Our State's Best Districts For Turkeys

Our State's Best Districts For Turkeys

Here's a close-up look at the top harvest counties in Hoosierland's hottest districts for spring turkey hunting. One is surely near you! (April 2008)

Photo by Rod Chochran.

The Hoosier State's turkey program started out small, but we now take huge harvests each spring for granted. In 1970, only 75 permits were sold and six gobblers were killed during the four-day season. Last year, sportsmen took home 11,163 birds. We've come a long ways since the beginning days of turkey hunting in Indiana.

According to Steven Backs, the state's turkey research biologist, hunters bagged birds in 86 of the state's 91 counties last year.

"The 2007 harvest was the second highest harvest in 38 years and slightly exceeded the 2005 harvest," Backs said.

The lower number of birds taken during the 2007 season was probably because of the record low turkey production in 2005 and the extremes in the spring weather last year. Turkey hunting in Indiana should be back to normal this year.

"The present wild turkey population in Indiana is roughly estimated at about 125,000 birds," Backs said. "I can give a rough spring 2008 harvest forecast of about 12,000 birds, give or take 1,000."

Here's a look by wildlife district at seven productive counties from across the state.

Though known more for waterfowl hunting, the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA), in Starke and LaPorte counties, will yield toms to those who are willing to work for them.

"The FWA is the only public property in Starke County and it's really a waterfowl property with nearly 3,000 acres of its 4,100 acres under water from October through April," biologist Linda Byer said. "There are turkeys that use the property, but a hunter should be prepared to use waders to get to them during a wet spring."

Kankakee yielded gobblers to hunters last spring. The reason for somewhat low numbers may be due to its relative inaccessibility. Turkeys will head for the deeper recesses of the property when they're harassed on the dryer sections or wander on and off the public lands from adjoining private properties. They'll be tough to call unless you can find them, but one advantage of flooding an area is that the water has a tendency to concentrate birds.

Hunting can be good or bad, depending on conditions. The area borders several miles of both the Kankakee and Yellow rivers. Scouting for a good area ahead of time can mean the difference between success and an unproductive stomp through hundreds of acres of shallow water. A daily hunt permit card is required.

If conditions are too wet, consider stopping by the 140-acre Round Lake Wetland Conservation Area (WCA). Just a few hunters can make a crowd, but if you're the only hunter on the area, the hunting can be productive.

Contact District 2 at (574) 896-3572, or the Kankakee FWA office at (574) 876-3522 for additional information.

"My district has seen an increase in both the numbers of wild turkeys and turkey hunters over the last several years," biologist Alger Van Hoey said. "One of the reasons for the growing number of turkeys is the interspersion and diversity of habitat. There are wetlands, woodlands, brushy fields, grass, croplands and riparian corridor systems. Spring hunters do their best hunting the woodland edges overlooking the grass fields and croplands or by hunting wooded areas near the rivers and streams."

The fact that the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has released wild turkeys across Steuben County hasn't hurt matters, Van Hoey said. That hunters are becoming more proficient with new calls and realistic decoys hasn't hurt the harvest rates, either.

Public lands abound and include the Pigeon River FWA, the 863-acre Cedar Swamp WCA and the 800-acre Marsh Lake WCA. Cedar Swamp and Marsh Lake are just a stone's throw from Fremont. Self-service check-in is required at one of the two check-in spots on each area. There is no limit on the number of hunters allowed on the areas and historically pressure is high on opening days and during the weekends.

Pigeon River is on the western side of the county and hunting here is by Special Hunt Application only, which is available at the DFW's Web site at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild. There is a cutoff date of March 14 every spring.

Steuben County yielded 234 birds last spring, many of which were taken from public lands. This is one of the top destinations in northeastern Indiana.

Call District 3 at (260) 367-2186 or the Pigeon River FWA at (260) 367-2164 for more information.

Parke County in west-central Indiana is another top producer of Hoosierland turkeys. However, like large tracts of Indiana landscape, public-land hunting is limited. The only public shooting ground is the Raccoon State Recreational Area (SRA), but according to biologist Dean Zimmerman, this area doesn't offer much good bird hunting. Where turkey hunting is good, local hunters pretty much dominate the scene.

Even so, good calling with a realistic set of jake and hen decoys can still produce a tom. The public-land birds are far and few between, but hunting along the SRA's borders can be an excellent place to start. Turkeys wandering onto the public shooting lands don't know they've left the safety of private landholdings.

Parke County ranks in the top 10 counties for spring turkey harvest with hunters bagging 333 gobblers last year. The county is made up primarily of family farms ranging from 150 to 1,500 acres in size. Some landowners have turned to lease hunting and this may now account for up to 25 percent of the available land. Going door to door to ask for permission and relying on local contacts are the best ways to get in on this superb hunting.

For more information, contact District 6 at (765) 567-2152 or the Raccoon Lake SRA at (765) 344-1412.

"We have a lot of turkeys, but we have a lot of hunters, too," said Steve Siscoe, property manager for the Greene-Sullivan State Forest near Dugger.

"Approaching this state forest is a bit different than hunting other forests in the state. It's a great place to set up and ambush a tom or to check the walking trails that birds are using frequently. Another good tactic here is to set up along the edge of some of the fields."

This forestland consists of old strip-mining hills that make locating gobblers a challenge. The area was strip-mined for coal in the 1930s and 1940s. Dirt was piled in rows of hills up to 50 feet high, so the steep walking can be an interesting experience.

The coal company donated the area to the Division of Forestry in lieu of reclamation and trees were planted in a generally haphazard manner. The results created a turkey paradise of stands of white pine, white oak, black walnut, poplar, maple and a smorgasbord of other trees.

Biologist Roger Stonebraker gives the forest thumbs up for turkeys.

"The forested 'stripper hills' among the open fields provide ideal turkey habitat and the bird population is thriving," Stonebraker said.

There aren't any best-bet spots on the forest and turkeys are scattered throughout the property. Hunters will find plenty of roads crisscrossing through the area and access is generally good. Most roads are no more than a mile away from each other.

The harvest last spring totaled 354 birds in Greene County alone, and there are plenty more birds to go around.

The Hillenbrand FWA north of Linton offers 3,200 acres along with the Goose Pond FWA that Greene County hunters can cash in on. For more information on Hillenbrand, contact the Minnehaha FWA at (812) 268-5640. Goose Pond information can be obtained by calling (812) 659-9901. For additional information, call District 9 at (812) 268-0300 or the Greene-Sullivan State Forest office at (812) 648-2810.

"The best public lands in Monroe County for turkey hunting are going to be properties managed by the Morgan-Monroe SF and the Monroe Reservoir," said Josh Griffin, a District 10 biologist. "There are a lot of places on state forest land that are excellent turkey habitat and great places to hunt. The terrain is mainly wooded hills and holds a healthy population of turkeys."

Of particular interest is that no drawing or sign-in is necessary at Morgan-Monroe, so hunters are assured a hunting spot.

Griffin's next recommendation is the Monroe Reservoir property southeast of Bloomington. About 3,000 acres of dry land accompany this well-developed reservoir and the hunting can hardly be considered wilderness, though there are turkeys. Hunters need to sign in before hunting. According to Griffin, the terrain of Monroe Reservoir is similar to the state forest with wooded hillsides that are common to much of southern Indiana.

The hunting pressure on both of these properties means that serious gobbler hunters should put in more scouting time to succeed. Being prepared to walk in farther to get off the beaten path is important. These birds are easily spooked, and it won't take hunters making too much noise to send them scampering to more secure areas. Last spring, 197 toms didn't scurry fast enough.

The number of turkeys being harvested in south-central Indiana is growing and so is the number of hunters, thanks to the DFW's reintroduction efforts.

The state forest covers 24,000 acres in Morgan and Monroe counties near Martinsville. For additional information, contact District 10 at (812) 526-4891.

The best Hoosierland shooting can be found in the southeastern part of the state, according to biologist Chris Grauel.

"Three of the six counties in my area had some of the state's highest harvest rates in the spring of 2007," Grauel said. "Switzerland County was No. 1 with 467 gobblers, Jefferson was third with 399 and Dearborn fourth with 391."

The Splinter Ridge FWA in Switzerland County covers 2,491 acres of excellent turkey habitat. Hunters can easily find a place to call along open hayfields or set up on the steep, wooded hills.

Assistant area manager Steve Mund points out that there are numerous turkeys on the area. According to the FWA's harvest records, eight birds were taken in 2007 and 15 in 2006.

Most hunters will just walk in and start calling, Mund said. There are some rugged areas where this works well and some fields where hunters can set up to intercept a gobbler in the morning.

Checking in before the hunt is required. The FWA can be accessed 10 miles east of Madison on state Route 56. A daily permit is required from the self check-in station at parking lot 3.

According to Grauel, the Crosley FWA in Jennings County also provides outstanding turkey hunting opportunities. Crosley covers 4,228 acres of rolling hills and ponds and offers seven river miles of the Muskatuck River.

For more information, contact District 11 at (812) 352-8486 or the Crosley FWA at (812) 346-5596.

"As for public-land turkey hunting, the Harrison-Crawford State Forest would probably be the best in my area," biologist Mark Bennett said.

The Harrison-Crawford SF is the place to go for gobblers in this region. Combining the state forest with nearby Wyandotte Woods SRA furnishes hunters with 24,000 acres of prime river bottom, forest edges and timber.

"We have a system of permanent wildlife openings and water holes and the Division of Fish and Wildlife does periodic maintenance on them to make sure they're usable by young turkeys," said Dwayne Sieg, the property manager of Harrison-Crawford State Forest.

Judging by the numbers of turkeys spotted along the highway and in other areas on the forest, the birds are fairly well spread out and the numbers are good, according to Sieg. Newcomers might want to find a spot where there's access from SRs 62 or 462 or from Interstate 64. From the beginning of SR 462, SR 62 runs through the Blue River Valley with the state forest lying on both sides of the river and the highway, almost to the Ohio River. This frontage provides hunters a wide range of opportunities to get into the woods without walking far.

The Cold Friday region is the largest section of the forest and allows hunters who want to access the more remote areas an opportunity to do so. Fox Hollow is smaller but a likewise remote section.

The state-owned lands in Crawford County receive less hunting pressure than in Harrison County because the parcels of land are small and scattered. Check-in isn't required. The Harrison-Crawford SF is located in Harrison and Crawford counties near Corydon.

Call District 13 at (812) 849-4586, the state forest office at (812) 738-8145 or the Wyandotte Woods SRA at (812) 738-8232 for more information.

According to biologist Nathan Yazel, his neck of the woods offers up great turkey hunting in the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. He doesn't hear too many complaints about the gobblers and scores of them are taken out of Big Oaks.

"The property has a lot of birds," Yazel said. "I don't know of any secret methods when it comes to hunting them. Just don't give up and to be sure to listen to the weatherman. Stay in the field as long as you can, because you won't shoot a tom unless you're out there with the birds."

According to Yazel, spring in southern Indiana typically has rain in the forecast and ticks to deal with in the woods. Rain gear and bug spray are nearly as indispensable as your gun.

Hunters wanting to hunt Big Oaks will find a highly structured regimen that needs to be followed. Three ways to gain access to Big Oaks is by means of the state-drawn hunts with applications available through the DFW, local lottery hunts held on occasion at the Big Oaks office and an every-day no-show drawing to fill slots that drawn hunters fail to show up for.

The no-show hunt fills the 210-hunter limit at 7 a.m. every hunt day. Hunters can hunt once when drawn or multiple times as a partner when someone else is drawn. The buddy system is a requirement. Showing up at Gate 1 by 5:30 a.m. will allow hunters to view the required safety video and sign off on a liability form. After that, hunters will be directed to where they'll be hunting. Watching the video and signing the form ahead of time will streamline the process.

The Big Oaks entrance is five miles north of Madison on U.S. Highway 421. The federal lands cover 50,000 acres in Jefferson, Jennings and Ripley counties.

Call District 14 at (812) 346-6888 or the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge at (812) 273-0783 for more information. The Big Oaks Web site at www.midwest.fws.gov/bigoaks is very helpful.

For more information on spring turkey hunting, contact the Indiana DFW at the Mitchell office at (812) 849-4586.

Find more about Indiana fishing and hunting at: IndianaGameandFish.com

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