If you think turkey hunting was good last year, just wait until this season! Here's a county-by-county prognosis. (March 2006)
The 2005 Illinois spring turkey season harvest fell just short of the record-setting kill recorded in 2004, but the difference was only 100 birds. The bottom line is that the outlook is bright for Illinois' upcoming spring turkey season.
"Statewide populations continue to look very good, though growth has been slowing somewhat," explained Paul Shelton of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. "This is not unexpected, as more established turkey populations tend to show less growth than is observed in more newly-established flocks."
Shelton also noted that reproduction has been below average for a few years in a row. The good news is that help from Mother Nature can only improve things.
"I do believe," Shelton said, "that one good year of reproduction would result in a fantastic hunting season for the next year."
Keep your fingers crossed for decent weather -- the birds seem to be doing the rest!
The following represents our annual county-by-county rating system for potential hunter success this spring. We used five categories to weigh three factors impacting your area's hunting potential, including population strength, historical hunter success and accessibility to public land. One point was awarded to each county that has: 1) experienced three consecutive years of increasing harvest totals; 2) a total harvest last season greater than its five-year kill average; 3) a turkey population strong enough to support a fall hunt; 4) public ground available where turkeys can be hunted; and 5) issued permits specifically for a hunting unit within that county -- independent of, and in addition to, the county's general permits. The highest possible score is five points.
Additionally, to help put these ratings in perspective, we've added a rating in parenthesis representing the county's average score based on our system over the last five years.
This is how they add up for the upcoming 2006 spring turkey season.
ADAMS -- 3 (4.6)
Adams County ranked third in Illinois for total harvest, but last season's take (483) was the third year of decline since the high of 543 in 2002. The five-year average is 504.2. Public ground is available.
ALEXANDER -- 5 (3.6)
Last season was the best ever, with 130 birds in the bag. The five-year average is 113.6 turkeys.
BOND -- 1 (2.2)
Last season saw 127 toms taken, their best season yet. Five-year average is 106.4, but there is no public access.
BOONE -- 1 (1.6)
Forty birds last year, coming in slightly below their previous best of 44 the year before. Five-year average is 34.6 turkeys.
BROWN -- 3 (3.8)
A fairly consistent producer, with a five-year average of 284.6 birds, but last season saw a decline to 276 from the previous year's high of 313.
BUREAU -- 2 (2)
The upward trend continues, with last year's take of 132 birds being their best ever. But no public access hurts the score.
CALHOUN -- 1 (2.6)
The totals are large, but the downward trend continues. Last season's kill, at 325 toms, was the worst in eight years. The best year was 2000 (458), and the five-year average slipped to 385.4 turkeys.
CARROLL -- 3 (3)
Last spring's take of 176 turkeys fell well below the five-year average of 219.8. It was the worst spring harvest in eight years.
CASS -- 4 (5.2)
Last year matched the previous year's high mark of 246 birds after a steady climb since 1998. Five-year average is 210.2, and public ground is available.
CHAMPAIGN -- N/A
Four spring seasons remain unremarkable, with harvests of 23, 26, 19 and 21, respectively. There's no public access.
CHRISTIAN -- 3 (2.8)
Last season's take of 50 birds was the best season to date, bumping the five-year average to 41.8 turkeys. Public ground helps.
CLARK -- 2 (2.2)
After two seasons of minor declines, last spring's harvest of 156 marked their best ever. The five-year average is 113.8.
CLAY -- 1 (1.8)
Clay has leveled off, with the previous four seasons giving up 204, 207, 207 and 209 birds, respectively. No public access.
CLINTON -- 3 (2.2)
Seasons have been inconsistent to date, but last spring's took honors as the best yet, with a kill of 106 turkeys. Five-year average is 86.2.
COLES -- 2 (2.4)
Nothing outstanding here. The five-year average is 24.2 birds, with last season weighing in with 23 turkeys.
CRAWFORD -- 4 (4)
Potential growth was realized again last spring when a new high of 185 toms made it to the larder. Five-year average is 154.
CUMBERLAND -- 1 (1.6)
After a slump in 2004, last year's kill of 73 birds set a new high. The five-year average climbed to 58.6.
DE KALB -- 0 (0)
Six spring seasons have been less than dramatic. The average harvest is 13.4 toms, and last year was 13.
DE WITT -- 3 (N/A)
Five years of spring hunts show results of 36, 34, 26, 29 and 35 birds, respectively. No public ground.
EDGAR -- 1 (N/A)
Six years of experience have yet to establish a trend, but new promise has been realized with last spring's take of 65. Five-year average is 41.4.
EDWARDS -- 1 (2.2)
Last year's kill of 77 turkeys was only slightly below the previous spring high of 80. The five-year average is 65, with no trends yet apparent.
EFFINGHAM -- 0 (1.6)
Last season's take fell to 58 gobblers from the previous high of 69. It looks like their plateau is relatively established, with a five-year average of 59.
FAYETTE -- 4 (3.6)
The upward trend -- from 57 birds in 2000 -- continues, though a little slower, with last year's harvest of 144 only slightly up from the previous 140. Public ground is available.
FRANKLIN -- 1 (N/A)
With only five spring seasons under their belt, reasonable harvest numbers continue. Since 2001, the number of toms brought to the table have bee
n 64, 83, 101, 89 and 98, respectively.
FULTON -- 4 (4.2)
After steady increases since 1998 (191), the trend was finally broken last year when Fulton County's harvest dropped to 409 birds from the previous spring's high of 437. But they still rank fourth in Illinois for spring production.
GALLATIN-HARDIN -- 2 (3.6)
Last year, the kill dropped again (241) to the lowest point since 2000 (227). Five-year average is 258.4.
GREENE -- 1 (2.8)
Last spring saw the lowest number of birds harvested since 1999. The season's take of 333 was well below the five-year average of 367.2.
GRUNDY -- 1 (1.2)
Last year's total take of 31 turkeys was below the previous high of 36, but remained above the five-year average of 26.2 birds.
HAMILTON -- 3 (3.4)
The 2004 season high of 140 kills couldn't be maintained, and last year saw a drop to 128 gobblers. That's still well over the five-year average of 118.4 turkeys.
HANCOCK -- 1 (2.2)
Harvest dropped for the third consecutive season, as 325 hunters bagged their bird. That's below the five-year average of 349.6.
HENDERSON -- 3 (4)
Last spring produced the lowest kill (159) since 1999 (152). The five-year average is 177.2
HENRY -- 2 (3)
Even if no powerhouse, a relatively stable harvest. Last year gave up 36 birds, and the five-year average is 36.4.
IROQUOIS -- (N/A)
Only four spring seasons under their belt, with harvests of 25, 20, 24 and 26 birds, respectively.
JACKSON -- 5 (4.6)
Steady harvest increases continued into last spring, when 279 toms were bagged, setting a new record. The five-year average is 253.4, and public land is available.
JASPER -- 3 (3.6)
Some improvement last season (140) over the previous spring (135) brought the average back up to 146.8 birds. Public access is available.
JEFFERSON -- 4 (4)
Harvest increases continued last spring, with a total of 344 toms bagged. The five-year average is 319.6, and public access is available.
JERSEY -- 3 (4)
What had been a slump has now become the average. Over the last three years, harvests were 261, 261 and 260, respectively.
JO DAVIESS -- 3 (3.6)
Jo Daviess had another down year last season, when the total take was 611 birds, compared to 771 in 2002. This drop has moved it into the No. 2 position for total production during the spring season.
JOHNSON -- 4 (4.6)
Despite a minor bump in the road two years ago, the harvest recovered to set a new spring record of 229 kills. The five-year average is 207.
KANKAKEE -- 2 (2)
Never one for big numbers, Kankakee slipped again last season to a total of 16 birds. The five-year average is 17.2.
KENDALL -- N/A
Four spring seasons show harvest totals of 13, 14, 10 and 14 turkeys, respectively.
KNOX -- 3 (3.2)
Consistent harvest increases since 1999 (190) through last year (281). But public access would help.
LA SALLE -- 4 (3.2)
With last season's take of 128, production has nearly doubled since 2000 (65). The five-year average is 107.8. Public ground is available.
LAWRENCE -- 5 (4.6)
Seven straight years of slow but steady increases marked a high with last spring's harvest total of 139 turkeys. The five-year average is 132.2. Public ground is available.
LEE -- 2 (3.2)
The 2003 and 2004 seasons were the best ever, at 81 and 80, respectively. But last spring dropped to 64. No real trends established.
LIVINGSTON -- N/A
Four spring seasons under their belt, with total bags of 14, 12, 9 and 15, respectively.
LOGAN -- 0 (0.8)
Twenty-four birds taken last spring represent the smallest number since 2000. The five-year average is 34.2.
MACON -- 1 (N/A)
Five seasons under their belt, with totals of 28, 24, 11, 16 and 19, respectively.
MACOUPIN -- 4 (5.2)
Leveled off over the last three seasons, with takes of 403, 401 and 403. Continues to be a strong and consistent producer with plenty of access.
MADISON -- 5 (5)
Consistent increases over eight years, with the exception of a minor one-bird drop in 2003. Last year's take was 271, and the five-year average is 249.4 turkeys.
MARION -- 5 (5.4)
Steady increases persist, as 2005 had a peak of 319 birds. Plenty of opportunities to hunt public land are available.
MARSHALL-PUTNAM -- 3 (3.2)
Last season experienced a new high of 93 toms, well above the five-year average of 77.2.
MASON -- 4 (4.2)
Mason County seems to have found its level, with harvests over the last four years coming in at 191, 189, 193 and 191 turkeys, respectively. Public ground is available.
MASSAC -- 3 (4)
Massac seems to have leveled out, with kills of 74, 75 and 75 over the last three spring seasons.
McDONOUGH -- 2 (3)
Last season marked the third straight year of decline. Harvest totals since 2002 were 161, 153, 139 and 128.
McHENRY -- N/A
Only four spring seasons under their belt, with totals of 29, 33, 27 and 18 turkeys, respectively.
McLEAN -- N/A
Four seasons here, with totals of 32, 22, 26 and 25 birds bagged.
MENARD -- 3 (2.4)
The slow but steady rise continues, climbing from 49 birds in 1999 to last season's high of 96.
MERCER -- 2 (3.4)
Last year showed a recovery (137) from the previous year's drop (125). The average over five years is 121.
MONROE -- 3 (3.6)
Still appears to be in a leveling process, gaining a couple of turkeys each year. Harvest totals over the last four seasons have been 168, 171, 172 and 175, respectively.
MONTGOMERY -- 4 (4)
Last season was best at 135 toms, with a five-year average of 122.4. Public ground helped their score.
MORGAN -- 3 (3.2)
Good numbers, but no access. Five-year average kill is 258.8 and last season's topped the chart at 279.
MOULTRIE -- N/A
Four seasons under their belt, with mediocre results last year. Harvests have been 26,
20, 9 and 11.
OGLE -- 4 (2.8)
Production continues its slow but steady rise. Last spring gave up 105, and the five-year average is 77.4. Access is decent.
PEORIA -- 2 (2.4)
Last spring saw production slip to 134 from the previous season's 155 birds, but it remained above the five-year average of 119.2.
PERRY -- 4 (5)
Leveling out just over the 200 mark, with harvests over the last four years numbering 203, 213, 202 and 206 birds. Public access is a bonus.
PIATT -- 3 (N/A)
Five spring seasons under the belt with harvests of 19, 4, 15, 21 and 17 toms, respectively.
PIKE -- 4 (4.2)
Last year, we said that Pike was within striking distance of the top spot in the state. They proved that out in 2005, becoming Illinois' No. 1 spring producer, giving up 632 birds.
POPE -- 3 (3.2)
Last season (355) improved over the previous year by three birds, but they still remain below the five-year average of 365.8.
PULASKI -- 1 (1.4)
Numbers are respectable, but lack of access hurts their score. Harvest last spring was 93; the five-year average is 73.6.
RANDOLPH -- 5 (4.8)
Last season was their best at 326, and well above the five-year average of 298. Good access.
RICHLAND -- 2 (2.8)
The county with the white squirrels did slightly better last year when it comes to turkey hunting. Totals over the last three seasons were 121, 121 and 126, respectively. No access.
ROCK ISLAND -- 3 (3.4)
Last season showed recovery (185) from the previous year's dip (178), but they remain below their best season (189) in 2003.
SALINE -- 3 (2.8)
Took a big dip last spring (92) from the previous year's high of 112. Five-year average is 89.6. Public access is available.
SANGAMON -- 3 (1.8)
With seven spring seasons under their belt, the last two came in at 91 and 85, respectively. Though below the previous year, last spring was still above the five-year average of 68.8.
SCHUYLER -- 3 (2.8)
Fell last spring to 354 from the previous year's 380. Apparently finding their level, with a five-year average of 353.4 birds.
SCOTT -- 1 (3.2)
The last two seasons have been their worst since 1999, with totals of 154 and 158. The five-year average has dropped to 170.6. No access.
SHELBY -- 4 (2.6)
Last spring was their best ever, at 56 birds, slam-dunking the previous year's best at 34. A fluke?
ST. CLAIR -- 1 (2)
Can't seem to find their level. Harvests over the last five years were 87, 101, 96, 128 and 112, respectively.
STARK -- 0 (N/A)
After six spring seasons, they just haven't found their trend yet. Harvest history has been 19, 17, 13, 10, 12 and 7 birds for the spring seasons.
STEPHENSON -- 3 (1.4)
Finally making some upward movement by setting a new high kill rate of 185 last spring. The five-year average is 158.4 turkeys.
TAZEWELL -- 4 (2.6)
Tazewell has had four growth years in a row. Last spring saw 36 toms killed, with a five-year average of 21.8.
UNION -- 3 (3.4)
The solid growth trend took a dive last spring to 258 from the previous season's 290. Five-year average is 254.2 turkeys smoked.
VERMILION -- 4 (3)
Another good year last spring produced a new record harvest of 104 turkeys. Five-year average is 87.8, and good access helps, too.
WABASH -- 0 (1.4)
Last year was their worst since 2001. Thirty-seven turkeys were killed last spring, while the five-year average is 42.6 birds.
WARREN -- 1 (1.6)
Last season was a repeat of the previous one, giving up 51 in both years. The five-year average is 46.6 birds.
WASHINGTON -- 1 (2)
Recovered last spring (151) from previous years drop (131) but no access hurts the score.
WAYNE -- 5 (5.4)
Modest harvest increases continue, with a five-year average of 230 gobblers, and last season marking their best at 249. Access is available.
WHITE -- 1 (1.4)
The five-year average is 85.6 birds, but the last three seasons have leveled out slightly better with 93, 94 and 92 turkeys, respectively.
WHITESIDE -- 4 (4.2)
The 2004 high of 164 couldn't be sustained last year, when only 153 birds were bagged. Five-year average is 139.4. Access is a bonus.
WILL -- N/A
Only four seasons under the belt with harvests of 21, 27, 22 and 23 turkeys, respectively.
WILLIAMSON -- 5 (4.8)
Progress continues with a new high-water mark set last spring at 189 filled tags, compared with the previous year's high of 176. Access and opportunity help the score.
WINNEBAGO -- 2 (3)
Dropped a couple of birds again last spring (129) compared with previous year (132), but five-year average remains at 121.4. No access.
WOODFORD -- 1 (1.6)
Five-year average is 44 birds, with last year coming in at 49. No access.