Ohio's 2009 Spring Turkey Forecast

Ohio's 2009 Spring Turkey Forecast

Here's a look at what's in store for Buckeye State turkey hunters in 2009.

Reports are in from wildlife biologists across the Buckeye State, and barring any unforeseen weather disasters, Ohio's wild turkey hunters are in for another excellent season in 2009.

The battle for great wild turkey hunting opportunities has been hard won here. As the Ohio of old became home to increasing numbers of settlers, unrestricted hunting and the conversion of forestland to cropland resulted in native wild turkeys becoming nonexistent in the state by 1904.

Farming eventually became less prevalent and croplands began to revert to forested areas. It was then that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife began a turkey restoration effort that has spanned four decades. Early efforts using farm-reared birds failed, but in the early 1960s, biologists turned to the wild turkey populations in other states for their Ohio restoration project.

Wild turkeys, hardier and more wary of predators than their farm-bred cousins, began to successfully establish naturally reproducing populations throughout southern Ohio. These birds were in turn trapped and transplanted to other regions of the state.

The restoration project and transplanting of birds came to an end last year, a resounding success. Wild turkeys now inhabit all 88 counties of the Buckeye State. Spring hunting can be enjoyed statewide, and 46 counties are open for a more limited fall hunting season.

Oversight for Ohio's wild turkey population comes from the Waterloo Wildlife Research Station.

"Our function is two-fold," said Mike Reynolds, an ODNR wildlife biologist. "We conduct monitoring of the wild turkey population on an annual basis as well as answering specific questions about their abundance and reproduction. We do this through a variety of annual surveys and research projects."

Reynolds said the two most important annual surveys are the spring gobbler survey and the summer brood survey. Each April, biologists throughout the state follow set routes, listening for gobbler activity. The number of gobblers heard is compared to that of previous years as a predictor of wild turkey numbers.

"This provides an index to the wild turkey population," Reynolds said. "The more gobblers you hear, the bigger the population is."

From June through August, observations of hens with poults are recorded and those sightings help biologists track the reproductive success of the species. Biologists also do radio telemetry research on hens to determine peak incubation periods. Reynolds said that in Appalachian states like Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio, there has been a realization that illegal hen mortality is high each spring and fall.

"A number of research projects have indicated that illegal hen mortality in spring can be significant," Reynolds explained, "so the later you time the spring season the better off you are because more hens are nesting and it's more difficult for them to be taken by mistake or illegal harvesting."

Another aspect of research conducted by biologists is to band and track gobblers.

"Our target is to harvest no more than 30 to 35 percent of gobblers each year to make sure we have a lot of older age structure for hunters and plenty of gobbler activity," Reynolds said. "To this point, we've been able to maintain a growing wild turkey population in Ohio and maintain ample hunting opportunities, as well as a quality hunting experience.

I would expect a good spring season, probably harvesting somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000 gobblers," he continued. "The spring harvest in 2008 was our third highest on record -- 20,389 gobblers -- and all indications are that we should have another good season. The spring season is open statewide and the limit is two bearded turkeys. The season is four weeks long; Sunday hunting is allowed, and we stop hunting at noon."

The spring Youth Hunt is slated for April 18 and 19, with the regular spring season running from April 20 to May 17. A fall hunt is allowed in the 46 counties with the highest wild turkey numbers, with hunters allowed to harvest one bird of either sex.

Reynolds said that only about one third of Ohio is forested, with the majority of prime wild turkey habitat, and the highest densities of birds, located in wildlife districts Three and Four.

SALT FORK WILDLIFE AREA

"One of our better-known public lands is Salt Fork Wildlife Area, which has classic wild turkey habitat," he said.

As with many of the state's wildlife areas, Salt Fork is adjacent to a state park of the same name. While state parks are part of the ODNR, they are run by a separate division and some parks may not allow hunting.

Wild turkey hunters should make a point of knowing if they are treading on wildlife area land or state park land, and check ahead of time to see what the hunting opportunities may be on adjacent state park lands. As always, be sure to check current wild turkey hunting regulations before heading out. (Cont'd)

Salt Fork Wildlife Area and Salt Fork State Park offer a combined 20,542 acres of public recreation lands. Thirty-five percent of the wildlife area is wooded, predominantly with oak and hickory along steep slopes, and maple, beech, ash, willow and sycamore along stream banks. Crop fields, along with overgrown fields and pastures, make up another third of the wildlife area. More than 8,000 acres here are managed specifically for wildlife.

For current hunting conditions, contact the Salt Fork Wildlife Management Work Unit at (740) 489-5021. The main entrance is about seven miles east of Cambridge on U.S. Route 22.

Check DeLorme's Ohio Atlas and Gazetteer, map 61, for area details.

COOPER HOLLOW WA

Farther to the south in Wildlife Division Four, Reynolds recommended Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area. This 5,421-acre WA sits about 12 miles southeast of Jackson on U.S. Route 35. More than half of the area is wooded, mostly with oak and hickory. Another 1,000 acres provide grassy, old field habitat suited to nesting and brooding.

This wildlife area has miles of interior roads, plentiful parking and about 20 miles of trails available for easier hunter access.

For more information, contact the Wildlife District Four office at (740) 589-9930 or the Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area manager at (740) 682-7524.

Check DeL

orme's OAG, map 86 for area details.

GRAND RIVER WA

"In northeastern Ohio, I would recommend the Grand River Wildlife Area or Trimble," Reynolds said. "Grand River has more swampy hardwoods. You'll get your feet wet when you hunt there, but there are a lot of turkeys there."

About 46 percent of the 7,231-acre Grand River WA is second-growth hardwoods, while 49 percent is open fields, cropland and brushy land. Much of the land is in active crop rotation to benefit wildlife. To the north are extensive forested wetlands.

This segment of the Grand River valley is one of the largest areas of semi-wilderness left in the heavily populated northeast portion of the state. Even experienced hunters should take precautions against becoming lost here.

The Grand River Wildlife Area is east of West Farmington. State Route 88 bisects the area, and state Route 534 runs along the western border. Parking is prohibited except in parking lots located throughout the area.

For more information, call the Grand River Wildlife Area manager at (330) 889-3280 or the Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293.

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 42 for details.

TRIMBLE WILDLIFE AREA

Trimble WA's 2,096 acres are about two miles west of Glouster and three miles east of Murray City off state Route 78. About 90 percent of the area is forested, with oak and hickories thick on the ridges and upper slopes. Parking areas are accessible from township roads 312 and 314. Access and parking to the northeast side of the area can be had via township Road 313.

For more information, contact the ODOW's Wildlife District Four office at (740) 594-2211.

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 70, for area details.

There's also good news on the gobbler front in Wildlife District One.

"The turkey population is doing really well across the state," said Donna Daniel, an assistant wildlife management supervisor in the ODOW's Wildlife District One office. "As you get out of the forested central and northwestern parts of the state, there are going to be certain areas that are better for turkeys based on habitat. Wherever habitat is good there will be a good population of turkeys."

Despite the fact that Wildlife District One's public lands tend more toward grassland and wetland habitat with scattered forested areas, turkeys can still be found here, Daniel said.

DEER CREEK WILDLIFE AREA

"South of Columbus in central Ohio is Deer Creek Wildlife Area," she said. "To the north are Delaware and Big Island. All three have plenty of turkeys."

Some pre-season scouting and familiarity with the sweet spots for turkey habitat will go a long way toward gobbler success when the season opens, she said.

"Hunters should scout the area to find out where the birds are feeding and roosting," Daniel said. Both Deer Creek WA and Delaware WA were stocked as part of the wild turkey restoration effort some years ago. Big Island has not been stocked in recent memory, but turkeys opted to move in on their own. All three wildlife areas have naturally self-sustaining populations of the big birds these days.

"In Columbus, which is a major metropolitan area, we have a fair number of wild turkey reports in and around the suburbs," Daniel said. "It just shows how adaptable those birds are to fit into those types of habitats."

While hunting isn't allowed in urban areas, breeding populations of turkeys there do filter into the surrounding countryside, she noted.

Deer Creek WA lies about four miles south of Mount Sterling on Route 207. Right next door is the 1,277-acre Deer Creek Lake, and to the south and east of the lake is Deer Creek State Park.

About 1,000 of Deer Creek Wildlife Area's 4,085 acres are utilized for row crops and small grains each year. Controlled burns and cultivation of native, warm-season grasses provide good nesting grounds for wild turkeys. About 90 percent of a poult's nutrition during the first few weeks of life is derived from insects foraged from easy-to-reach grasses and low shrubs.

A quarter of the wildlife area is covered with second-growth hardwoods and heavy brush. Most of the wooded areas, mainly oak, hickory, elm, maple and black walnut, are in the eastern portion of the wildlife area.

For more information, contact the Deer Creek Wildlife Area manager at (614) 869-2365 or the Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 67 for area details.

Delaware Wildlife Area's 4,670 acres are nestled eight miles north of Delaware and 10 miles south of Marion. Both the Delaware Reservoir and Delaware State Park are adjacent to the wildlife area.

About half of Delaware WA is covered with old-field growth made up of mixed grasses, briars and small shrubs. More than 10 percent has been planted with prairie grasses, timothy and clover to provide additional wildlife habitat. Another 40 percent of the wildlife area is covered with second-growth hardwoods and heavy brush.

For more information, contact the Delaware Wildlife Area manager at (740) 747-2919 or the ODOW's Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925.

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 58 for area details.

The 5,722-acre Big Island WA is five miles west of Marion along state Route 95. About 60 percent of this wildlife area is devoted to crop fields, meadows and prairie grasses. Oak, hickory and silver maple are the most common species making up the forested 20 percent of the wildlife area. The remaining portion is comprised of ponds, marshes and other wetlands.

For more information, contact the Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925.

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 47 for area details.

Brett Beatty, an assistant wildlife management supervisor in Wildlife District Five, is calling for hunters to see the same bumper crop of gobblers they have over the past two seasons.

"I think it's really going to be like the last year or two," Beatty said of the 2009 season. "It appears to me that we had a good hatch in 2008.

TRANQUILITY WILDLIFE AREA

"My favorite, and a place I hunt personally, is Tranquility Wildlife Area," Beatty said. "It's definitely got some good terrain, good traditional turkey habitat, hills and hollows. It's about 4,500 acres overall, with about 10 percent planted with crops at any given time. It has open ground and ridges with hardwoods."

Tranquility Wildlife Area in southwest Ohio about 16 miles south of Hillsboro, is made up of about 40 percent native wood

lands. Oak and hickory are the majority species along the ridges and upper slopes here, with maple, beech, elm and ash more common on the lower, damper ground.

For more information, contact the Tranquility Wildlife Area manager at (937) 987-2508 or the Wildlife District Five office at (937) 372-9261.

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 77, for area details.

"I think other up-and-coming turkey hunting areas are Caesar Creek and Spring Valley," Beatty said. "These are closer to Dayton and are more accessible for hunters who might not be able to drive two hours to Tranquility. There's still a chance of getting into some birds there -- it's a nice mosaic of forest, brush and crop fields. I like Caesar Creek because it's close to where I live and I can hunt there before work."

CAESAR CREEK WILDLIFE AREA

Caesar Creek Lake Wildlife Area spans 3,100 acres at the junction of Clinton, Greene and Warren counties. To both sides of Caesar Creek Lake is the 7,086-acre Caesar Creek State Park. Meadow and grain crops cover about half of the wildlife area, with woodlands covering another 40 percent. The remaining land is old fields reverting to shrub, grasses, small trees and forbs.

The Corwin-New Burlington Road offers access to the southern portion of the wildlife area. From the southeast, access may be had from the Lumberton-New Burlington and Mound roads. Greene County access is via the Cemetery and Roxanna-New Burlington roads, and via state Route 380.

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

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 66, for area details.

SPRING VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA

The 842-acre Spring Valley Wildlife Area is in the heart of the agricultural region east of the Little Miami River, eight miles south of Xenia and four miles north of Waynesville. Well over a third of the wildlife area is dedicated to cropland and permanent meadow interrupted by brushy fencerows and extensive brushy coverts. Another third of Spring Valley is forested.

Cropland here is managed to provide good availability of wildlife forage and cover, as are the meadows and forests. More than 100,000 trees and shrubs have been planted at Spring Valley to provide even more cover for wildlife.

Access to the Spring Valley Wildlife Area may be had by turning east off U.S. Route 42 onto the Roxanna-New Burlington Road.

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

Check DeLorme's OAG, map 65 for area details.

For more information about wild turkey hunting in Ohio, contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at (614) 265-6300 or visit www.dnr.state.oh.us.

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