Last autumn's turkey harvest didn't produce the results that were anticipated, but there was some good news. Here's what you can expect in 2004.
Photo by Ralph Hensley
By Daniel D. Lamoreux
The 2003 fall turkey harvest didn't produce quite the results that had been anticipated, though the news is not overly distressing.
Archery turkey hunters actually did slightly better than the year before, taking 558 toms compared with the previous fall season's 548 birds. That's a 1.8 percent increase in harvest. Gun hunters didn't fare quite so well. The 2003 shotgun harvest came in at 1,365 birds, which was an 8.5 percent drop from the previous year's 1,492 kill. The total fall harvest for 2003 tallied at 1,923 birds. That represented a 5.7 percent decline for the season from that experienced in 2002 with 2,040 birds killed.
Paul Shelton of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources explained the problem.
"We had a poor reproduction year in 2003," he said. "The fall turkey season is dependent upon young, ignorant birds for success." That is fundamental, because fewer birds equate to lower harvests.
Reproduction is the name of the game. Shelton explained that the optimum reproductive rate the DNR would like to see is around 4.0 poults produced per hen. Over the last 10 years, the reproduction rate has averaged 2.94 poults per hen.
"Unfortunately, we had cool and rainy weather right at hatch time," Shelton said. Those kinds of weather conditions make it tough on young birds, and survival rates decline accordingly. "Our poult-to-hen ratio was at 2.21 poults per hen last year. Overall, we wouldn't expect things to change much for the fall season. As we have good reproduction in the spring, we will have better hunts in the fall."
Despite a few minor glitches in Mother Nature's operational meanderings, turkey populations statewide continue to offer great opportunities for those who want to bring home fresh turkey for the table in the fall.
In an effort to assist you in analyzing your personal chances for success, we have once again put together a forecast for every county that is open for fall firearms turkey hunting. Each has been graded on a series of factors that should assist you in finding the best potential for filling your tag.
In our forecast, counties received one point for each of the following categories that applied to them. A total score of four points is possible.
1) If the county recorded a harvest in 2003 that exceeded the 2002 harvest, they received one point.
2) If the county's 2003 harvest equaled or exceeded their six-year average harvest, they received one point.
3) If the county's bow harvest percentage exceeded the statewide average of 26.5 percent, they received one point.
4) If public-land access opportunities for turkey hunters are available within the county, they received one point.
Illinois turkey hunters have many opportunities awaiting them. We would hope that you take advantage of the possibilities yourself. Here is this year's roundup.
ADAMS - 1
The decline in fall harvest continued through last season when a total of 38 birds were taken. This represents the fourth consecutive year of harvest declines since the banner year of 1999, when 76 turkeys were tagged. Archers killed eight additional birds over and above that total.
ALEXANDER - 2
This area is stable if nothing else. Eleven birds were bagged last season, matching two of the previous three years. Archers added two more. Public land is available.
BROWN - 1
A declining trend is being experienced here as well. Last season saw 26 gobblers killed as compared to 37 the year before. The 2000 fall season was their best at 52 birds. Only one Brown County bowhunter scored.
CALHOUN - 1
The 1999 harvest was their best on record with 75 toms. Last season saw less than half that many turkeys fill the larder (30). Five bowhunters added to this number.
CARROLL - 1
That pattern is similar here as harvest success dropped from 90 birds in 2000 to last season's 42. Four additional bowhunters went home happy. There are huntable public grounds available.
CASS - 2
This county saw a minor decline last season (32) from that of the previous year (37), but their overall numbers are stable. The six-year harvest average is 35.8 birds. Archers did very well by adding 13 turkeys to the total, and public ground is available.
CLARK - N/A
Last year's fall season was Clark County's first, and they did respectably with 17 shotgunners and 3 bowhunters filling their tags.
CRAWFORD - N/A
Also within the ranks of the newly opened counties, Crawford's first fall season gave up 16 birds to gunners and six more to archers.
FULTON - 3
With only four fall seasons under the belt, this area is doing well. Last season's shotgun take of 56 birds exactly matched their four-year average, and bowhunters did an exceptional job by killing 27 birds. Public access is available and makes this one county to watch.
GALLATIN-HARDIN - 1
Since the banner year of 1998 when 85 birds were bagged, these counties have collectively seen a steady march downhill. Last year found only 41 birds taken with gun and four with bow. There is public access available.
GREENE - 0
The 2000 fall season harvest (78) was the best here, as elsewhere. Since then harvest numbers have been in steady decline to a low of 42 last year. Bowhunters contributed four additional birds to the freezer. The fact that no public access is available resulted in their goose-egg score.
HANCOCK - 1
Hancock has seen declines over the last three years as well. Their best fall season was in 2000, taking 58 turkeys. Last season's take was 24 birds with gun and nine with bow.
HENDERSON - 2
Last season's harvest (19) was slightly better than the previous year (15) but still below the six-year average of 26 birds. A single archer killed one tom. Public land is available.
JACKSON - 2
Last season's kill of 29 birds was below the 47 taken in the previous year, but it appears that 2002 was a fluke. The six-year average is 31 turkeys. An additional nine birds were taken by bowhunters. There is public ground open to turkey hunters.
JASPER - N/A
Only two fall seasons under the belt here and there's been improvement. The 2002 season produced 21 gobblers for gun hunters, while 29 were killed last fall. An additional eight birds went home with archers. Public ground is a bonus. This area deserves watching.
JEFFERSON - 3
Four years have come and gone since the first fall hunt, and things look reasonably stable. The four-year average harvest is 52.5 birds, and hunters bagged 54 last season. Bowhunters managed to bring down another 19 birds, as well. Add in the huntable public land and you have high potential here.
JERSEY - 3
Stability is the name of the game in Jersey County, with a six-year fall harvest average of 25.7 birds. Last season gave up 24, with an additional nine birds killed by arrows. Public access makes it even better.
JO DAVIESS - 2
Jo Daviess County continues to lead the state in total fall harvest numbers, but they are not without their problems. The fall seasons of 1998 through 2000 saw an average harvest of 234 birds per year. That dropped a considerable amount to a three-year average in 2001-03 of 162 turkeys. Bowhunters added 17 last fall. Time to set a new and higher plateau. Public access is available.
JOHNSON - 1
Relatively stable harvests have been experienced here as well, with the high and low totals over six years being less than 12 birds apart. The average is 27.5, and both of the last two years saw 26 birds taken. Bowhunters added four more turkeys.
KNOX - 1
This area has also experienced a steep decline in fall harvests, going from a take of 50 birds in 2001 to 25 last season. Bowhunters have added their share here, with an additional seven toms dropping.
LAWRENCE - N/A
Lawrence County has only experienced two fall seasons to date, with totals of 26 birds to the gun in 2002 and 10 during last fall. Archers added three turkeys.
MADISON - 3
This area is maintaining its own on the charts. Both last year and the fall season of 2001 saw 28 birds in the bag. Those are the best numbers this area has had. The five-year harvest average is 22.4 turkeys. With archers having scored an additional 13 toms, there is little reason to doubt that Madison County will produce accordingly this year.
MACOUPIN - 4
Last season produced the best fall hunt to date in this county when 45 gunners and 12 archers killed their Thanksgiving feast. The six-year average fall harvest here has been 39 birds, with both of the last two years being above that number. There is public access as well.
MARION - 3
Last fall numbers were below those of the previous four years, but remained above the six-year average by one bird. Total harvests from 2000 through 2003 were 66, 67, 70 and 60, respectively. Bowhunters added 18 to the total kill last year as well. Huntable public land is available.
MASON - 4
With only four fall seasons under their belt, Mason County continues slow but steady growth in harvest success. Their first season gave up 10 birds and by last year that had climbed to 19. Archers added eight. Public land is a benefit in this area.
McDONOUGH - 3
After a drop in success during the 2002 season to seven turkeys, McDonough County regained its footing last year and bagged 14. This is more consistent with previous success and sits just over the six-year average of 11.7 birds. Public land helped their score as well.
MERCER - 2
This area has only had three fall seasons, but with harvests of 11, 14 and 13 birds, respectively, it is showing a nice start. Bowhunters put an additional 10 in the pot last year, and public land is available to hunters.
MONROE - 2
Relatively stable activity has produced a six-year average of 9.7 fall birds, with both of the last two years coming in at 11 tags filled in each. Archers added four last season as well.
MORGAN - 2
Morgan County had a banner year in 2000 with 47 turkeys in the bag, but has had declines since then with numbers coming in at 41, 29 and 30, respectively. Nine additional birds were taken by bowhunters last fall.
PERRY - N/A
Perry County has only had three fall seasons thus far, with gun harvests totaling 19, 22 and 16 birds, respectively. Archers took an additional eight birds last fall. All in all, that's not a bad start. Public land is accessible to tom chasers.
PIKE - 2
This area hasn't been very consistent. Numbers have ranged from a high shotgun kill of 70 in 2000 to a low of 36 taken last year, with various totals reached in between. However, with an additional 24 having been bagged with bow and arrow, it is obvious that populations remain healthy. The addition of public land makes this area desirable.
POPE - 1
Numbers have been strong here for four of the last five years, but the 2003 fall season took a dip in Pope County, as it did in most other areas of the state. The high was reached in 2002 with a harvest of 73. It dropped to 56 in 2003. Bowhunters added only four birds. Public land is available.
RANDOLPH - 1
This area also experienced a decline, but it was slight. The six-year average fall harvest is 24.5 birds, and the 2003 season gave up 21. Bowhunters added four toms. Public land offers hunting opportunities.
RICHLAND - N/A
Only two fall seasons have been held, with gun harvest totals of 19 and 20, respectively. Four additional birds went to the table through stick and string.
ROCK ISLAND - 4
The numbers have not been large, but they have been stable. The six-year average fall harvest is 14.7 toms, with last season coming in at 18. Bowhunters here are worth watching because they took 12 turkeys on top of that. Public land is available.
SALINE - 4
Saline County also shows stability, though the numbers are small. Figure to see about eight birds killed by shotgun and another half-dozen by bow. Access is available to public ground.
SCHUYLER - 1
The 2000 fall season was their best, with 57 firearm birds taken, and declines have been experienced since. Last year saw a gun take of 32, plus an additional six by bowhunters. Public land is available.
SCOTT - 2
Decreases in fall hunting success have been the norm, and the situation is no different here. The top fall season harvest of 57 that was experienced in 2000 has moved its way downward to 32 taken last year. Archers added six. Hunters can find public ground here, too.
STEPHENSON - 1
Stephenson County actually broke the mold by besting the two previous seasons as gun hunters popped 28 birds and archers took another six. All in all, the numbers have remained relatively stable, give or take a half-dozen birds, with a six-year average of 28.2 turkeys.
UNION - 2
It's hard to tell where Union County will come in. Harvest totals for the last four seasons came in at 50, 22, 62 and 52, respectively. Bowhunters added another five last year. Public land is available.
WAYNE - 3
With some slight variation, the average take over the last five years has been 43.6 birds. Last season fell in line with a gun harvest of 44. Archers did well by killing another 17 turkeys. Public ground is available.
WHITESIDE - 3
Stability doesn't aptly describe it. Each of the last three fall seasons have seen a gun harvest of 12 birds on the nose. Bowhunters added eight last year. Huntable public ground is available.
WILLIAMSON - 2
The six-year average is 9.8 birds in the bag, and last season saw nine killed. Williamson County bowhunters can just about overtake gun hunters, as they took seven during last fall's hunt.
WINNEBAGO - 3
They finally got serious in Winnebago County. The six-year average fall harvest here has been right at six birds, but last season saw 12 go in the pot. Archers added three more birds. Public ground is available.
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