Illinois' Fall Turkey Forecast

A record number of turkeys were killed in our state last autumn. Here's where you can take advantage of the Prairie State's booming bird numbers in 2005.

Photo by John R. Ford

Illinois' 2004 fall turkey season set a new harvest record. This continued to speak volumes for the expanding health and dynamics of the Prairie State's turkey population.

A total of 2,148 birds were killed statewide last autumn, a whopping 25 percent above the previous fall harvest record of 1,712 set in 2000.

Also noteworthy was the contribution of bowhunters in the game of chasing Illinois turkeys. Last fall saw 675 birds dropped by archers compared to only 357 birds in 2003. Bowhunters have taken turkey hunting to the next level, and their success speaks well for their tenacity during the tough fall hunt.

"A lot of the success this fall, particularly during the gun season, will hinge on how recruitment goes," explained Paul Shelton, Illinois Department of Natural Resources forest wildlife manager. "Recruitment during the last two years has been below average, particularly during 2003. It was not as bad during 2004."

Weather plays an important role in recruitment success, which ultimately dictates how many vulnerable birds hunters can hang their tags on in the fall. Rain and cold during the spring season make chick survival more difficult, though the moisture is always needed. But things look promising coming into this fall's season.

Despite the fact that recent recruitment numbers have been below average, however, turkey populations continue to expand overall -- meaning more opportunities for tom chasers. This is evidenced by spring hunting seasons that have continued breaking previous harvest records. Indications are that this should be another banner fall for birds as well.

The harvest information available for producing these forecasts is also improving, and has allowed for more specific analysis of where and how turkeys are being taken. While changes in record-keeping and reporting complicate comparisons of historical data, in the long run this new information will make these reports much more valuable as a hunt planning tool.

In this year's report you will see that the improved data has allowed us to change our scoring factors to better highlight the two most important issues for hunters: general harvest potential and access to public lands.

Each of the following counties has both firearm and archery seasons, and they have been graded accordingly. Additionally, at the end of this article we have briefly mentioned those counties that provide archery-only seasons.

Whether going afield with gun or bow, there are a wealth of opportunities, locations and flocks at your disposal. This forecast should help you take best advantage of those closest to your home or favorite hunting area.

The counties listed below received one point for each of the following categories that applied to them:

1) If the county recorded a harvest in 2004 that exceeded the 2003 harvest, they received one point;

2) If the county's 2004 harvest exceeded their three-year average, they received one point;

3) If the county offers public-land access for bowhunters, they received one point;

4) If the county offers public-land access for firearms hunters, they received one point;

5) If the county offers a special accommodation/season for disabled turkey hunters (either gun or bow), they received one point.

Five points is the highest possible score.

ADAMS -- 4

Last fall was Adams County's best performance since 1999. A total of 50 gun hunters bagged birds and 19 archers added to the take for a total of 69 turkeys. The three-year average fall harvest is a fraction over 56 birds.


Stability is the name of the game, with a three-year average of 12.33 birds and a take of 13 last season. Of those, archers bagged seven. Public access is available for both archers and firearms hunters.

BROWN -- 4

Public access for both guns and bows helped its score because harvests remain below those of 1998-2001. The three-year average kill is 34, and last year Brown gave up 38 birds, 84 percent to firearms.


This area was also down considerably from 1999 (75 birds) with a harvest of 38 last year, showing only slight improvement from the 35 bagged each of the two previous years. Access is available for both firearms and bowhunters.


The fall harvest continues to decline here, with only 23 taken last year, including three with bow. The high is 90 in 2000. The only points awarded were for access, which is available to both archers and gunners.

CASS -- 4

The combined success from 16 archers and 44 gun hunters established a new fall harvest record here last year and bested the previous year by 33 percent. Public access keeps Cass high on the list.


With two years under the belt, this area is showing promise. The 2003 season gave up 20 birds -- three via arrow -- and last season saw 37 killed, including seven by bow. No public access is to be had.


Two years of experience here resulted in more conservative numbers. Twenty-two birds fell in 2003 compared with 18 last season. Seven of those were by arrow. Access is available regardless of weapon choice.


This is our third-highest producing county for the fall season, and it gave up 95 birds last year, including 36 with stick and string. It could score higher except that archers are the only hunters with public access.


We're finally seeing a rebound in this area. Last season saw the best fall harvest (61) since 2001 (71). Access is available for both guns and bows, though only three archers filled their tags last fall.


Last year saw their lowest fall harvest in seven years, with 42 going into the larder. Of those, nine were archery kills. Best year on record was 2000 when 78 tags were filled. No public access is available.


The 2003 fall harvest dipped to 33 birds from what had been

a two-year average of 42. Last year they recovered and, again, scored 42 turkeys. Eleven bowhunters helped reach that number. Gun and bow access is available on public land.


Henderson is currently experiencing about half the harvest seen in 1999 and 2000, with a total of 18 birds last season. While access is available to both guns and bows on public land, archers were responsible for tagging only two toms last fall.

HENRY -- 1

The first year for data shows one bird apiece for archers and gunners. Public ground is available to bowhunters.


One of the few that set a new fall harvest record last year, this county gave up 51 turkeys, of which 80 percent was to the gun. Access is available to gunners and archers.


Three years under the belt have provided an average fall harvest of 32.67 birds, and last year was their best with 40 in the fridge. Twelve of those fell to bow and arrow. Gunners and archers have public ground.


This is the second-highest producing county in our state's fall hunt, and they're doing great. Last year's take was 109 birds, 28 of which fell to the bow. That is double the number taken in 2000. Bowhunters and gunners have access to public land.


The three-year average harvest is 27 and last year gave up 26, evenly split between gunners and archers. Both also have public ground.


This is still the top-producing county in Illinois, but last season was the worst producer in the last seven. Fourteen bowhunters and 116 gunners got a bird last fall, far below the 243 in 2000. Public access for both firearms and bows saved their score.


A nice trend in the works as hunters took 44 last season compared with 30 and 26 the two previous years. Archers took 10 of those 44 turkeys. Access is available to public lands regardless of weapon choice.

KNOX -- 4

They recovered from their slump of 2003 when only 32 birds were taken and gave up 46 turkeys last fall. The three-year average is 41.33 kills, with access available for archers and gunners.


Three years of data show fall kills of 26, 13 and 13, respectively. Public access is available for archers only.


They set a new fall record in 2004 with 64 birds, 18 dropped by archers. The three-year average is 54.67 but public access is restricted to archery.


Last year's kill dropped to 32 from the previous fall's 41, but Madison matched the three-year average of 32. Access for archers and gunners gave them their bump in score.


Modest but steady increases have marked the last seven years, with a new harvest record set last fall. Ninety-one birds went home to supper, 21 of which were taken by bowhunters. Access to public land is available to archers only.

MASON -- 5

Only five seasons under the belt, and the numbers are not dramatic, but harvests continue to climb. Last year saw 29 tags filled. Access is provided to archers and gunners, and opportunities exist for the disabled as well. This was our only score of "5" for this fall's forecast.

It isn't clear whether last year was a positive glitch or a promise for the future in Williamson County. The 2002 and 2003 fall seasons gave up 15 and 16 turkeys, respectively, while last year it jumped to 26, nine of which were with bow and arrow. Public access for both gunners and archers brings them additional merit.



Last fall's harvest was 16 and the three-year average is 13. Not dramatic but everyone has the option to hunt on public land.


Their top fall season was 2003 with 23 kills. That dropped to 17 last year, only one of which fell to the bow. Access for archers and gunners is a bonus point.


The last three years saw harvests of 11, 15 and 22 respectively, with three falling to bow last fall. No public access available.


A new record was set here with 58 turkeys killed last fall, 11 of which were with a bow. The three-year average is 42 birds. No public access is available.

PERRY -- 3

Four seasons of data indicate slow but steady increases. The three-year average harvest is 26.67 birds, with the high point reached last fall at 34. Ten were taken with bow. No public access is available for gunners.

PIKE -- 4

After a couple of years in a slump, Pike County finally had 71 kills last fall and topped the previous best of 70 in 2000. Archers took 38 percent of the birds, and the three-year average harvest is 61 turkeys. Public ground is available regardless of weapon choice.

POPE -- 4

The 2003 fall season experienced a slump (60 birds) but they bounced back nicely to set a new fall record of 83 birds last season, 10 of which were taken by archers. Gunners and archers can have public access.


Numbers have bounced up and down by a half-dozen birds over the last seven years, settling on a new high of 42 last fall. The three-year average is 32.33, and both gunners and archers have public-land opportunities.


The three-year average is 22 birds, and last year Richland gave up 23. Bowhunters took seven turkeys. No public access is available.


After four years with harvests in the teens, they broke the streak in 2003 and 2004 with 30 and 29 birds, respectively. Archers took a dozen birds in each of the last two fall seasons. Access is provided to archers and gunners on public land.


The three-year harvest average is 8.7 birds, and eight were killed last season. The 2003 season was the only fall in the last seven in which harvest numbers reached double digits (13). Access is available on public land for archers and gunners.


The previous high harvest mark was 57 kills reached during the 2000 fall season. They finally matched that number again last year. Archers bagged 18 birds last fall, tripling their portion of the kill from the previous year. The three-year average harvest is 45.33, and access is available for gunners and bowhunters

SCOTT -- 2

They have had a rough time of things in Scott County. Last fall produced the best numbers seen in three seasons (22) but still remains half of what was taken in 1999 (43). A lack of access for the public does

n't help.


Two years of improvement brought last fall's harvest numbers back in line with those experienced in 1999 (37). The 2004 season saw eight bowhunters and 28 gunners bag their birds. A lack of public access keeps the score under the radar.

UNION -- 4

The numbers here have bounced around a bit over the years but have been strong the last three seasons. Last fall's harvest of 68 was a new late-season record, 10 of those having been taken with bow. Access is available for gunners and archers.

WAYNE -- 3

This area has also produced good numbers the last two seasons with 61 and 67 birds taken, respectively. Archers were responsible for taking 16 last year and 17 the year before. The three-year average harvest is 57.67 birds. No public land access is available to gunners.


The three-year average kill is 16.33 and last season came in at 17, with four falling to the bow. Access for both archers and gunners helps.


It isn't clear whether last year was a positive glitch or a promise for the future in Williamson County. The 2002 and 2003 fall seasons gave up 15 and 16 turkeys, respectively, while last year it jumped to 26, nine of which were with bow and arrow. Public access for both gunners and archers brings them additional merit.


This area simply shows no trends. Fall harvest totals for the last five years were eight, three, seven, 15 and 11, respectively. Bowhunters killed three in each of the last two seasons. A gun hunt for the disabled is offered.


In addition to those counties previously listed, bowhunters have the opportunity to chase turkeys in other areas of Illinois. The following summary briefly outlines the harvest success and public-land access opportunities afforded those opting to hunt with bow and arrow.

The following counties offer public access to archers. Last fall's bow harvest is indicated by the number in parenthesis: Bureau (4), De Kalb (3), De Witt (3), Effingham (3), Fayette (8), Franklin (4), Hamilton (4), Iroquois (3), La Salle (10), Lee (2), Marshall (2), Massac (6), Ogle (12), Peoria (16), Sangamon (11), Shelby (1), Tazewell (7), Vermilion (7) and Washington (9).

Finally, those counties which recorded a bow harvest but do not offer access to public ground are as follows: Bond (8), Boone (3), Christian (2), Clay (7), Clinton (7), Coles (3), Cumberland (6), Edgar (3), Edwards (8), Grundy (3), Kankakee (1), Logan (2), Macon (3), McLean (2), Menard (5), Montgomery (7), Pulaski (3), Putnam (2), St. Clair (9), Wabash (3), Warren (2), White (2), Will (1) and Woodford (3).

Enjoy your time afield this fall, and take a kid with you to introduce him or her to this great opportunity.

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