G&F Forecast: Ohio Turkey Hunting in 2013

G&F Forecast: Ohio Turkey Hunting in 2013
Photo by John & Vikki Trout

The news this spring is good for Buckeye wild turkey hunters, according to Mike Reynolds, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's turkey biologist. Reynolds notes that good populations of birds throughout Ohio indicate that this year's hunting promises to be as good as it gets.

"We'll likely see a stable spring turkey harvest of around 17,000 to 18,000 birds again in 2013," said Reynolds. "But the harvest in 2014 will likely be even better, based on the good hatch we experienced over this past spring and summer."

The NWTF offers a more detailed hunt guide with exclusive, member-only information prepared by NWTF biologists and field staff. To access this information please join the NWTF. Please check with your local wildlife agency to confirm seasonal information before planning your hunt, as information is subject to change.

During the four decades between Ohio's first spring season in 1966 and 2010, over 298,000 turkeys were bagged. Those first-year permit holders took home just 12 turkeys, but as history goes, that was just the beginning. The spring season in 2001 set a record harvest at 26,156 birds. In 2010, hunters collected a take-home harvest of 23,421 birds. Last year, however, early season hunters harvested 18,162 gobblers, a 22 percent decrease from 2010.

All 88 counties have been open to spring turkey hunting since 2000. Since that time the spring turkey harvest has continued to increase throughout central, northwestern, and southeastern Ohio. This success is directly related to the hard work and long hours put in by ODOW staff as they trapped and transplanted wild birds to areas where turkeys had once been eliminated.

Ashtabula County led the way last spring in top harvest counties. A total of 700 wild turkeys headed for the pot in that one county alone. Next in the winners' lineup was Tuscarawas County with 571 birds, Adams County with 502, and Guernsey County with 498 gobblers.

According to Reynolds, recent Division of Wildlife studies completed from 2006 to 2008 suggest that harvest rates of adult gobblers in Ohio are around 40 percent, offset by lower harvest rates of jakes at only 10 to 20 percent. This means harvests are sustainable and we should be able to continue spring turkey hunting under our current season, bag limits, and regulation framework.

Historic numbers of turkey hunters kept pace with the growing number of birds during the heyday of the 1980s and 1990s. Permit sales peaked in 2003 with 95,000 permits being issued. The number of permits began to level off in the eastern half of the state and over the last several years, and statewide permit sales eventually stabilized at around 75,000 permits. The reason for the decline in permit sales over time is linked to the fact that the ODOW now issues fewer free senior permits. The number of youth and other spring turkey permit holders has remained steady.

Reynolds has been crunching numbers and the 2011 totals for the spring turkey season are in. The ODOW issued a total of 74,957 permits and of these, 10,594 were issued for youth hunts, 3,620 were senior reduced-cost permits, 11,873 were senior free turkey permits, and 48,870 were bought by licensed, adult hunters. The number of 2011 spring turkey permits dropped from the 78,388 permits issued in 2010, a decline of 4.4 percent.

Reynolds is quick to point out that unqualified success doesn't mean there aren't a few challenges to negotiate.

"Whoever would have believed so many wild turkeys would be harvested in Logan and Williams counties in recent spring seasons?" pointed out Reynolds. "But even with the successes in counties like these, there are some concerns. As CRP enrollment expires and farmland is converted back into row crops, we could lose important nesting habitat in some areas of the state. I think the record rainfall and flooding in 2011 likely did have a negative impact on turkey populations, but overall, turkey numbers have been in a positive trend over the last decade."

Turkey populations historically fluctuate due to varying nest success rates from year to year, poult survival, and the availability of food. The years of

1999 and 2008 saw 17-year periodical cicadas emerge in different parts of the state and turkey populations responded instantly. According to Reynolds, Ohio hunters experienced the record and second-best spring harvests two years after the cicada emergences and in some counties, harvest rates doubled or even tripled over the next few seasons.

"But turkeys don't live forever," Reynolds pointed out. "Just three to four years after cicada emergences turkey numbers decline as the cohort born in the cicada boom begin to disappear."

Current hunting opportunities are probably as good as they're going to get, and this year should be no exception, said Reynolds.

CENTRAL OHIO

"Turkeys have done a good job of learning to adapt and are regularly seen under bird feeders in back yards or bugging in the green space in town," said Assistant Wildlife Manager Supervisor Geoff Westerfield.

Though Westerfield hangs his shingle in the wildlife office in Akron, his assessment of how the wild turkey is faring in central Ohio is right on.

"I am sure urban turkeys will become a larger issue as time goes by and it will be interesting to see if their interactions with humans put them on a similar path as the whitetail deer is on. Will municipalities open up to hunting turkeys within their corporation limits?" Could be, speculates Westerfied.

Most archers head for the densely forested tracts of southern and eastern Ohio, but hunters in the know may have a change of heart this spring and stay closer to home. Knox County provides an outstanding hunt as evidenced by last year's 498 birds taken during the spring season. Other counties in the region are providing outstanding spring hunting as well.

Public land hunters should give serious consideration to trying the Deer Creek Wildlife Area in Fayette, Madison, and Pickaway counties or the Delaware WA in Delaware, Marion, and Morrow counties this year.

For more information call the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District 1 at (614)644-3925.

NORTHWESTERN OHIO

Ideas concerning turkey habitat within the ranks of the ODOW have experienced major adjustment. At one time wildlife biologists were reluctant to stock turkeys into the western half of the state because it was believed gobblers needed large blocks of forest such as those found in the southern and eastern parts of Ohio. Nothing could be further than the truth. A little head scratching and new ways of looking at habitat have turned that idea on its head.

"Based on time and experience, we now know that prime wild turkey habitat is composed of a mosaic of habitats," said Reynolds. "These include open lands such as crop fields and pastures intermixed with forests of all ages to provide brood, nesting, and roosting habitat, as well as a winter food source such as acorns. Counties that have intermediate amounts of forest cover such as Ashtabula and Harrison counties annually produce the highest turkey harvest densities, not the heavily forested counties where turkeys were originally stocked such as Hocking and Vinton counties."

Reynolds has found that cooperation with the National Wild Turkey Federation's regional biologist and tapping into the Ohio NWTF superfund has benefited both birds and hunters by improving habitat on private and public lands. Partnerships like this are the wave of the future.

Richland County led the way in District 2 during the 2011 spring harvest. A total of 408 turkeys, down from 426 in the spring of 2010, were taken in 2011.

Many of the smaller public areas in the district can produce good hunting if hit at the right times. The Fish Creek, Lake La Su An, Tiffin River, Oxbow Lake, and Cascade wildlife areas are open to the public in a region somewhat starved for public hunting spots.

Additional information is available by calling District 2 at (419)424-5000.

NORTHEASTERN OHIO

District 3 Wildlife Management Biologist Geoff Westerfield in northeastern Ohio is hearing from hunters in his district that they're seeing more turkeys this year than in the past.

"The mild winter and minimal rain in the spring helped the situation along," said Westerfield.

Surprisingly, urban sprawl has a very limited effect on turkeys, said Westerfield, even in the most densely populated part of the state. In the District 3 office there's a map hanging on the wall showing the projected turkey range for 1983. Those limits have been blown away and wildlife biologists are regularly dealing with urban turkeys willing to share their homes with humans.

"A couple of years ago I was called to a parking garage in downtown Cleveland just down the street from Jacobs Field to get a turkey that had made a wrong turn and was trapped in the garage," said Westerfield. "Like most other wildlife, turkeys are adaptable."

During the 2011 spring season 700 turkeys were harvested in Ashtabula County, down from 1,030 the year before. Even Cuyahoga County produced a few wild turkeys.

The newer Jockey Hollow WA in Harrison County and the Grand River WA in Trumbull County are probably the best spring turkey hunts in northeastern Ohio.

Contact District 3 at (330)644-2293 for more information.

SOUTHEASTERN OHIO

According to Reynolds, the number of birds in traditional turkey strongholds in southeastern Ohio peaked from 2001 to 2003 due to the 1999 cicada hatch. After this, numbers fluctuated up and down based on nesting success and brood survival. Poor hatches in 2009, 2010, and 2011 depressed turkey numbers throughout the eastern half of the state compared to the gobblers present a decade ago. But better days are ahead.

"Where there's habitat, there's turkeys," said Wildlife Management Biologist Lindsay Rist. "These turkey populations are self-sustaining in contrast to other areas of Ohio, where wild turkeys are moving into new areas."

According to Rist, reasonable spring weather last year helped foster nesting success and brood survival, which translates into good hunting for the near future.

Coshocton County was the top pick of archers during the 2011 season, when they killed gobblers totaled 443 birds during the spring season, down from 522 the year before.

Thousands of acres of public hunting are available in the Zaleski State Forest and Waterloo Wildlife Area. These huge swaths of Ohio wilderness spread across several counties and it's wise to take a compass to ensure coming out where you started.

Contact District 4 at (937)372-9261 for more information.

SOUTHWESTERN OHIO

"The counties with the best turkey numbers and production would be the southeastern counties in our district because of the habitat," said Brett Beatty, a wildlife management biologist in District 5.

Though perhaps not as prolific as their cousins in other parts of the state, these birds hold their own. In Adams County, 502 wild turkeys met their match during the spring season, a drop from the previous year's 745 birds. The trend is that turkey populations are maintaining their numbers but still down a notch or two from the turkey boom a few years ago.

"The 2012 reproductive index was better than in the past three summers," said Reynolds. "Eastern Ohio should experience increased populations in local areas. Looking ahead, the next 17-year cycle cicada outbreak is scheduled to occur in 2016 and I have it marked on my calendar!"

According to Beatty, public areas are a good place to start. Indian Creek in Clermont County, Caesar's Creek in Green and Warren counties, and Tranquility in Adams Count are worth checking out.

District 5 can be reached at (937)372-9261.

Changes in ODOW rules worth noting include the Automated Turkey Check Process during which hunters can report harvested turkeys on the internet at www.wildohio.com or www.ohiogamecheck.com, by telephone at 1-877-824-4864, or at licensed check stations. Immediately after harvest, the temporary tag must be detached from the permit and attached to the turkey with information completed in ink. A permanent game check receipt tag number will be issued at check-in. A customer identification number will be assigned to everyone using the system that will be used for future permits, stamps, lotteries, and other ODOW functions.

A wealth of information is available on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's website at www.dnr.state.oh.us. Downloadable maps of most of the state's wildlife areas are available free of charge.

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