High numbers of birds in recent years, as reflected in the 2013 spring harvest increase, followed by favorable nesting conditions mean there will be plenty of birds to challenge when the season opens this month. Here’s where to go Ohio turkey hunting on public land in 2014.
Last year’s successful spring turkey-hunting season in Ohio bodes well for hunters seeking a trophy tom in 2014. More than 18,000 bearded turkeys were taken during the spring 2013 hunt, with increases shown in 50 counties.
As might be expected, most of the action took place in the eastern and southern portions of the state, where prime turkey habitat abounds. However, longbeards were taken in every county in the state, which is good news for hunters looking for hot action close to home.
It’s not so much a question of where you hunt as how well you hunt the areas you select. The birds are out there for the taking, and the hunters who show up prepared for the challenge will ultimately win the day.
Successful turkey hunting includes roosting birds at sunset and then being there before dawn the next morning with calls, decoys and a fly-down strategy that can’t be beat. The experts often make it look easy, but make no mistake, you will earn every bird you tag.
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Private-land hunters have the definite edge in Ohio. Some 90 percent of birds taken in 2013 were shot on private land, while only 10 percent of hunters reporting taking their birds on public land.
Fortunately, wild turkeys know and recognize no boundaries. Opportunities do exist on Ohio’s public hunting areas, wildlife management areas, state forests and on the vast Wayne National Forest; although habitat tends to be better on many private holdings, part of the reason so many more birds are taken there is that hunter effort on private lands is greater.
Hunters who go after turkeys on public land must do their homework. They know they must spend time scouting prior to the season (and even mid-season) and must work a little harder to find areas that other hunters overlook. There are plenty of birds out there; all you have to do is find them!
With all this in mind, here’s a look at some of the best places to go for some great wild turkey hunting on Ohio’s public lands in 2014:
WAYNE NATIONAL FOREST
It helps that “the Wayne” is smack in the middle of Ohio’s top-producing turkey habitat. The forest is a patchwork of ownership that covers over 250,000 acres in the Appalachian foothills. The forest is divided into three units managed out of two ranger district offices in Nelsonville and Ironton, with a field office in Marietta.
Wayne National Forest features over 300 miles of trails that provide convenient access to secluded mountain valleys and hardwood hilltops where turkeys are found in good numbers. The forest is primarily mountainous and steep, which adds an extra dimension to the hunters’ challenge. Hearing a gobbler on a distant hilltop or finger ridge can be exciting, but getting within range of him may take a little time and effort. These high-elevation birds can fly across a ravine or valley in seconds, a trip that may take the hunter hours to traverse. Plan to be in shape if you want to hunt the Wayne’s higher ground!
While much of WNF is mountainous, there are portions of the forest bordering private lands that feature less-demanding terrain. Work the edges of the forest boundary where turkeys roost in highland hardwoods but feed in the broken agricultural valleys below.
With more than a quarter-million acres to hunt there is certainly room to roam on Wayne National Forest. Ambitious spring turkey hunters will find enough birds to keep them busy all season. Maps and other information are available from the WNF at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wayne.
SHAWNEE STATE FOREST
Located in southern Ohio’s Scioto County in the state’s “orange zone” (where more than 300 spring birds are taken annually), Shawnee SF covers more than 63,000 acres with a good mix of high and low ground, hardwood ridges and adjacent agricultural lands where turkeys are found in good numbers. Put another way, Shawnee offers over 100 square miles of prime turkey habitat, with plenty of birds tucked away in its multitude of mountains, ridges and valleys. Hiking trails and gated roads offer access to most of the forest, plus there is an 8,000-acre “wild area” where no logging, vehicles or overnight camping is allowed.
Expect to walk a good distance for each bird harvested on Shawnee SF, but once you get past the first roadside hilltop you’ll invariably have the place to yourself. Few hunters want to venture into the forest’s wild interior, but the birds are there for those who enjoy a challenging hunt.
Hunters will find plenty of opportunities along Route 125, which, along with a number of side roads and gated fire roads, provides access to Shawnee. The high ground around Turkey Creek Lake and Roosevelt Lake offers good spring hunting, particularly during the week. There will be more hunter activity on weekends in this area but a hike over the first ridge will put most of that traffic behind you.
The area around the lodge and near the lakes is off limits to hunters, but the adjoining hardwood ridges are open to hunting. A long, slow evening drive along Route 125 will reveal plenty of gobblers to target for the next morning’s hunt. Other options include Mackletree Road and the CCC Road, which penetrate the interior of the forest.
This is steep, difficult terrain with high ridges, sharp slopes and deep creek bottoms. Expect to find turkeys on the highest ridges and on gated roads and trails, where they feed on the abundant oak mast.
Camping is available at Shawnee, plus there are rooms and cabins available at the centrally-located lodge. Other accommodations are available in nearby Portsmouth along with restaurants, fuel and other necessities.
For maps and more information about hunting on Shawnee State Forest, log onto www.ohiodnr.com. For information about Shawnee State Park and lodge, log onto www.shawneeparklodge.com. For food, lodging, supplies and other amenities in nearby Portsmouth, log onto www.portsmouth.org.
There are many public hunting areas in the form of wildlife management areas in Ohio’s “red zone” (counties where spring turkey harvests are greater than 400 birds annually). The following is a list of WMAs where Buckeye State hunters can expect good numbers of birds and room to hunt them this spring:
Brush Creek Wildlife Area
This rugged, 4,131-acre wildlife area is six miles southeast of Salineville in northern Jefferson County. Access to the area is via county Road 55, which is reached from state Route 164 at Monroeville. Several township roads provide direct access to the area from county Road 55.
The deeply dissected terrain is composed of broad ridges with steep slopes which descend to the narrow valley floor of Brush Creek. Elevations vary from 760 to 1,360 feet above sea level. Second growth hardwoods occupy 80 percent of the area. Oak and hickory dominate the ridge tops and upper slopes. Maple, beech, elm, ash, and tulip poplar are found in the coves and lower slopes.
Hunters who scout the area thoroughly will find many pockets of hidden cover where good numbers of turkeys may be found. Focus on areas away from the most convenient, well-traveled roads and hike in to roost birds that may not be heard by less-ambitious roadside hunters.
Highlandtown Wildlife Area
This scenic 2,265-acre wildlife area is 8 miles south of Lisbon and 3 miles northeast of Salineville in southern Columbiana County. It can be reached by state Route 164 from Lisbon and by state Route 39 from Salineville and Wellsville.
The terrain is steeply rolling, with some flat hill tops and valley floors. Elevations vary from 1,060 to 1,340 feet above sea level. Highlandtown Lake, 170 acres in size, is on the upper headwaters of Little Yellow Creek.
Second growth hardwoods and conifers cover most of the area and are interspersed with brushy coverts, reverting crop fields and some meadow and grain crops.
Wolf Creek Wildlife Area
Once part of the former Wildcat Hollow primitive weapons deer hunting area, Wolf Creek WA is northeast of Burr Oak State Park, near Glouster, Ohio. Other nearby towns include Corning on the west edge of the area and McConnelsville, five miles to the northeast. State routes 78 and 555 provide access to the interior of the area. State Route 37 forms a portion of the northern boundary and State Route 13 forms part of the western boundary.
The former Wildcat Hollow complex was recently disbanded, but available public lands include almost all of the 3,800-acre Wolf Creek Wildlife Area plus another 7,632 acres of Wayne National Forest. Approximately 40 percent of the area is wooded and intermixed with crop fields, permanent pasture, brushy stream borders and reverting crop fields, providing plenty of room for a spring turkey hunting adventure.
Southeastern Ohio is well known as a hilly, challenging hunting area. To better prepare for your trip, consider purchasing topographic maps of the area. In addition to illustrating the topography of the terrain, these maps show woodland cover, streams, roads, trails, electric power lines, buildings and other features.
Topographic maps may be purchased from the Ohio Geological Survey by calling (614) 265-6576.
Salt Fork Wild Area
In turkey-rich southeastern Ohio, the Salt Fork Wildlife Area features steep to rolling terrain that is dissected by numerous small streams. The largest of these, Salt Fork Creek, has been impounded to create the 2,952-acre Salt Fork Lake. The main entrance to this 20,542-acre recreation area is seven miles east of Cambridge on U.S. Route 22.
East of Salt Fork Lake, the wildlife area is deeply dissected by the streams and tributaries that flow into the lake. Elevations vary from 1,065 to 790 feet above sea level. Thirty-five percent of the wildlife area is woods, mostly on the steeper slopes and along the streams. Oak and hickory dominate the drier slopes while maple, beech, elm, ash, willow and sycamore are more common on the lower slopes and bottom lands. Crop fields, reverting crop fields, and old pasture dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants occupy one-third of the wildlife area. A variety of shrubs and small trees, such as dogwood and sassafras, intermixed with grasses and other perennials are dominant on the remaining 28 percent of the wildlife area.
With more than 20,000 acres open to hunting, Salt Fork WA should produce some good opportunities for turkey hunters in 2014.
Tranquility Wildlife Area
Though it is located in the southwestern region of Ohio where annual spring turkey harvests are generally lower than 300 per county, Tranquility WA is a sleeper of sorts because it is in Adams County, where turkey hunters tag over 400 birds annually.
Tranquility Wildlife Area is 16 miles south of Hillsboro on state Route 770. County Road 100 (Old State Route 32) runs along the southern boundary of the area.
The terrain is typical of this unglaciated hill region of Ohio. About 40 percent of the wildlife area consists of native woodlands. Oak and hickory dominate the dry ridges and upper slopes. Maple, beech, elm, and ash are most common on the lower slopes and along the streams. Mixed brush with dense stands of red cedar make up about 40 percent of the area. The remaining 20 percent consists of grassland and cultivated fields.
Turkeys are most common in Tranquility’s brushy cover, cut-over timber stands and wooded areas. With more than 4,000 acres open to spring turkey hunting, finding a cooperative tom should not present a problem for hunters who are willing to do their homework and put in their time.
There are many other WMAs, state forests and parks open to turkey hunting under the guidance of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife. For maps, season dates, licensing, turkey tagging details and more information, log onto www.dnr.state.oh.us or call 1-800-WILDLIFE.
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