Ohio's turkey harvest is at historically high levels. Here are some tips on getting your bird this season.
The spring 2010 wild turkey harvest was the second highest in Buckeye State history, thanks to a better-than-average cicada hatch in 2008 that assured survival of lots of plump two-year-old gobblers. Last fall, biologists reported a bumper crop of acorns and a high likelihood of holdover three-year-old birds, making spring 2011 a great time to take a trophy turkey. While Ashtabula County still takes the lead for great turkey terrain, western regions are exceeding biologists' expectations for high turkey harvests and some areas along the Ohio River are emerging as impressive turkey hunting grounds as well.
The statewide spring turkey season runs April 18 through May 15. A spring turkey permit is required. The limit is two bearded birds per hunter, with only one taken 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.
Just prior to the regular spring season is the two-day Youth Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Weekend, April 16 and 17 this year. A youth hunting permit is required. Hunting is from half an 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 and the youth-only weekend again this year.
The fall season runs from October 9 to November 28 in specific counties. For a complete list of counties open to fall hunting, check the current law book at any license outlet or check the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website. 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. Fall hunters may hunt over dogs.
"In southeastern Ohio, District Four, some of the better turkey hunting can be found in Guernsey County at Salt Fork Wildlife Area," said Mike Reynolds, an ODNR wildlife research biologist who works on statewide oversight of the species. "Another would be the Crown City Wildlife Area, which is on the border of Lawrence and Gallia counties in the southern end of the district. Crown City should be great for spring with a lot of holdover mature adult gobblers from the 2008 hatch. There's open land mixed in with forests, so there are opportunities to hunt birds in field settings and forests in that wildlife area."
Reynolds said that both wildlife areas offer plenty of elbow room for hunters. Salt Fork spans 12,000 acres; Crown City about 11,171 acres.
"We have a lot of public lands in District Four," he said. "It's not really difficult to find a good place to turkey hunt. As always, to get more specific information I recommend stopping in to the wildlife area headquarters to talk to the area manager or some of the technicians."
Crown City Wildlife Area is bordered on one side by the Ohio River, with State Routes 7 and 553 running through the property. This wildlife area has extensive reclaimed grasslands due to old strip mine activity, as well as hardwood forests. Access is off State Route 218 about four miles north of the municipality of Crown City. Check DeLorme's Ohio Atlas and Gazetteer, map 86 for area details.
Salt Fork WA is adjacent to a state park of the same name. While state parks are part of the ODNR, they are run by a separate division and some may not allow hunting. Wild turkey hunters should make a point of knowing if they are treading on wildlife area land or state park land, and check ahead of time to see what the hunting opportunities may be on adjacent state park lands. Always check current wild turkey hunting regulations before heading out.
Thirty-five percent of the wildlife area is wooded, mostly with oak and hickory along steep slopes, and maple, beech, ash, willow and sycamore along stream banks. Crop fields, along with overgrown fields and pastures, account for another third of the wildlife area.
For current hunting conditions, contact the Salt Fork Wildlife Management Work Unit at (740) 489-5021. The main entrance is about seven miles east of Cambridge on U.S. Route 22. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 61 for area details.
"Public areas up in Ashtabula County are small, but it's a very good turkey county," said Dan Kramer, ODNR wildlife management supervisor in District Three. "Grand River WA in Trumbull County is a large area that has a mix of agricultural land as well as bottomland hardwoods, and that remoteness at that expanse of bottomland hardwoods holds a lot of birds. Hunters can spread out quite a bit, but it does get a lot of turkey hunting pressure."
At the other end of the district, Kramer recommended 3,469-acre Jockey Hollow WA in southern Harrison County near Flushing.
"It's a fairly large wildlife area," he said. "It has good forest cover, plenty of food and it also has a lot of reclaimed strip mine areas where birds tend to come out in the open and strut, so people find them easier. It's a good mix."
Jockey Hollow is a relatively new acquisition, so boundaries may not be well marked. Be sure to know public land from private at this WA. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 62 for area details.
Kramer's last pick for spring 2011 is Brush Creek WA in Jefferson County.
"That is going to be primarily hardwood forest in a pretty steep, hilly part of the state, so be prepared for that," he said. "There's plenty of natural food over there, a lot of acorns. There are some forest openings, but not a lot of agriculture, so it's more of a remote hunting experience."
Brush Creek WA spans 2,546 acres in Monroeville. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 53 for area details.
"The biggest problem with District One is that we have probably the least public land of any district," said Gary Ludwig, ODNR wildlife management supervisor in District One. "We have two main wildlife areas that have sizeable turkey populations -- Deer Creek near Mount Sterling, and Delaware near Delaware. We have good turkey populations throughout the district on private land. That's where most people are going to have to concentrate."
Bird numbers are good in Knox, Licking and Morrow counties. Though Fairfield County has a good turkey population, hunters don't take as many birds there as the area has potential for, Ludwig said.
"The western side of the district is going to be primarily agricultural flat land; the eastern side is going to be more hilly," he said. "Ther
e are a couple of sleeper counties, like Champaign and Logan. There are big turkey populations in both of those counties, but it's kind of difficult to find places to hunt up there."
Each ODNR district office keeps a Cooperator List with contact information for private landowners who may be willing to grant hunter access, so that's a good place to start when seeking private hunting grounds.
Ludwig advised hunters to begin scouting early, even during the fall deer season, for places turkeys might be found the following spring.
"Look for potential areas turkeys might utilize in the spring: breeding territories, places where hens might nest. Open areas can be productive for western Ohio hunting, especially during those last two weeks that are now available and open to all-day hunting. Hunters might find more activity in open fields later in the day where they did not see any birds early in the morning. Those areas are attractive to hens and might be more productive in the afternoon."
Deer Creek WA is located just south of Mount Sterling on Route 207. Right next door is the 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 used for row crops and small grains. Controlled burns and cultivation of native warm season grasses provide good nesting grounds for wild turkeys. A quarter of the wildlife area is covered with second-growth hardwoods and heavy brush. Most of the wooded areas are located in the eastern portion of the wildlife area. For more information, call the Deer Creek Area Supervisor at (740) 869-2365. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 67.
Delaware Wildlife Area spans 4,670 acres about eight miles north of Delaware, adjacent to Delaware Reservoir and Delaware State Park. About half of Delaware WA is covered with old field growth made up of mixed grasses, briers and small shrubs. More than 10 percent 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. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 58.
"This part of Ohio is pretty much agricultural and is mostly private land," said Scott Butterworth, ODNR wildlife management supervisor in District Two. "The public lands do get a fair amount of pressure on them, so that's something for everybody to keep in mind."
Butterworth said that Williams County is "just full of turkeys." He also recommended Killdeer Plains WA in Wyandot County.
"One reason is its size," he said. "It's over 9,000 acres. It has a refuge on it, a lot of grasslands and scattered woodlots. Another good one would be Willard WA in Huron County, which is mostly forested. It has thick muck soils, old wetland that is almost a peat-type soil."
Butterworth said that overall, his district has lower turkey densities than southeastern Ohio, which features mostly forested habitat. With less public land to offer, access to private land is more important in this district.
"If people are interested in hunting private property, we have the Cooperative Hunting Program," he said. "People open their land to hunting. You still need to get permission first, but we can supply the list of people to contact."
About two-thirds of Killdeer WA is cropland and grassland, with the rest divided equally between woods and shrubby coverts and water. Access from State Route 294 is off Wyandot County Road 115. Access is also available from State Route 309 about eight miles west of Marion. Killdeer is bordered by State Routes 67 and 294 to the west and north. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 47.
Willard Marsh WA spans 1,676 acres just southwest of the city of Willard. About two-thirds of the WA is woodland, with the remainder divided between open spaces and brushland. Access can be had off Section Line Road, from U.S. Route 224 three miles west of Willard. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 38.
Brett Beatty, ODNR assistant wildlife management supervisor in District Five didn't have to give it a second thought before sharing his pick.
"If I had to point out one spot, it would be Tranquility WA in northern Adams County," he said. "It has a great mix of agriculture, big hardwoods, brushland -- it's just good turkey country. It's about 4,500 acres all told, with plenty of access and parking areas so it's easy to get into. If I was down in this part of the country, that's where I'd go. It's just the best turkey hunting I know of on public land. I hunt it myself."
Beatty noted that all of the public lands in District Five do have populations of turkeys and are open for hunting, with varying opportunities for success on each one.
Tranquility Wildlife Area, located 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 here, with maple, beech, elm and ash more common on lower, damper ground. For more information, contact the Tranquility WA manager at (937) 987-2508. Check DeLorme's OAG, map 77 for area details.
Localized turkey hunting information may be had by contacting the appropriate district office: Wildlife District One office at (614) 644-3925; Wildlife District Two office at (419) 424-5000; Wildlife District Three office at (330) 644-2293; Wildlife District Four at (740) 594-2211; or Wildlife District Five Office at (937) 372-9261. For statewide information about wild turkey hunting in Ohio, contact the ODNR at ((614) 265-6300 or visit www.dnr.state.oh.us.