Ohio'™s 2007 Spring Turkey Forecast

Wild turkeys now exist in all 88 Buckeye State counties. Here's where to find your 2007 gobbler on public land this spring. (April 2007)

Photo by Kenny Bahr

Ohio's wild turkey populations are looking good, according to Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists.

Turkeys are now found throughout the Buckeye State. And in some counties, hundreds of birds are tagged every spring season.

Wild turkeys were nearly gone before the ODOW's reintroduction of birds in the 1950s. Statewide, the first spring turkey season was opened in 1966. This will be only the eighth spring that the early season has been open in all 88 counties.

Big toms are wary by nature, and older birds with a couple of seasons behind them know how to keep out of harm's way. But good calling and creative tactics can make the difference.

One of the most important aspects of a successful hunt is being in the right place at the right time. Here's a look at a few of Ohio's public hunting areas where expectations are running high and the chance of bagging a spring gobbler are better than good:

CENTRAL OHIO

"Central Ohio isn't in the heart of turkey country," said Dan Huss, an ODOW wildlife biologist. "Most of the wooded areas in this part of Ohio are smaller and linear, so there are fewer birds. But if you know an area well, you can kill a turkey."

Huss explained that turkey populations in the heartland are well established and are continuing to spread into other areas to fill in the available habitat.

"They're extremely adaptable," said Huss. "We're seeing turkeys closer to the urban areas and closer to people than we've ever seen before. We're actually finding turkeys in 20-acre woodlots, as long as the woodlots aren't surrounded by a sea of corn."

One reason why turkeys have adapted so well to central Ohio is that they're happy to indulge in wheat, oats, soybeans and corn -- all standard crops on the farms throughout the area. These birds will also eat sorghum, oats, clover and rye when available.

"River corridors with trees connecting the woodlots along a creek or river are places that turkeys can move from one place to another without any problem," said Huss. "We used to think that turkeys needed at least a 5,000-acre block of forest to do well, but we've found that they don't. They still need a lot of room. But the woods can be in smaller tracts, as long as the tracts are close enough for the turkeys to move around in.

"The public lands in central Ohio do support a good number of turkeys, but the densities of bird populations aren't high," Huss continued. "There are places to try if you want to hunt close to home. But you have to get used to hunting flat land, rather than in the hills. Where you would normally call a turkey up a ridge and there's a ridgeline to break the turkey's view, in a flat forest there's a better chance of the tom seeing you."

The 1,323-acre Kokosing Lake Wildlife Area in Knox County is about 60 percent wooded. The surrounding private lands also hold turkeys that move through the public hunting lands.

Kokosing Lake WA may be reached off state Route 13 northwest of Mt. Vernon on township Road 371 in Knox County.

Deer Creek Wildlife Area sprawls across 4,085 acres in Pickaway, Madison and Fayette counties. The mature woods, open grasses and brushy cover hold turkeys, said Huss. Row crops are maintained to draw in the wildlife. The Deer Creek WA is 35 miles southwest of Columbus on state Route 207.

For additional information, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District One office at (614) 644-3925.

NORTHWEST OHIO

Ten years ago, there were few wild turkeys roaming the northwestern corner of the Buckeye State, according to wildlife biologist Bob Ford. The Ohio Division of Wildlife has been involved in relocating birds throughout the area, and the program has been a huge success.

"We're still releasing birds in northwestern Ohio," said Ford. "The ODOW is establishing turkey populations through the region, and we've had a lot of success over the years doing so. We now have a spring turkey season, and the turkey population's high enough to allow hunting."

According to Ford, the Willard Marsh and the Fish Creek wildlife areas are good spots to try calling a spring tom. The Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area also has developed a decent turkey population. Ford attributes the present-day turkey hunts in his corner of the Buckeye State to the successful ongoing relocation project.

Willard Marsh Wildlife Area

The Willard Marsh Wildlife Area in Huron County covers 1,676 acres four miles southwest of Willard. About two-thirds of the area is woodland and good turkey habitat.

Fish Creek Wildlife Area

In Williams County, the Fish Creek Wildlife Area covers 158 acres. It has two tracts, one north of Edgerton along the St. Joseph River and the other west of Edgerton along the Ohio-Indiana line. They're a little over two miles apart and connected by county Highway 60.

Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area

The Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area lies between Fremont and Sandusky on U.S. Highway 6. It covers 2,814 acres of public land, most of which is wetlands. Turkeys are found concentrated in the woods, but will wander into the other areas as well.

For more information, contact the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.

NORTHEASTERN OHIO

"In a nutshell, District Three has some excellent areas in which to hunt wild turkeys," said Dan Kramer, the ODOW's district wildlife management supervisor.

Ashtabula County has led the state for many years in total harvest. During the 2003 spring turkey season, 1,127 birds were taken, putting this county's harvest at the top of all 88 counties. In spring 2004, Ashtabula County was again in the lead with 673 turkeys. In 2005, Harrison County hunters harvested more birds, but in 2006, Ashtabula ranked number one again, this time with a spring harvest of 782 birds.

Dorset Wildlife Area

A good public hunting spot in the middle of this great turkey-producing country is the 1,088-acre Dorset Wildlife Area in eastern Ashtabula County, just over a mile southeast of Dorset on Kyle Road.

The only amenities you'll find here are three small par

king lots. Access is from Footville-Richmond and Tower roads. Pre-scouting is highly recommended, and a map is a good idea to keep the roaming hunter out of trouble. Trespassing without written permission can reap a stiff fine.

Grand River Wildlife Area

Another of Kramer's top picks is the Grand River Wildlife Area in Trumbull County. This area covers 7,231 acres in scattered parcels, most of which are interconnected. Ponds, streams and hardwood forests offer good turkey hunting, and most hunters do well in Grand River. The area is accessible from state routes 88 and 534, less than 40 miles from Cleveland.

Brush Creek Wildlife Area

The Brush Creek Wildlife Area also gets a thumbs-up from Kramer. Brush Creek is in Jefferson County and covers 4,131 acres of rugged country, predominately hardwood forest. Steep slopes and ridges can make hunting a challenge.

The area lies six miles southeast of Salineville. State Route 164 provides access.

Highlandtown Wildlife Area

The Highlandtown Wildlife Area in Columbiana County is also on Kramer's list of good turkey-hunting destinations for northeastern Ohio. The area covers 2,265 acres of hardwoods and open, brushy cover. The topography is rolling and includes 170-acre Highlandtown Lake. Access is from state routes 39 and 164.

More information is available from the ODOW's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.

SOUTHEASTERN OHIO

If Ohio has a turkey capital, District Four is it. More turkeys are taken in the southeastern forests than anywhere else in the state.

"We had a good reproductive season and a mild winter in 2005, so there's no reason we shouldn't have as good a season as we've been having over the last few years," said Dave Swanson, a District Four wildlife biologist and avid turkey hunter.

"We should harvest 20,000 birds in the spring of 2007."

Swanson uses the term "we" to include himself in the ranks of shooters chasing down the area's gobblers.

"I'm still learning," he confessed. "Turkey hunting is a lot of fun, but you've got to be patient and learn to be a woodsman."

The extensive forests in southeastern Ohio provide turkeys with ideal habitat. The winters generally aren't severe; there is plenty of food and adequate cover.

"The average number of turkeys statewide is about five birds per forested square mile," said Swanson. "Areas like Wayne National Forest and Shawnee and Zaleski state forests support from 10 to 15 birds per square mile. That doesn't mean you'll find a bird around every tree, and they're far from being evenly spaced in the woods. The gobblers tend to bunch up and live in quality habitat within these areas. But there are enough turkeys that hunters should have no trouble finding them."

Openings and small fields in mature forests are good places to start, Swanson noted. Trails and old logging roads are also good places to check. Walk quietly down these paths, do some pre-season scouting for sign and listen for gobblers in the fall.

Most of the birds that hunters checked in last year were 2-year-olds averaging 18 pounds, said Swanson. Older birds can weigh 25 pounds or more. The mild 2005 winter allowed turkeys to keep right on eating, and they really put on some weight.

Wayne National Forest

Hunters shouldn't forget federal properties when looking for vast tracts of forest to hunt. Wayne National Forest covers 236,638 acres and sprawls across 12 counties in southern Ohio. The forest properties are open to spring hunting, and hunter access is good.

"The Wayne has a real good population of turkeys on excellent habitat, and it is open to hunters," said Swanson.

The forest is a multi-use public destination containing miles of roads and ATV, hiking and riding trails that provide good hunter access. It's divided into three districts that aren't physically connected. The Athens Ranger District, the Marietta Unit and the Ironton Ranger District are managed by the U.S. Forest Service for a variety of outdoor activities, but it's the hunting opportunities that draw the most praise.

All general state hunting rules and regulations apply on federal lands. The Wayne National Forest Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/wayne provides useful information as well as the opportunity to order maps.

Zaleski/Shawnee State Forests

At 26,827 acres, Zaleski is the second-largest of our state forests, behind only Shawnee in sheer size. It harbors excellent numbers of turkeys, said Swanson, who noted that Athens County is among the top turkey-producing counties statewide.

Zaleski SF covers a patchwork of rough-and-tumble acres in Vinton and Athens counties. Access is from state routes 56, 278 and 677 and U.S. Route 50.

Shawnee State Forest in Scioto and Adams counties covers 63,747 acres and also supports excellent numbers of birds. Getting elbowroom is no problem here, though hunting pressure can be an issue. There is still an excellent chance for a successful hunt.

Access to Shawnee SF is from state Route 125 off U.S. Route 52 near Portsmouth.

MORE HOTSPOTS

Swanson said that a number of ODOW wildlife areas are also good for spring turkey hunting. The Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area in Jackson County, Waterloo WA in Athens County and Wolf Creek WA in Morgan County are among his top picks. It's the good numbers of turkeys that draw praise from Swanson. Athens and Jackson counties are consistently among the top producers of spring gobblers.

Contact the ODOW's District Four office at (740) 589-9930 for additional information.

SOUTHWESTERN OHIO

"The Tranquility, Spring Valley, Caesar Creek and Paint Creek wildlife areas all have good populations of turkeys," said Brett Beatty, assistant wildlife management supervisor in Ohio's Wildlife District Five.

"Over the last 10 years, the population of birds has leveled out," Beatty said. "Five years ago, we had a booming population. But some rough spring weather the last few years had poult survival below what we'd hoped for.

"A lot of factors affect a turkey population from year to year," Beatty added. "One factor is the availability of food. Two years ago, the Division of Wildlife began conducting acorn mast surveys on our wildlife areas, and the first year showed a high percentage of trees that were producing acorns. Acorn production is cyclic -- some years are a boom, while others are a bust. In 2006, there was still good production, but not as good as in 2005. Lower-production years can have an impact on a lot of wildlife, including turkeys.

"Weather is another factor aff

ecting our turkey flocks," said Beatty. "Cold, wet springs are hard on chicks, and harsh weather affects poult survival rates."

Tranquility Wildlife Area

According to Beatty, the Tranquility Wildlife Area probably has the highest number of gobblers and offers the best chance at a bird in his district. The area covers 4,254 acres, with good turkey habitat that includes steep ridges dominated by oak and hickory forest as well as dense stands of red cedar and underbrush.

State Route 770 provides access to the area, which is 16 miles south of Hillsboro.

Paint Creek Wildlife Area

Next in line for numbers of wild birds is the Paint Creek Wildlife Area, said Beatty. The area is south of Greenfield in Highland and Ross counties and covers 5,090 acres. Hunters may gain access off state routes 138 and 753.

Spring Valley Wildlife Area

Turkey hunters should consider Spring Valley Wildlife Area as well. Spring Valley covers 842 acres in Greene and Warren counties. Wetlands and 150-acre lake are in the mix. Beatty claims there are a lot of birds to be had here.

Access is from U.S. 42.

Caesar Creek Wildlife Area

The Caesar Creek Wildlife Area, southeast of Dayton, is nearly half meadow and croplands, with the remainder covered by woodlands and reverting crop fields. It covers nearly 3,000 acres of ground in Clinton, Warren and Greene counties.

For additional information, contact the ODOW's District Five office at (937) 372-9261.

For information on lodging and other amenities, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-BUCKEYE, or visit them online at DiscoverOhio.com.

Find more about Ohio fishing and hunting at: OhioGameandFish.com.

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