gobbler flocks are smaller than the fall flocks of hens and poults," he said. "And for some reason, I have found that gobblers like to scratch more near logs and trees. When I see that, I figure the sign I'm seeing is left by gobblers, and I concentrate my scouting on that particular area to try to visually confirm that by seeing toms."
Once located, Grossenbacher uses the same run-in-and-bust-'em-up tactic typically used when hunting hens in the fall, scattering the birds in as many direction as possible and setting up in the location to call the birds back in to the same spot.
"We use dogs or just sneak in as close as possible and run in like crazy men to get 'em scattered, same as with hens."
The other tactics the Zink pro uses for getting a fall gobblers is by "getting in close to them in the morning, setting up and using jake yelps to try to call them in as a group."
He said that you can use decoys, but you need to be especially cautious because of the either sex option for hunters.
"You can use dekes, but you want to be as cautious as possible, for safety is the No. 1 concern," Grossenbacher said. "Make sure you set up where you can see all around, and can note the approach of any other hunters who may mistake your decoys for the real thing. You don't want to risk the chance of getting shot from someone opening up on your decoys."
The Zink rep advises placing the decoys where they will be visible from multiple angles and away from the edges and thick undergrowth, where the birds — both gobblers and hens — will be sticking close to.
"Set up the decoys so that they face different directions and so that no matter where the turkeys approach from, one of the decoys shows them a broadside view," he said, adding: "Some hunters prefer to take only one decoy to allow them to be a little more mobile, but I like multiples to offer variety and angles for the turkeys to see."
Depending on the size and gender of the flock they have busted, Grossenbacher said they may put out from two to four decoys, gobblers if they busted toms, and hen dekes for a busted hen and polt flock.
He said that after busting up the flock, hunters set up and wait, calling with jake yelps if they are trying to re-group gobblers, and using kee-kees and lost hen calls to bring in the hens and poults they have just scattered.
"I use a mouth call with two reeds that can whistle and mimic a lost polt," said Grossenbacher. "We yelp with a slate and whistle with the diaphragm and that usually does the trick."
He said that after busting-up a hen group, the poults are the first birds to show up for re-assembly at the scatter site, "looking for Mom."
Grossenbacher said that with all those wary eyes coming in and concentrating on the area, he doesn't wait.
"We take the first bird that shows up," he explained. "If it's polt, we figure they eat just as good as the mature birds."
FAVORITE FALL TURKEY DESTINATIONS
In northeastern Ohio, where most of Ohio's fall turkey hunting activity tends to be concentrated, Ashtabula County's Dorset Wildlife Area offers 1000 acres of public turkey hunting and is located about a mile northeast of the town of Dorset on Tower Road off SR 193.
New Lyme Wildlife Area, also located in Ashtabula County, offers 650 acres of public hunting land a mile east of New Lyme on SR 46. So is Highlandtown Wildlife Area in Columbiana County is another good bet, with more than 2,000 acres of land to offer in the south-central region of one of Ohio's most turkey-rich counties.
Brush Creek Wildlife Area is another public site in the northeast district that offers prime turkey habitat. The 3,100-acre area is in Jefferson County, off SR 164 and CR 55 just east of Monroeville.
Harrison State Forest in northeastern Harrison County is another option. The state forest includes 1,300 acres of huntable ground located off SR 9 about three miles north of Cadiz.
In southeastern Ohio, which is also a hot-spot for autumn turkey hunters, Salt Fork Wildlife Area, located just east of Interstate 77 off US 22, is situated in the center of the state's top turkey region and has nearly 3,000 acres of huntable land to offer autumn turkey-chasers in Ohio.
Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County, site of the original turkey stockings back in the mid-1950s, offers nearly nine times that amount of public hunting acreage. The state forest's abundant turkey habitat covers nearly the entire northeast quarter of the county, most of it along SR 78 near the town of Zaleski.
Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area, in neighboring Jackson County, is a popular turkey-hunting destination that continues to produce good numbers of birds year-in and year-out. Cooper Hollow's 5,400 acres are easily accessed off SR 35 about 11 miles southeast of the town of Jackson.
For maps and more information about hunting on the wildlife areas and state forests in Ohio, visit wildohio.com.
To see how the Winchester Long Bear XR shotshells held up in the field, check out these photos of PJ Perea from the National Wild Turkey Federation and our Gear Editor, John Geiger, testing them out!
Have a great photo from your last turkey hunt? Be sure to share it with us on our Game & Fish Turkey Camera Corner!