Illinois' Spring Turkey Outlook

Illinois' Spring Turkey Outlook

There's a lot to be excited about regarding the upcoming turkey season. We crunched the numbers to put you in tom's territory this year. (March 2007)

Photo by Phillip Jordan

It's time once again for spring turkey hunting in Illinois. Of course, most of us have been thinking about this year since the close of last season. And right about now, the excitement builds to a fevered pitch.

There is a lot to be excited about, too. Last year, Prairie State hunters killed a record number of turkeys in the spring hunt. Over 16,000 birds were harvested during the regular season and 2006 Youth Turkey Hunt combined. That's a tremendous milestone and a great testimony to the restoration of wild turkeys in our state.

"The success of so many turkey hunters is great news and is another indicator of how successful the turkey restoration program in Illinois has been," said Department of Natural Resources Acting Director Sam Flood. "Eleven years after the first reintroduction of wild turkeys to the state, harvest during the first modern turkey season in Illinois in 1970 was 25 birds. To top 16,000 this year shows that the wild turkey population is thriving, and hunters are enjoying the opportunity."

If the last few years are any indication, this spring should be another great year. For the last three years in a row, hunters have taken over 15,000 birds during the spring seasons. In 2004, hunters took 15,066 birds during the regular spring seasons and 497 in the youth hunt for a total harvest of 15,563. Hunters in the regular spring seasons of 2005 took 14,951 wild turkeys, with youth hunts adding an additional 458 birds for a total of 15,409. Last year, the tally was a whopping 16,140 birds, with 15,628 of them shot during the regular seasons and 512 in the youth season.

While that is great news for last year, those figures aren't necessarily the best indicators for this season. Biologists look at multiple sources of data to estimate the population level and set regulations. Obviously, the harvest figures for spring, fall and youth seasons are compiled and compared with trends. Observations and counts of wild turkeys are also recorded by firearms and archery deer hunters during the fall. However, the most significant contributing factor to population estimating is the observation of yearly poult production, and it is compiled as the poult-to-hen index.

Breeding success is determined in part by this poult-to-hen index. This rating system is compiled from annual brood survey reporting by cooperating landowners, mail carriers, biologists and public-land site managers. Figures are assessed and compared against long-term trends.

The poult production was quite good based on the brood

survey reports from 2006. This should mean a lot more young birds in the population this year -- at least theoretically. There are variables that can affect or skew the numbers in the index.

The preliminary poult-to-hen index for 2006 was 3.0, which is above the prior 10-year average of 2.88. It was up from the 2005 index of 2.34. Statewide, this was good news, but not all areas of Illinois saw the increase.

The best areas of our state were Region V (3.58), Region II (3.03) and Region IV (3.01). However, Region I (2.70) and Region III (1.50) were under the 10-year average.

Things are looking excellent statewide for this year, but the burning question in many hunters' minds is: "Where can I go to get my bird?" Well, let's dig a little deeper and see if we can find the answer.

The obvious choices for the best turkey hunting locations are those with the highest brood production. Additionally, hunters should think of targeting the counties that are open for fall turkey hunting. The DNR only allows fall hunting in those counties with a population great enough to withstand the extra pressure. Counties without a fall season obviously have fewer birds, fewer available hunting areas, or both.

Southern Illinois should once again offer some excellent turkey hunting this season, as it does most every year. The counties that fall within the Shawnee National Forest are especially good. The Shawnee offers a tremendous range of acreage and habitat to suit most every taste. It also affords the opportunity for hunters to spread out and not overhunt particular areas or crowd each other.

Northwestern Illinois has also been providing some good turkey hunting opportunities each year. So has the south-central portion of the state. Another good area to target is along the Mississippi River corridor.

Although these sections of the state are good bets for spring, there are many other things to consider, such as the availability of hunting access within those areas. Even within the areas with good reproduction numbers and thriving populations, there are obviously locations that are better or worse than others. A good starting point is to look at recent trends for harvest success.

There are two ways to gauge the success in particular locations. One is by overall harvest numbers and the other is by percentage of success. Percentage of success jumps out as the best indicator for location choice, but even that figure can lead you astray if all the factors are not considered.

Will County is a prime example. Last spring, it recorded a whopping success percentage of 40.77. That could lead you to believe that almost half of the hunters had success, which is way above average. While that fact is true, it must also be taken into consideration there was a total of only 54 birds taken in the county. Compare that with Pike County in that there were 708 birds killed, and the attractiveness diminishes. To determine the best locations, you have to look at trends for harvest numbers, success rates and the amount of accessible public land.

The top 10 counties for most birds killed last spring were Pike (708), Jo Daviess (564), Adams (560), Macoupin (468), Fulton (444), Calhoun (410), Schuyler (398), Pope (378), Hancock (375) and Marion (363). These figures represented all spring seasons, including the youth hunt.

The top 10 counties for the highest success rates were Will (40.77 percent), Cass (32.31), Pike (29.11), Mason (28.64), Vermilion (28.36), Winnebago (28.08), Ogle (28.06), Scott (28.02), De Witt (27.75) and Lawrence (27.56).

Southern Illinois should once again offer some excellent turkey hunting this season,as it does most every year.

The counties that fall within the Shawnee National Forest are especially good. The Shawnee offers a tremendous range of acreage and habitat to suit most every taste. It also affords the opportunity for hunters to spread out and not over

hunt particular areas or crowd each other.

Those numbers represent last season's success and give good hints at potential good counties for this year. However, to make the best choices for hunting locations, you should look at trends for longer than just one season. After analyzing the data from the past several years, here is a more detailed look at some of the particular counties around Illinois that should offer our best turkey hunting this spring. We'll start out in the North Zone and work our way into the South Zone.

JO DAVIESS COUNTY

Hunters shot 564 birds in Jo Daviess County in 2006. That is a drop from the year before and makes three years in row with a decline from the previous season. The percentage of hunter success has also fallen over the same five-year period from a high of 23.32 percent in 2002 to 17.97 percent last year. However, Jo Daviess is one of only three counties in the state that had a harvest of over 500 birds, therefore it still is a prime spot for spring turkey hunters.

PIKE COUNTY

The greatest number of toms killed in any county was 708 from Pike. The county also had a very nice success rate at 29.11 percent. Pike has been on an upswing for the past five seasons and now ranks at the very top for the number of birds. Turkey hunters here have been averaging over 600 birds each spring. Actual numbers put the harvest just under 600 for 2002 and 2003, but they have taken a major upward jump the past three years. All indications are good for this being another banner season.

ADAMS COUNTY

Our third county that had a harvest of over 500 birds is Adams. Hunters bagged 560 birds there in the spring of 2006. The county has actually yielded over 500 birds in four out of the last five spring seasons. The only bump in the span was in 2005 when hunters hit just under the mark with 483 birds taken. The previous three years yielded harvests of 502 birds in 2004, 508 in 2003 and 535 in 2002. The success rate has been really steady as well. Hunters averaged over 25 percent success at the start and conclusion of that five-year span. The middle three years were above 23 percent, which is still very good. A good population of birds and good harvests each year makes this county one of our best.

FULTON COUNTY

The tally says 444 turkeys were killed in Fulton County in the spring of 2006, with a success rate above 22 percent. Fulton County has seen an increase in the number of birds taken each spring for the past five years except for one, which declined only slightly. The success rate has also remained consistent throughout the same period. Success peaked in 2004 at 24.68 percent, but has remained above 22 percent each of those years.

MACOUPIN COUNTY

Another promising county is Macoupin, where hunters shot 468 turkeys last spring. The success rate was 25 percent even. Macoupin has been one of the most consistent counties in terms of kill figures. Hunters there have taken near or over 400 birds each of the last five seasons, and the success rate has hovered right around 24 to 25 percent each year.

CALHOUN COUNTY

Hunters busted the 400-bird total in Calhoun County as well. In fact, they took 410 spring turkeys. That was a big jump from 2005 when they shot 324 birds. The county had not seen a harvest above 400 since 2002 when it was 433 birds. Success jumped significantly last season as well. It was recorded at 24.66 percent in 2006 and 21 percent in 2005. The peak for the success rate was also in 2002 when hunters hit 26.26 percent. All of the last five years have been above 21 percent, which is very adequate.

Northwestern Illinois has

also been providing some

good turkey hunting

opportunities each year.

So has the south-central

portion of the state. Another good area to target is along

the Mississippi River corridor.

POPE COUNTY

Shifting to the South Zone, sporadic is a good word to describe Pope County. It yielded great success in 2002 and 2003 with 580 and 599 birds, respectively. Success rates for those years were above 24 percent. It declined some in the next two years with harvest figures around 350 in both 2004 and 2005. The harvest success dipped as low as 16.95 in 2004. Last year saw a little improvement, with the kill bouncing back up to 378 turkeys, and the success rate was up to 18.59 percent. This county is a favorite of many hunters, so hopefully, this spring will see the upward trend continue.

MARION COUNTY

The top county in the South Zone for number of birds plucked last spring behind Pope was Marion. It was one of only six counties in the zone that yielded over 300 birds. Hunters took 363 turkeys there last spring, and it has given up over 300 birds each of the last four spring seasons. In 2002, hunters took 277 birds there, but the success rate was still up near 25 percent. It has remained good for the past five years straight and jumped to 25.79 percent last year. This year could see an even better percentage with a little good fortune.

JEFFERSON COUNTY

Coming in just behind Marion County in the South Zone is Jefferson County, where hunters shot only one less bird. The success rate was not quite as good, but was still quite admirable at 22.72 percent. Jefferson was down slightly last season from the previous three years. Hunters took 292 birds there in 2002, and the harvest increased each successive season until last year. The rate has remained around 24 percent or above each of those years until last season's drop. Area hunters are hoping to see a rebound there this spring.

RANDOLPH COUNTY

Hunters had very good success in Randolph County as well. There were 337 birds bagged there in spring 2006. Last year made three years in a row and four out of five years that hunters killed over 300 birds. That translates to being very consistent, and Randolph shows good promise again for this year. Success dropped a little last season to just under 23 percent, which was down from 24.44 in 2005. However, both of the last two years have seen an increase in the harvest success over the previous three years. Those years still had good percentages, with every season being above 21 percent. Again, that means consistency.

MADISON COUNTY

Some 314 birds succumbed to hunter effort last season in Madison County. The success rate came in at a very impressive 27.01 percent. That's not quite the high experienced there in 2002 when hunters enjoyed a 27.96 percent success rate for spring turkeys, but it's not far off, and it has consistently been above 25 percent, which is always a good sign. The harvest in Madison County has increased for five consecutive years. Couple that with the high percentage of success, and it looks very favorable again this season.

UNION COUNTY

The last county in the South Zone that accounted for a turkey harvest greater than 300 birds in 2006 was Union. The total number of birds taken there was 306. The success rate made a nice increase and was around 23.56 percent. During other years, the rate ranged from a high of 23.31 percent in 2004 to a low of 20.31 percent in 2002. Union County has seen kill numbers range from 221 birds in 2002 to the high of 306 last year. It had a slight dropoff in 2005, but it seems to be bouncing back. If production in the county remains good, 2007 should provide hunters there with good results.

The top 10 counties for

most birds killed last spring were Pike (708), Jo Daviess (564), Adams (560), Macoupin (468), Fulton (444), Calhoun (410), Schuyler (398), Pope (378), Hancock (375) and Marion (363). These figures represented all spring seasons, including the youth hunt.

WAYNE COUNTY

Another county that is worth a serious look this year is Wayne. Around 270 birds were shot there last spring, and hunters enjoyed a success rate better than 25 percent. Hunters have been having very consistent success in Wayne County over the past five years. The percentage has remained above or very near 25 percent each of those seasons. That's not too shabby. Another real positive note for Wayne County is that the number of turkeys shot has increased each year for five straight years. That sounds really promising for this season.

BEFORE YOU GO

Hunters desiring to access the opportunities available at the State Fish and Wildlife Areas (FWAs) and other public hunting access sites should contact them directly or obtain the Hunter Fact Sheet for the area prior to the season so you can get the latest on regulations, permits required and other pertinent information. Contact numbers for all the public hunting areas are available in the 2007-2008 Illinois Digest of Hunting & Trapping Regulations, which is available at many outlets and sporting goods suppliers. It can also be accessed online at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/ hunter_fact_sheet/index. The DNR can be reached at (217) 782-6302, or online at www.dnr.state.il.us.

Enjoy your turkey hunt, and have a safe season!

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