Ohio's Spring Turkey Season Outlook

Ohio's Spring Turkey Season Outlook

Find out what harvest trends and management numbers say about this upcoming turkey season.

Wild turkey hunters in the Buckeye State have much to look forward to this spring, thanks to careful management and a very successful stocking program by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. The 2010 spring harvest was the second highest on record, according to Mike Reynolds, an ODNR wildlife biologist.

Oversight of Ohio's wild turkeys comes via the Waterloo Wildlife Research Station. Reynolds said this oversight includes monitoring the wild turkey population annually and answering specific questions about the species' abundance and reproduction. A number of research projects and annual surveys are conducted to try and ascertain those answers.

While Mother Nature can always put a crimp in bird numbers or hunting season weather, barring something truly cataclysmic, Reynolds said hunters could expect good to great harvest numbers again this spring.

"Turkey hunting in 2010 was fantastic," said Reynolds of the spring season. "We were working off a great cicada hatch in 2008 and that resulted in a lot of two-year-old birds out there in the spring of 2010, which meant a lot of gobbling. We saw the second-best harvest on record. Our best was in 2001, with 26,156 gobblers harvested."

Last year, hunters were seeing great numbers of birds along the Ohio River.

"The good news is there's going to be some three-year-old birds, some carryover," Reynolds said. "So the river counties are going to have some mature birds next spring. It will be a good year to harvest a trophy gobbler."

Hunters harvested 23,421 birds last year. The experimental opening of all-day hunting during the last two weeks of the four-week season for the first time in 2010 will continue this year.

"We're monitoring what effects that may have, but in the first year it looked very positive," Reynolds said.

The statewide spring turkey season runs April 18 through May 15. A spring turkey permit is required. The limit is two bearded birds per hunter, with only one taken per day. Muzzleloaders and shotguns using shot, as well as crossbows and longbows are allowed. Hunting with dogs is not allowed, but a leashed dog may be used to recover a wounded bird.

Just prior to the regular spring season is the two-day Youth Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Weekend, April 16 and 17 this year. A youth hunting permit is required. Hunting is from half an hour before sunrise to sunset. The Lake La Su An Wildlife Area in Williams County is open for youth hunting only for the entire spring season and the youth-only weekend again this year.

"This is just a region-specific regulation," Reynolds said. "All other public lands don't have any specific special regulations. There are areas that sometimes have special youth hunts. Hunters should always check with their local district office to find out if there are any special regulations or special hunts."

Defiance and Williams counties were opened to fall hunting two years ago. The fall season runs from October 9 to November 28 in specific counties. For a complete list of counties open to fall hunting, grab the current law book at any license outlet or check the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website. Only one turkey of either sex may be taken during the entire fall season. Only shotguns using shot, crossbows and longbows are permitted, and a fall turkey permit is required. Fall hunters may hunt over dogs.

The fall season does not generally yield any significant harvest, Reynolds said. Birds disburse in the fall and lone birds are more difficult to find than flocks. He advised fall hunters to seek out food sources such as agricultural fields for fall success, and noted that most fall turkeys are taken as an afterthought due to Ohio's white-tailed deer season.

The top 10 counties for high spring turkey harvest numbers in recent years have been Ashtabula, Columbiana, Trumbull and Tuscarawas counties in Wildlife Division Three; Coshocton, Muskingum, Guernsey, Belmont and Monroe counties in Wildlife Division Four; and Clermont County in Wildlife Division Five. Some notable changes in 2010 included a 47-percent jump in the harvest rate in Adams County, which yielded 508 birds in 2009 and 745 in 2010. The Butler County harvest jumped from 147 up to 216. Lawrence County hunters bagged 73 percent more birds, taking 446 in 2010, up from 258 the previous year. Pike County jumped from 274 birds in 2009 to 403 gobblers taken in 2010. In Scioto County, hunters took 269 birds in 2009, but ramped that number up to 422 last year.

Reynolds noted that harvest data can be misleading in that the information does not take into account the landmass of the county. Thus larger counties may report more birds killed than smaller counties, but a square-mile comparison might make those numbers look very different. For example, he said, Guernsey and Harrison counties produce some of the highest harvests per square mile.

"This is going to be a good year," Reynolds said. "Harvests will still be in the 20,000 to 24,000 range across the state. Sixty-seven out of 88 counties had increased numbers in the 2010 spring turkey harvest. Ashtabula County normally leads the state, and it did once again in 2010. For one thing, it's a big county with a lot of square miles so when you're using the county as your benchmark numbers will be high. And it has just fantastic turkey habitat, the perfect mix of woodland, agriculture and field habitat, and there is some pretty good hunting up there."

Turkey numbers are rising in other regions, as well.

"Western Ohio continues to just outstrip any of our expectations," he said. "It would not be considered classic turkey habitat but we continue to see expansions of turkeys in western Ohio."

Hunters who have historically had to travel to find gobblers may be able to take a bird in their home counties this year.

"So this is a really exciting time to be a turkey hunter in the state of Ohio," Reynolds said. "Throughout most of the late 1990s and into the early to mid-2000s, western Ohio was the focus of our restoration efforts. We stocked a lot of birds out there. It's largely an agricultural landscape but there are woods along the rivers and streams and the turkeys have responded. What we once thought was a deep wilderness bird really adapts very well."

Reynolds said that while turkey numbers are on the rise elsewhere, areas of the state where the most gobblers are harvested remain northeast an

d east central Ohio.

"In Guernsey County, Salt Fork Wildlife Area is historically a good place to hunt turkey," he said. "There's a lot of forested hardwood ridges and plenty of agriculture in the bottom land habitats. Turkey populations were established there decades ago and remain strong today."

Today's turkey hunter has about five decades' worth of careful species management to thank for the plentiful opportunities at hand. Back when the Buckeye State was settled, unrestricted hunting and flattening forests to create farmland wiped out the native turkey population. By 1904 the species was nonexistent in Ohio. Eventually farming became less popular and forestland began to regenerate, as did an interest in restoring the wild turkey population.

First attempts to stock using farm-raised gobblers failed miserably. Biologists decided to stock wild turkeys from neighboring states in the early 1960s because these birds were hardier and more wary of predators. Survival rates improved dramatically and the first successful populations of naturally-reproducing birds were established in southern reaches of the state. Some of those birds were trapped and used to populate other areas of Ohio. By 2008, biologists were able to disband the stocking program and rely solely on naturally-reproducing flocks of wild turkeys. Today, hunters can find wild turkeys in all 88 counties of the Buckeye State and current regulations seem to be effective at maintaining and growing those numbers.

The success of the wild turkey restoration effort has been no accident. Biologists have worked on countless surveys and studies to help formulate the best management decisions possible. Each April, biologists statewide head out on set routes listening for gobbler activity. The number of gobblers heard is compared to years past as an indicator of present wild turkey numbers. From June through August, sightings of hens with poults are recorded. These observations help biologists track the reproductive success of the species.

ODNR biologists have also done radio telemetry research on hens to discover peak incubation periods. One finding in a number of research projects in Ohio and other Appalachian states such as Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri, is that illegal hen mortality was high each spring and fall.

Reynolds said that spring mortality is especially significant. Thus timing the hunting season as late as possible increased the odds of more hens nesting and staying out of the line of fire, whether it be intentional or a case of mistaken identity.

Biologists have also banded, and then tracked the harvest of, gobblers in order to obtain data to help manage the species for quality turkey hunting. The ODNR's target is to harvest no more than 30 to 35 percent of gobblers each year in order to ensure a lot of older age structure for hunters and a lot of gobbler activity. That goal range allows for ample hunting opportunities while also growing the wild turkey population in Ohio.

"I don't see any major regulation changes anytime soon," Reynolds said.

Like most species, turkeys are a food-driven critter. About every five years, Ohio sees a really good cicada hatch, followed the next spring by a harvest of health gobblers.

"We had a great crop of cicada in 2005, and in 2010 we had a bumper crop again," Reynolds said. "In 2008 we had a good hatch. Generally speaking when we have a good hatch, we see the turkey harvest really impacted two years later because those two-year-old gobblers are really vocal. The 2009 cicada hatch wasn't fantastic, but it was okay, so with the carryover from 2008 birds and decent hatches in 2009 and 2010, we should have some gobblers out there in 2011.

"I don't know how the rest of the Appalachians look, but we've got us a phenomenal acorn crop here," he continued. "All this is going to keep our turkeys well fed. No matter what winter (brought), our turkeys are going into spring in really good health."

Reynolds said that the cicada hatch is also going to drive continuing hunter success for gobblers in less traditional regions.

"Some of those counties along the Ohio River, because of the cicada hatch, might be pretty outstanding hunting," he said. "We'll quickly be seeing some of those enter the top ten. I think what the hatch will underscore is that growth in District One and District Two, and that the rest of the state is holding its own."

Localized turkey hunting information may be had by contacting the appropriate district office: Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925; Wildlife District Two office at (419) 424-5000; Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293; Wildlife District Four at (740) 594-2211; or Wildlife District Five Office at (937) 372-9261. For statewide information about wild turkey hunting in Ohio, contact the ODNR at ((614) 265-6300 or visit www.dnr.state.oh.us.

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