Buckeye State turkey hunters are poised for another near-record harvest in 2010. Head to these public lands for some great spring hunting. (March 2010)
No matter how you look at it, wild turkey hunters have much to look forward to in the Buckeye State. The statewide turkey population last spring was estimated at more than 200,000 birds, a huge increase over the estimated 22,000 birds that existed in the state in 1987.
Ohio's first spring gobbler season took place in 1966, and in 1999, some 57 counties were open to hunting, but 2009 marked the 10th spring when turkey hunting was allowed in all 88 counties.
Spring season hunters took 18,936 gobblers last season, a 2 percent increase over 2008 and the second consecutive year the harvest was over 18,000. Youth hunters contributed an additional 1,814 gobblers during their two-day season. Between 75,000 and 80,000 turkey enthusiasts hit the fields and woods each year in Ohio, making turkey hunting second only to deer hunting as our most popular hunting activity.
This year the spring gobbler season will open April 19 and run through May 16. Historically, spring hunting activity had to cease at noon, but starting this year, hunting will be allowed all day from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset during the last two weeks of the season (May 3 through May 16). This year's youth hunt will be open May 17 and 18.
Despite the fact that only about one-third of Ohio is forested, turkeys are now found statewide, even in areas with seemingly less desirable habitat. While the largest number of birds and best habitat will be found in the eastern, southwest and southern regions, Buckeye State hunters should have no problem finding bearded birds to hunt this spring.
With that in mind, here are some public-hunting grounds that should provide plenty of opportunities when the season opens next month:
In 2008 and 2009, Ashtabula County was the leading county in the state for producing spring gobblers, and the county will undoubtedly be at or near the top of the list again this year. Although Ashtabula County has fewer public hunting areas than some other counties around Ohio, and given the fact that most of those areas are also smaller in size, they hold plenty of birds and offer some prime hunting.
New Lyme Wildlife Area
One example is the New Lyme Wildlife Area about two miles east of South New Lyme in New Lyme Township. The property covers 720 acres, is relatively flat and doesn't look like much in terms of classic turkey habitat, but 70 percent of the area is wooded with maple, ash, white oak and other species offering cover or food. The wildlife area also has some brush land where birds can seek sanctuary.
Brownville Road off state Route 46 in South New Lyme offers access to a parking area in the western part of the property, while access to the northern portion is two miles east of state Route 46 off Dodgeville Road.
Conant Wildlife Area
An even smaller piece of public ground in Ashtabula County, and one that receives little hunting pressure, is the Conant Wildlife Area, covering 74 acres on Windsor-Mechansville Road in Hartsgrove Township one mile south of U.S. Route 6 and two miles east of state Route 535.
Some 85 percent of the property is in hardwoods, so resident birds not only have plenty of cover and food, but the Rome State Nature Preserve shares the area's eastern and northeastern border. Birds from that property often cross into the hunting area.
Dorset Wildlife Area
Hunters looking for a larger piece of ground should consider the Dorset Wildlife Area about one mile east-northeast of Dorset, which covers 1,080 acres. About 636 acres of the area is hardwoods, 214 acres in brush land and 200 acres are managed for agricultural crops. There is also about 40 acres of wetland habitat. The area offers plenty of room to hunt plus the varied habitat and crop fields are a magnet for spring turkeys.
The property is off Route 193 and is bordered by Kyle Road on the north and Footville-Richmond Road on the south. Tower Road cuts through the middle of the property. Designated parking areas will be found on all three roads.
For more information on these public-hunting areas, contact the Area Manager by telephoning (440) 685-4776.
Grand River Wildlife Area
To the south, Trumbull County has been a top producer of spring gobblers in recent years. One of the county's best public-hunting areas is Grand River Wildlife Area east of West Farmington. State Route 88 runs east to west through the property, and state Route 534 forms its western boundary. County routes 217, 213 and 233 parallel state Route 534, offering plenty of access into the area. Hunters will find nearly 20 designated parking areas on these access roads and may need to utilize all of them to explore this 7,453-acre property!
Along with its size, what makes Grand River special and such a good spot for spring gobblers is its diversity and the fact it is one of the largest remaining semi-wilderness areas in northeast Ohio. The topography is flat to gently rolling and there are large areas of swampy forest, numerous ponds and beaver flowages, as well as the Grand River and five tributaries that flow through the area. All are prone to flooding during wet springs, so be prepared.
More than 45 percent of the area is covered with hardwoods, and nearly 50 percent of the property is open or covered with croplands or brush, providing plenty of prime habitat and food for turkeys.
For more information, hunters may contact the area manager at (330) 889-3280.
Highlandtown Wildlife Area
About eight miles south of Lisbon and three miles northeast of Salineville in Columbiana County, the Highlandtown Wildlife Area offers 2,265 acres of steep, rolling hills and bottoms. Elevations vary from 1,060 feet above sea level to 1,340 feet. The property is heavily forested with a mixture of hardwoods and pine, but brushy coverts, old croplands and areas of meadow and grain crops are found scattered throughout the property. Crop rotation and contour strip cropping practices are used in these areas to improve both food and cover for wildlife, including turkeys.
Access to the property is possible using state Route 164 from Lisbon or State Route 39 from Salineville and Wellsville.
For more information, contact the area manager by calling (330) 679-2201.
Yellow Creek State Forest
Turkeys will also be found on Yellow Creek State Forest. The forest is in three blocks, one on the west sid
e of the wildlife area and another on the north side. Access to these parcels is only through the wildlife area. The southernmost block can be accessed off Temme Road in Salineville. Combined, the three blocks offer an additional 756 acres of good turkey hunting.
For more information on Yellow Creek State Forest, contact the Fernwood State Forest administrator's office at (740) 266-6021.
Egypt Valley Wildlife Area
The southeastern region of Ohio offers some of the best turkey habitat and hunting opportunities in the state. In northeast Belmont County, the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area offers 14,000 acres of diverse habitat with plenty of room to roam. A small portion of the property is in northeast Guernsey County.
The public area consists of two large blocks. The first is east of Piedmont Lake south of Holloway off state Route 331. The second block is south of the lake north of Hendrysburg. Interstate Route 70 forms part of the southern boundary of this block, while state Route 800 forms part of the western border or travels through it. Several township roads also travel through both blocks offering relatively easy access.
Egypt Valley WA offers a mixed bag of habitat from upland hardwoods to wetlands to grasslands and brush land.
Salt Fork Wildlife Area
To the west in Guernsey County, about seven miles northeast of Cambridge, another large hunting area known for its turkey habitat and prime hunting is Salt Fork Wildlife Area and Salt Fork State Park.
The area is easily reached from Route 22. Combined, the two areas cover over 20,540 acres. Specifically, the wildlife area covers about 12,000 acres with over 8,000 acres under management for wildlife, including the protection and management of the hardwood areas and maintenance of the grasslands and other open areas.
About 35 percent of the property is forested in oak, hickory, beech, maple, elm, and ash among others, and some pine planting has also taken place. Active crop fields, old crop fields and old pasture cover about one-third of the property with the remainder consisting of shrubs and various smaller trees.
The topography is hilly with some steep ravines. Elevations vary between 790 feet above sea level to more than 1,000 feet.
Hunting is also allowed on portions of Salt Creek State Park, but hunters should check with the park or local wildlife officials to learn which areas are open to hunting.
The park offers a campground, lodge and cabins. More information on the park may be obtained by calling (740) 439-3521.
For hunting conditions on the wildlife area, contact the Salt Fork Wildlife Management Work Unit at (740) 489-5021.
Waterloo Wildlife Area
In the hills of Athens County 10 miles west of Athens at the junction of state routes 56 and 356, the Waterloo Wildlife Area covers 2,667 acres.
Rugged topography and limited gravel road access means much of this property can be a challenge to access, but hunters willing to walk in to the best spots will find plenty of opportunities. Many of the area's 35 walking trails meander through prime hunting locations.
Most of the wildlife area is wooded, with oaks and hickories near the ridgetops and along the slopes. Beech and maple dominate the lower elevations.
A number of small openings may be found near the ridgetops with large, reverting fields along Hewett Fork at the area's eastern edge. Also on the property are 664 walk-in acres that are part of a 5,146-acre turkey management area.
The parcel is specifically managed for turkeys with a minimum of 60 percent mature, mast-bearing trees.
For more information, contact the Waterloo Wildlife Research Station at (740) 589-9930.
The largest portion of this wild turkey management area, more than 4,480 acres, is within Zaleski State Forest, which borders the wildlife area to the north, west and south.
Zaleski is the second largest state forest in Ohio, covering 28,000 acres and offers much of the same hilly, forested habitat as the Waterloo Wildlife Area but on a much larger scale.
Access is from Route 50 on the south and Route 356 on the east. Route 278 cuts through the heart of the forest in a south-north direction starting near Prattsville on Route 50. Several township roads also travel through or into various sections of the forest.
Zaleski State Forest is open to visitors from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily, but hunters and campers may be present during other hours. Camping is allowed only in designated areas, such as the Atkinson Hunter's Camp on township Road 5. The area offers latrines, picnic tables and fire rings with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The camp opens 14 days before the opening of the spring turkey season and closes the day after the season ends.
For more information, contact the Zaleski SF ranger station at (740) 596-5781.
Tranquility Wildlife Area
Spring turkey hunting is improving in the southwest corner of the Buckeye State, and one of the best places to look for action is Tranquility Wildlife Area in Adams County, 16 miles south of Hillsboro on state Route 770. County Road 100 (Old State Route 32) runs along the area's southern border.
Several township roads including T-100, T-123 and C-14 run through the area as well, offering relatively easy access to several designated parking areas.
Numerous trails and several old logging roads lead into the interior, which is seldom hunted but contains some prime bird habitat.
The topography and composition of Tranquility WA is typical of southwest Ohio, which is basically hilly with some steep ridges and slopes. About 40 percent of the property is covered with oak and hickory, especially on the upper ridges, while maple, beech, elm and ash dominate at the lower elevations.
Another 40 percent of the area is brushy habitat, with the remaining 20 percent in brush and cultivated fields. In all, Tranquility WA covers 4,250 acres, so there is plenty of room to explore and hunt, and turkeys are apt to be found anywhere.
For more information on Tranquility Wildlife Area, contact the area manager at the Fallsville Wildlife Area by telephoning (937) 987-2508.
Brush Creek State Forest
In northeast Adams County, Brush Creek State Forest is another good spot for spring turkeys. The forest offers more than 12,000 acres of oak, hickory, maple, ash and hardwoods as well as pine in several tracts covering steep hillsides, deep hollows and narrow ridgetops.
The hunting can
be physically challenging, but Brush Creek has a good population of birds for those willing to go after them. Some of the tracts are large, but great turkey hunting will be found on the smaller parcels, so hunters should study a map of the forest and plan some pre-season scouting.
Some popular hunting prospects include the area off Coffee Hollow Road off Route 73, the areas off Douglas Road and Straight Fork Road, and along Route 772 south of Duke.
Camping is allowed in designated areas.
For maps and more information, contact the District 6 forester's office by calling (877) 24STREE (247-8733).
Information on lodging and other services in Adams County can be obtained by contacting the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau at (877) 232-6764.
Mohican River Wildlife Area
Coshocton County is a top producer of spring gobblers and neighboring Knox County isn't far behind.
The Mohican River Wildlife Area covers 408 acres in two separate parcels. The upstream portion covers 121 acres at the village of Brinkhaven and is accessible from state Route 62.
The larger lower parcel covers 287 acres and is approximately one mile south of Cavallo on township Road 368. Both parcels offer a mixture of croplands, woodlands consisting of various oaks, hickory and reverting old crop fields, some with crabapple and other turkey foods on the hillsides, while elm, ash, maple and brush dominate along the river.
Old oak and hickory stands on the hillsides provide roosting sites for turkeys, as do many of the larger hardwoods along the river bottom.
For more information, contact the Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925.
For more information on turkey hunting opportunities, contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife at (800) 945-3543; or visit the division's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us.