G&F Forecast: Ohio Turkey Hunting in 2013
February 11, 2013
The news this spring is good for Buckeye wild turkey hunters, according to Mike Reynolds, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's turkey biologist. Reynolds notes that good populations of birds throughout Ohio indicate that this year's hunting promises to be as good as it gets.
"We'll likely see a stable spring turkey harvest of around 17,000 to 18,000 birds again in 2013," said Reynolds. "But the harvest in 2014 will likely be even better, based on the good hatch we experienced over this past spring and summer."
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During the four decades between Ohio's first spring season in 1966 and 2010, over 298,000 turkeys were bagged. Those first-year permit holders took home just 12 turkeys, but as history goes, that was just the beginning. The spring season in 2001 set a record harvest at 26,156 birds. In 2010, hunters collected a take-home harvest of 23,421 birds. Last year, however, early season hunters harvested 18,162 gobblers, a 22 percent decrease from 2010.
All 88 counties have been open to spring turkey hunting since 2000. Since that time the spring turkey harvest has continued to increase throughout central, northwestern, and southeastern Ohio. This success is directly related to the hard work and long hours put in by ODOW staff as they trapped and transplanted wild birds to areas where turkeys had once been eliminated.
Ashtabula County led the way last spring in top harvest counties. A total of 700 wild turkeys headed for the pot in that one county alone. Next in the winners' lineup was Tuscarawas County with 571 birds, Adams County with 502, and Guernsey County with 498 gobblers.
According to Reynolds, recent Division of Wildlife studies completed from 2006 to 2008 suggest that harvest rates of adult gobblers in Ohio are around 40 percent, offset by lower harvest rates of jakes at only 10 to 20 percent. This means harvests are sustainable and we should be able to continue spring turkey hunting under our current season, bag limits, and regulation framework.
Historic numbers of turkey hunters kept pace with the growing number of birds during the heyday of the 1980s and 1990s. Permit sales peaked in 2003 with 95,000 permits being issued. The number of permits began to level off in the eastern half of the state and over the last several years, and statewide permit sales eventually stabilized at around 75,000 permits. The reason for the decline in permit sales over time is linked to the fact that the ODOW now issues fewer free senior permits. The number of youth and other spring turkey permit holders has remained steady.
Reynolds has been crunching numbers and the 2011 totals for the spring turkey season are in. The ODOW issued a total of 74,957 permits and of these, 10,594 were issued for youth hunts, 3,620 were senior reduced-cost permits, 11,873 were senior free turkey permits, and 48,870 were bought by licensed, adult hunters. The number of 2011 spring turkey permits dropped from the 78,388 permits issued in 2010, a decline of 4.4 percent.
Reynolds is quick to point out that unqualified success doesn't mean there aren't a few challenges to negotiate.
"Whoever would have believed so many wild turkeys would be harvested in Logan and Williams counties in recent spring seasons?" pointed out Reynolds. "But even with the successes in counties like these, there are some concerns. As CRP enrollment expires and farmland is converted back into row crops, we could lose important nesting habitat in some areas of the state. I think the record rainfall and flooding in 2011 likely did have a negative impact on turkey populations, but overall, turkey numbers have been in a positive trend over the last decade."
Turkey populations historically fluctuate due to varying nest success rates from year to year, poult survival, and the availability of food. The years of
1999 and 2008 saw 17-year periodical cicadas emerge in different parts of the state and turkey populations responded instantly. According to Reynolds, Ohio hunters experienced the record and second-best spring harvests two years after the cicada emergences and in some counties, harvest rates doubled or even tripled over the next few seasons.
"But turkeys don't live forever," Reynolds pointed out. "Just three to four years after cicada emergences turkey numbers decline as the cohort born in the cicada boom begin to disappear."
Current hunting opportunities are probably as good as they're going to get, and this year should be no exception, said Reynolds.
"Turkeys have done a good job of learning to adapt and are regularly seen under bird feeders in back yards or bugging in the green space in town," said Assistant Wildlife Manager Supervisor Geoff Westerfield.
Though Westerfield hangs his shingle in the wildlife office in Akron, his assessment of how the wild turkey is faring in central Ohio is right on.
"I am sure urban turkeys will become a larger issue as time goes by and it will be interesting to see if their interactions with humans put them on a similar path as the whitetail deer is on. Will municipalities open up to hunting turkeys within their corporation limits?" Could be, speculates Westerfied.
Most archers head for the densely forested tracts of southern and eastern Ohio, but hunters in the know may have a change of heart this spring and stay closer to home. Knox County provides an outstanding hunt as evidenced by last year's 498 birds taken during the spring season. Other counties in the region are providing outstanding spring hunting as well.
Public land hunters should give serious consideration to trying the Deer Creek Wildlife Area in Fayette, Madison, and Pickaway counties or the Delaware WA in Delaware, Marion, and Morrow counties this year.
For more information call the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District 1 at (614)644-3925.
Ideas concerning turkey habitat within the ranks of the ODOW have experienced major adjustment. At one time wildlife biologists were reluctant to stock turkeys into the western half of the state because it was believed gobblers needed large blocks of forest such as those found in the southern and eastern parts of Ohio. Nothing could be further than the truth. A little head scratching and new ways of looking at habitat have turned that idea on its head.
"Based on time and experience, we now know that prime wild turkey habitat is composed of a mosaic of habitats," said Reynolds. "These include open lands such as crop fields and pastures intermixed with forests of all ages to provide brood, nesting, and roosting habitat, as well as a winter food source such as acorns. Counties that have intermediate amounts of forest cover such as Ashtabula and Harrison counties annually produce the highest turkey harvest densities, not the heavily forested counties where turkeys were originally stocked such as Hocking and Vinton counties."
Reynolds has found that cooperation with the National Wild Turkey Federation's regional biologist and tapping into the Ohio NWTF superfund has benefited both birds and hunters by improving habitat on private and public lands. Partnerships like this are the wave of the future.
Richland County led the way in District 2 during the 2011 spring harvest. A total of 408 turkeys, down from 426 in the spring of 2010, were taken in 2011.
Many of the smaller public areas in the district can produce good hunting if hit at the right times. The Fish Creek, Lake La Su An, Tiffin River, Oxbow Lake, and Cascade wildlife areas are open to the public in a region somewhat starved for public hunting spots.
Additional information is available by calling District 2 at (419)424-5000.
District 3 Wildlife Management Biologist Geoff Westerfield in northeastern Ohio is hearing from hunters in his district that they're seeing more turkeys this year than in the past.
"The mild winter and minimal rain in the spring helped the situation along," said Westerfield.
Surprisingly, urban sprawl has a very limited effect on turkeys, said Westerfield, even in the most densely populated part of the state. In the District 3 office there's a map hanging on the wall showing the projected turkey range for 1983. Those limits have been blown away and wildlife biologists are regularly dealing with urban turkeys willing to share their homes with humans.
"A couple of years ago I was called to a parking garage in downtown Cleveland just down the street from Jacobs Field to get a turkey that had made a wrong turn and was trapped in the garage," said Westerfield. "Like most other wildlife, turkeys are adaptable."
During the 2011 spring season 700 turkeys were harvested in Ashtabula County, down from 1,030 the year before. Even Cuyahoga County produced a few wild turkeys.
The newer Jockey Hollow WA in Harrison County and the Grand River WA in Trumbull County are probably the best spring turkey hunts in northeastern Ohio.
Contact District 3 at (330)644-2293 for more information.
According to Reynolds, the number of birds in traditional turkey strongholds in southeastern Ohio peaked from 2001 to 2003 due to the 1999 cicada hatch. After this, numbers fluctuated up and down based on nesting success and brood survival. Poor hatches in 2009, 2010, and 2011 depressed turkey numbers throughout the eastern half of the state compared to the gobblers present a decade ago. But better days are ahead.
"Where there's habitat, there's turkeys," said Wildlife Management Biologist Lindsay Rist. "These turkey populations are self-sustaining in contrast to other areas of Ohio, where wild turkeys are moving into new areas."
According to Rist, reasonable spring weather last year helped foster nesting success and brood survival, which translates into good hunting for the near future.
Coshocton County was the top pick of archers during the 2011 season, when they killed gobblers totaled 443 birds during the spring season, down from 522 the year before.
Thousands of acres of public hunting are available in the Zaleski State Forest and Waterloo Wildlife Area. These huge swaths of Ohio wilderness spread across several counties and it's wise to take a compass to ensure coming out where you started.
Contact District 4 at (937)372-9261 for more information.
"The counties with the best turkey numbers and production would be the southeastern counties in our district because of the habitat," said Brett Beatty, a wildlife management biologist in District 5.
Though perhaps not as prolific as their cousins in other parts of the state, these birds hold their own. In Adams County, 502 wild turkeys met their match during the spring season, a drop from the previous year's 745 birds. The trend is that turkey populations are maintaining their numbers but still down a notch or two from the turkey boom a few years ago.
"The 2012 reproductive index was better than in the past three summers," said Reynolds. "Eastern Ohio should experience increased populations in local areas. Looking ahead, the next 17-year cycle cicada outbreak is scheduled to occur in 2016 and I have it marked on my calendar!"
According to Beatty, public areas are a good place to start. Indian Creek in Clermont County, Caesar's Creek in Green and Warren counties, and Tranquility in Adams Count are worth checking out.
District 5 can be reached at (937)372-9261.
Changes in ODOW rules worth noting include the Automated Turkey Check Process during which hunters can report harvested turkeys on the internet at www.wildohio.com or www.ohiogamecheck.com, by telephone at 1-877-824-4864, or at licensed check stations. Immediately after harvest, the temporary tag must be detached from the permit and attached to the turkey with information completed in ink. A permanent game check receipt tag number will be issued at check-in. A customer identification number will be assigned to everyone using the system that will be used for future permits, stamps, lotteries, and other ODOW functions.
A wealth of information is available on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's website at www.dnr.state.oh.us. Downloadable maps of most of the state's wildlife areas are available free of charge.
Arkansas turkey hunting is still on life support, but it\'s showing remarkable signs of improvement. After a record year in 2003, Arkansas fell to 9,000 birds harvested in 2012 — 11,000 less birds in a 10-year span. The state has responded by cutting back on hunting opportunities, and it feels confident numbers will slowly rise.
For more information about turkey hunting in Arkansas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The turkey population in most areas is robust this year and hunter success should be high. As usual, several factors will come into play, including the timing of breeding phases and inclement weather. The turkeys are there and the trick is to persist until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
For more information about turkey hunting in California, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With the ability to hunt two species of wild turkey in the same state, Florida hunters definitely have an edge. Although Florida doesn\'t do statewide turkey assessments, officials believe numbers will be as strong and impressive as last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Florida, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey populations for 2013 are estimated to be around 335,000, which has remained steady since 2010. The numbers are very solid — even more impressive when you consider they were around 17,000 in 1973. Much like last year, hunters in Georgia can expect a great chance at a turkey again in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Georgia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
It\'s hard to conceive of a better place to hunt turkeys than the Great Plains region. You can buy multiple permits across states, seasons are liberal in length and you can hunt Rios, Easterns and Merriam\'s in the same state. It doesn\'t get much better than that.
In Nebraska, 32,520 permits were issued and 21,419 turkeys were harvested in 2012 — that\'s a 62 percent success rate, well above the national average (25 percent).
For more information about turkey hunting in the Great Plains region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast for Kansas , Nebraska
, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Illinois turkey numbers in 2012 grew to 15,121, which was better than an already impressive showing in 2011. Will the same trend prove true in 2013? According to biologists, turkey numbers are still strong, but the state DNR is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Northern Illinois typically provides the best harvest numbers, with 8,935 turkeys taken in 2012. The southern part of the state was still at an impressive 7,006 turkeys harvested. Biologists in Illinois predict that turkey numbers in 2013 will be the same, or slightly improved, from last year, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Illinois, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Despite warmer conditions in 2012, hunters killed 12,655 turkeys in Indiana, which made for a solid year. Does that mean 2013 is set up to be a great year? Biologists in Indiana are hesitant to make that bold of a prediction, especially since brood numbers haven\'t been that great in recent years. This has mainly affected the number of jakes harvested.
Even with some of these concerns, state biologists are optimistic about turkey production in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Indiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey harvest numbers were up slightly in 2012 from the year prior — a positive trend for turkey hunters in Iowa. With a robust youth season and strong adult harvest numbers the last couple of years, state officials think 2013 is going to be a strong year as well.
For more information about turkey hunting in Iowa, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With strong survival and nesting numbers in 2012, officials in Kentucky are predicting another solid year in 2013. Despite two years of odd weather, Kentucky has maintained strong numbers all around. Officials also believe a dry spell actually helped more than it hurt.
For more information about turkey hunting in Kentucky, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to biologists, this spring'™s hunting in Louisiana should be a bit tougher than last year'™s. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn'™t mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.
For more information about turkey hunting in Louisiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years, but it looks like 2012 may provide just that. As a result, Joe Robison of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources predicts 2013 will be a fantastic year for turkey hunters.
With an already impressive population of right at 200,000 birds in 2012, Robison predicts that number will increase this year. Also, Michigan has a high success rate — 36 percent — which should make for an exciting turkey hunting season.
For more information about turkey hunting in Michigan, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Minnesota had a great spring for nesting in 2012, something that should bring great turkey hunting this year. While in the past hunters had to traverse to the southern part of the state if they wanted to bag a turkey, numbers have rapidly expanded all across the state.
"I\'m thrilled with what turkeys are doing in Minnesota," Tom Glines, National Wild Turkey Federation regional director, said. According to Glines, lottery tags are up 10 percent in many areas, and 20 percent in others. All that means lots of opportunity in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Mississippi boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in the country. And with over a quarter million of these birds scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, hunters should have no problem finding a gobbler to chase on opening morning.
For more information about turkey hunting in Mississippi, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state\'s current spring turkey population is at around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, poor production in recent times has caused a decline in the turkey population, due to abnormally wet periods during nesting and hatching periods. However, because the last two years were so good in terms of production, it is likely 2013 will be a high water mark, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Missouri, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
There are no two ways about it — New England is stocked full of turkeys, which is great news for hunters in 2013. With an estimated turkey population of 214,000, hunters have great chances to tag a bird. Maine has the highest numbers, while New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are not far behind.
For more information about turkey hunting in New England, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
While turkey hunting numbers should remain somewhat steady, early data in North Carolina suggests the downward trend of turkey populations may continue into the 2013 season. Almost 20 percent of turkeys harvested in 2012 were jakes, which means less mature turkeys this year. State officials also recommend hunting federal lands, though permits are required for these particular hot spots.
For more information about turkey hunting in North Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Ohio looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey hunting season, with great populations of birds across the state. Officials estimate 2013 and 2014 will both be great years, with harvest rates predicted to be around 18,000 birds.
For more information about turkey hunting in Ohio, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Depending on what happens with the drought, Oklahoma officials predict the 2013 turkey season will be a mirror of what happened last year. The state had solid numbers, despite obviously dry conditions. That said, the drought definitely had a negative impact on overall turkey numbers state wide. Numbers are still strong — 55,747 turkeys in the western region alone — but down 9 percent from last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Oklahoma, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
States like Oregon and Washington, both in the Pacific Northwest, have an optimistic turkey outlook for 2013. The southwest corner of Oregon is the state\'s typical hot spot for turkey hunting, and it looks good this year as well. Since 2011, the Melrose unit in southwest Oregon has a 51 percent success rate, which is well above the national average.
Washington figures not to be far behind, with a success rate of 36 percent last year and a harvest of 5,600 birds. The hottest areas are in northeast part of the state.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Pennsylvania turkey numbers have continued to rise and fall over the last few years, but the good news is results have been consistently stable. According to officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, population numbers have dropped off a little, but that was after a roaring boom in the 2000\'s. They also predict a solid year for turkeys in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
When most sportsmen think of Colorado, Wyoming and much of the Rocky Mountain region, they think of monster mulies and bugling elk. And for good reason. But with a turkey hunting success rate of 25 percent in Colorado — on par with the national average — and 70 percent for non-residents in Wyoming, it\'s also a great place to track down a turkey.
For those hunters lucky enough to draw a limited tag, there is usually a success rate of 55 percent. Hunting Rio Grandes is a bit tougher, as the tag usually takes about 3 to 4 years to acquire.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Rocky Mountain region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
After two productive years for wild turkeys, South Carolina looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey season. According to state officials, some of the best places to hunt are public land areas like those in the Sumer National Forest. With good production since 2010, these areas are full of 2-year-old gobblers.
For more information about turkey hunting in South Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Coming off great turkey harvest years in 2010 and 2012 — with 37,000 and 33,789 birds harvested, respectively — things look good again for Tennessee in 2013. Amazingly, Tennessee harvested 30,000 birds every year for the last decade, which says a lot about its ability to produce great turkey hunting year after year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Tennessee, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Virginia state officials believe the state is in the midst of a leveling off period, which means consistent turkey harvest rates statewide. Turkey populations have dropped by about 1.2 percent over the last decade, but harvest numbers have remained strong.
For more information about turkey hunting in Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
In 2012, West Virginia saw a fairly substantial decline in turkey harvest numbers, which was probably affected by low brood numbers dating back to 2009. Likewise, state officials believe a strong hatch in 2011 should translate into much improved harvest numbers for 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in West Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Wisconsin has consistently been rising in turkey production each year, and this year it looks like it has reached a place of dynamic stability — turkeys are present everywhere in hearty numbers. In 2012, 42,612 turkeys were harvested — a 6 percent increase over the previous year.
Likewise, a mild winter and early spring appear to have helped turkeys pull off successful broods, according to the state DNR. With 82 percent of broods consisting of toms last year, biologists say hunting should be great in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Wisconsin, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
State officials in Alabama say 2012 was a solid year for turkey hunters across the state. They predict 2013 will be much of the same, with good poult production to show for the last couple of years. As is the case in many states, quality turkey production in Alabama has come as a result of good habitat management.
Private land in Alabama offers some of the best hunting options, though a $16 permit gives you access to Wildlife Management Area lands that are also prime hunting grounds for turkeys.
For more information about turkey hunting in Alabama, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to state officials, there are around 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys living in Texas, meaning there are lots of opportunities for hunters across the state. The state also had above average survival rates, which should make for a great season in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Texas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.