Here's a look at what Buckeye State turkey hunters can expect when they take to the woods this spring. (April 2010)
Wild turkey hunting opportunities in the Buckeye State have increased dramatically over the past five decades, thanks to the hard work of Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists and staff.
As the early settlers flooded into Ohio, unrestricted hunting and the conversion of forests to farms decimated native wild turkey numbers. The species was considered nonexistent in Ohio by 1904.
As farming declined and forests began to regenerate, interest in restoring wild turkeys began to rise. The use of farm-raised turkeys led to poor survival rates. The ODOW began to use wild turkeys from neighboring states for a trap-and-transfer program in the early 1960s, and thus began the state's wildly successful restoration effort.
Wild turkeys turned out to be hardier than farm-raised birds, and more wary of predators. The first successful population of naturally reproducing birds was established in southern Ohio. Some of those birds were then trapped and relocated to other regions of the state.
The restoration project and transplanting of birds ended in 2008. Wild turkeys now inhabit all 88 counties of the Buckeye State. Spring hunting is now enjoyed statewide, and two additional counties were opened for fall hunting in 2009. A total of 48 counties are open for the fall season on these popular game birds.
According to Buckeye State biologists, wild turkey hunters can look forward to another banner season in 2010. There are always unpredictable variables that could bring harvest numbers down, including poor mast crops, high winter mortality, poor brood survival or weather bad enough to keep hunters out of the field. Barring those, biologists predicted a spring harvest on par with that of 2009, which was the third highest on record with 20,710 birds taken.
The statewide spring turkey season runs from April 19 through May 16. A spring turkey permit is required. The limit is two bearded birds per hunter but only one gobbler per day. Muzzleloaders and shotguns using shot as well as crossbows and longbows are allowed.
Hunting with dogs is not allowed, but a leashed dog may be used to recover a wounded bird.
A two-day Youth Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Weekend will be held April 17-18 this year, which is before the regular spring season. A youth hunting permit is required, and hunting is allowed from a half-hour before sunrise to sunset. The Lake La Su An Wildlife Area in Williams County is open for youth hunting only for the entire spring season including the youth-only weekend.
Defiance and Williams counties were opened to fall hunting in 2009. The fall season runs from mid-October to the end of November. For exact season dates and a complete list of counties open to fall hunting, grab the current law book at any license outlet or check the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site.
Only one turkey of either sex may be taken during the fall season. Only shotguns using shot, crossbows and longbows are permitted, and a fall turkey permit is required. Dogs may be used to hunt fall turkeys.
The top 10 counties for high turkey harvest numbers in recent years include Ashtabula, Columbiana, Trumbull and Tuscarawas in the ODOW's District Three; Coshocton, Muskingum, Guernsey, Belmont and Monroe counties in District Four; and Clermont County in District Five
But those rankings don't show the whole picture, according to Mike Reynolds, an ODNR wildlife biologist.
"It's not divided by area or county," said Reynolds. "So, bigger counties will probably have more birds killed than smaller counties. But if you looked at it on a per-square-mile basis, you would see some surprising numbers. Guernsey and Harrison counties produce some high per-square-mile harvests."
The Waterloo Wildlife Research Station is the base for Ohio's wild turkey management plan.
"Our function is two-fold," said Reynolds. "We monitor the wild turkey population on an annual basis, as well as their abundance and reproduction. We do this through a variety of annual surveys and research projects."
From June through August, observations of hens with poults are recorded and those sightings help biologists track the reproductive success of the species
"Last spring we had some poor nesting and brooding conditions and our summer survey suggested only 2.0 poults per hen, probably the lowest we've seen in the last 20 years," Reynolds said. "It really doesn't have that great an impact on 2010, because the hatch we had in 2008 was a fairly good one, an average of 3.8 poults per hen, which was above the five-year average. This will create a good population of 2-year-old gobblers that do a lot of gobbling, so hunters should hear plenty of birds. Numbers may be lower in 2011, because this last hatch simply wasn't very successful."
Reynolds said there had been one major change in the spring turkey season.
"The timing is the same as in past years, with a two-day youth hunt followed by a four-week spring season," he said. "However, it used to be that for the entire season, hunting ended at noon. In 2010, the first two weeks of hunting will end at noon as usual, but during the second two weeks, from May 3 to May 16, hunting will be allowed till sunset. That is a significant change and our first foray into all-day spring turkey hunting. We'll monitor the two-week, all-day hunting season for the first couple of years and see how that goes before we make a decision about making it permanent or expanding it."
Reynolds said that the fall turkey harvest is insignificant, as that is not a very traditional hunt in Ohio.
"I think a lot of people are up in their bow stands during that part of the year looking for that big buck, and fall turkey hunting is just an afterthought," he said. "Hunters that do target turkeys shouldn't have much competition."
Reynolds said that finding food sources could dictate hunter success, making agricultural fields good spaces to scout for flock activity.
Reynolds is calling for a good spring harvest in 2010, in part because of 2008 nesting success and an abundant food supply.
"I would expect in 2010 that we'll see a harvest similar to 2009 -- somewhere around the 20,000 gobbler mark. In summer 2008, we had a major cicada hatch, which led to good brood survival," Reynold
s said. The insects were especially abundant in District Five. "Hunting should be very good down there in 2010."
BIOLOGIST PICKS FOR 2010
Reynolds was happy to suggest a few turkey hotspots for Buckeye State hunters.
"One that jumps out at me is Tranquility Wildlife Area in Adams County," he said. "I believe that is the largest in Wildlife District Five and it was in the midst of the cicada hatch, so I'm sure the birds had a really good survival rate there. That should translate into a lot of 2-year-old birds and a lot of gobbling activity in 2010.
"Crown City Wildlife Area, on the border of Lawrence and Gallia counties was another one of those areas that experienced cicada emergence and had great brood survival," Reynolds continued. "There should be a lot of birds in those two counties."
He noted that Crown City was also the site of extensive strip mining activity and now has a lot of reclaimed grassland as well as plenty of woods.
"I think southwest Ohio will be a hotspot," Reynolds continued. "There's not a lot of public land down there, so people will have to get out and make those connections."
Tranquility Wildlife Area in southwest Ohio, about 16 miles south of Hillsboro, is made up of about 40 percent native woodlands. Oak and hickory are the majority species along the ridges and upper slopes with maple, beech, elm and ash more common on the lower, damper ground.
For more information, contact the Tranquility WA manager at (937) 987-2508 or the ODOW's Wildlife District Five office at (937) 372-9261.
Check DeLorme's Ohio Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 77, for area details.
Crown City Wildlife Area is at the bottom of Gallia County on the Lawrence County line. This 11,000-acre wildlife area is reclaimed mining land that was donated to the ODNR in 1997. The area is a mix of forests and grasslands. A separate 300-acre parcel is between state Route 7 and the Ohio River.
The ODNR manages Crown City to improve wildlife diversity through timber management, establishing grasslands and construction of small ponds. Access is off state Route 218 about four miles north of Crown City.
Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 86, for details.
In the northwestern corner of the state, in Wildlife District Two, Lake La Su An Wildlife Area in Williams County is open for youth hunting only for the entire spring season.
"Williams County hunters are harvesting over 300 turkeys per season up there now," Reynolds said. "It has some really good opportunities for hunters who get permission to hunt on private lands. They will have to spend some time knocking on doors and making those connections to get permission in that part of the state."
Another public access area with good wild turkey hunting potential is the Oxbow Lake Wildlife Area, which spans 416 acres near Defiance. Upland forests here consist mainly of oaks and hickories. The ODNR maintains substantial stretches of brush land and meadowland bird habitat. This area also features a shotgun range for paper and clay targets.
Portions of Maumee State Forest also provide some good hunting opportunities, Reynolds said. Maumee spans 3,068 acres in Swanton. Call (419) 822-3052 for more information.
For more information, call the ODOW's Wildlife District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
For access and details, check DeLorme's OAG, Map 34.
Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 26, for area details.
In the north-central region of the state, hunters should try 4,192-acre Mohican-Memorial State Forest in Perrysville.
Call (330) 339-2205 for more information. Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 49.
Most public lands in Wildlife District One tend to be dominated by grassland and wetland habitat with a scattering of forest cover, but suitable habitat will hold turkeys.
Hunting opportunities in this district include Delaware Wildlife Area, Deer Creek Wildlife Area and Mohican River Wildlife Area. The Deer Creek and Delaware areas were stocked as part of the ODOW's original wild turkey restoration effort.
Deer Creek is south of Mount Sterling on Route 207. Next door is 1,277-acre Deer Creek Lake, and to the south and east of the lake is Deer Creek State Park. Of the 4,085 acres of public land here, about 1,000 acres are utilized for row crops and small grains each year. Controlled burns and cultivation of native warm-season grasses provide nesting and feeding cover for wild turkeys. Some 90 percent of a poult's nutrition during the first few weeks of life is derived from insects foraged from easy-to-reach grasses and low shrubs.
A quarter of the wildlife area is covered with second-growth hardwoods and heavy brush. Most of the wooded areas, mainly oak, hickory, elm, maple and black walnut will be found in the eastern portion of the wildlife area.
For more information, call the Deer Creek Wildlife Area supervisor at (740) 869-2365 or the ODOW's Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925.
Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 67, for access details.
Delaware Wildlife Area spans 4,670 acres about eight miles north of Delaware and 10 miles south of Marion. Delaware Reservoir and Delaware State Park are adjacent to the wildlife area. About half of Delaware Wildlife Area is covered with old-field growth made up of mixed grasses, briers and small shrubs. More than 10 percent of the area has been planted with prairie grasses, timothy and clover to provide additional wildlife habitat. Another 40 percent of the wildlife area is covered with second-growth hardwoods and heavy brush.
For more information, contact the Delaware Wildlife Area manager at (740) 747-2919 or the Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925.
For more access information, check out DeLorme's OAG, Map 58.
Wildlife District Five is emerging as a great wild turkey destination, but the highest bird densities have been found in wildlife districts Three and Four.
Scott Peters, an assistant wildlife management supervisor in Wildlife District Three, suggested that hunters check out the Grand River Wildlife Area in Trumbull County, just over the border from Ashtabula County.
"Trumbull County is every bit as good as Ashtabula," Peters said. "Another two that come to mind, especially when talking turkeys, are Highlandtown in Columbiana County and then Brush Creek WA to the south in Jefferson County."
The 7,453-acre Grand River Wildlife Area i
s east of West Farmington. About 46 percent of the area is hardwood forest. Another 49 percent is open land, cropland and brush, while about 5 percent is wetland.
State Route 88 bisects the area and state Route 534 runs along the western border. Call the Grand River Wildlife Area manager at (330) 889-3524 or the Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293 for more information.
Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 42, for local roads and other access details.
Highlandtown Wildlife Area spans 2,265 acres about eight miles south of Lisbon. The area is mostly forested, with some former cropland, meadows and grain fields. The ODNR practices crop rotations and contour strip planting to provide food and cover for wildlife.
Access is via state Route 164 from Lisbon or state Route 39 from Salineville and Wellsville.
Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 53, for more information.
Brush Creek Wildlife Area provides 4,131 acres of public access hunting grounds about six miles southeast of Salineville. Second-growth hardwoods cover about 80 percent of the area, with oak and hickory covering the majority of the slopes and ridges. Most of the area's open fields are along the flat ridgetops and the valley floor.
Two tracts of land here totaling 783 acres were purchased in partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation to provide quality habitat and additional turkey hunting opportunities. Access is off county Road 55 from state Route 164 in Monroeville. Call (330) 679-2201 for more information.
For additional access information, check DeLorme's OAG, Map 53.
The Mohican River Wildlife Area contains two separate units that lie about five miles apart along the lower Mohican River. The 121-acre upstream unit in Brinkhaven may be accessed via state Route 62. The 287-acre lower unit is south of Cavallo on Trenton Township Road 368.
Both areas feature a mixture of upland forest dominated by oak and hickory, overgrown fields and active cropland. For more information about this area, call the Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925 or the Wildlife District Four office at (740) 594-2211.
Check DeLorme's OAG, Map 60, for access information.
For more about wild turkey hunting opportunities in Ohio, contact the ODNR at (614) 265-6300 or visit www.dnr.state.oh.us.