As was the case last year, Buckeye gobbler hunters can expect a challenging season as 2012's version of the annual spring turkey hunting unfolds. Last year's wet, cold, dismal spring did nothing to help bolster turkey populations already on the decline due to poor nesting conditions in recent years. But for the hunter up to the test, there will be enough gobblers available to keep thing interesting.
"I expected to see at least a 10 percent decline in this year's spring turkey harvest as a result of the poor hatch in 2009," said Ohio DNR Wildlife Biologist Mike Reynolds, in response to the results of the 2010 spring season. "However, the wettest April on record in Ohio hampered turkey hunting and resulted in a lower-than-expected harvest this season."
Last year's spring harvest of 18,485 was 21 percent off the pace of that taken the previous year. The 2010 spring harvest of 23,421 gobblers, however, is a total that would have been hard to match: It was the second highest spring gobbler harvest on record.
"Record rainfall and regional flooding during the nesting season negatively affected wild turkey production this year," noted Reynolds as last year's fall turkey season was about to begin. "Some re-nesting may have helped to offset early nest failures, but hunters will likely find fewer turkeys. Brood production in two of the last three years (2009 and 2011) has been the lowest on record."
Last fall Ohio hunters bagged 1,375 wild turkeys, compared to 1,425 the prior fall. Fall turkey hunting is only available in a portion of Ohio's counties.
What follows is a district-by-district look at this spring's better turkey hunting counties, fueled by historical harvest and wildlife biologist's information.
Call District 1 the bull's-eye of the Buckeye State. Situated smack dab in the middle of the state, the area is better known for state government and Big Ten football than it is for wild turkey hunting. But good opportunities are present for hunters from this part of the state.
District 1 has a history of a good turkey population, but the habitat is pretty broken up. This is central Ohio, centered around the capitol of Columbus. The habitat is primarily private land. Hunters are going to have to work harder to get permission to hunt. If they can get permission, though, they should find birds.
Last season three counties in District 1 had very good spring harvests. They included Knox with 513 toms, Licking with a take of 434, and Morrow County with 212 bird. Delaware County also produced 132 toms. Not surprisingly, the largest harvests took place in the eastern portion of the district. But even in Franklin County, the home of Columbus and its suburban sprawl, 23 wild turkeys where taken by spring hunters.
District 1 contains six state managed wildlife areas. They include: Big Island WA, Deer Creek WA, Delaware State Park and Wildlife Area, Dillon WA, Kokosing WA and Mohican River WA.
For additional information on District 1 contact the district office at 614-644-3925.
Much of the hunting attention in District 2 focuses on the abundant waterfowl options the district provides. Indeed, the marshlands associated with Lake Erie provide excellent sport. But the hunting isn't limited to ducks and geese. There are expanding hunting opportunities for birds of a different feather: the wild turkey.
The counties in District 2, in northwestern Ohio, average only about 15 percent forested cover. But the turkey populations there are the most rapidly growing ones in the state. Understand, though, that rapidly growing might mean a county goes from a harvest of two birds to a harvest of six birds. Turkey abundance in District 2 is the lowest of the five districts of Ohio. But there are turkey-hunting opportunities in all of the counties in District 2, with the overall population getting larger in general. Where there is turkey habitat in the district, there are turkeys.
Hunters who want to stay home and hunt turkeys in District 2 should find birds. The key is to find woodlots, especially the larger ones that are interconnected with others, with forest or brushy cover. Then they need to get permission to hunt those areas. The top county is Williams County, which is the northwestern-most county in the state. It has had turkeys for a very long time, with a stable population. Just to the south, Defiance County is another good turkey county.
The spring 2011 harvest in Williams County was 250. Defiance County produced 228 spring birds last year.
Many of the wildlife areas in District 2 are marshlands. Some upland area is present, however. In Williams County consider the Beaver Creek Wildlife Area. Oxbow Lake Wildlife Area is Defiance County. But as was pointed out, the key to success in this district is to do your homework and get permission to hunt the forested private land areas.
Contact the District 2 office at 419-424-5000 for more information on the hunting in this area.
District 3, located in the northeast portion of the state, contains some of the stronger wild turkey populations in the entire state. This serves many hunters well, as the area also houses major population centers like Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown. These sportsmen don't have to venture far to find excellent wild turkey hunting.
Hunters should have no problem finding turkeys in District 3. It is one of Ohio's stronger districts. Turkeys have been there for a long time. You can move anywhere in District 3, from the northeast corner, in Ashtabula County, all the way down to Jefferson County and Harrison County and you are going to find good numbers of birds. Columbiana County is also a good one. District 3 has a good mix of both public-land hunting opportunities and private land.
Several counties from District 3 topped the list of best spring gobbler harvests last season. Included was Ashtabula with 712, which led the state. Harrison County produced a harvest of 513, third in the state. Tuscarawas County hunters bagged 583 toms, which was the second highest in Ohio.
Much of District 3 is made up of a mix of forestland and agricultural land. The areas in Trumbull County are rich in such habitat. Last season hunters took 416 birds from that county. It's an area where hunters who make the effort to find private lands to hunt are well rewarded. The region also features many state-owned wildlife areas that contain upland forested habitat. This includes Grand River Wildlife Area, which features nearly 7,500 acres of public hunting area, a good portion of which exists as uplands favorable to wild turkeys.
Contact the District 3 office in Akron at 330-644-2293 for more information on this region.
Southeastern Ohio's District 4 is the cream-of-the-crop in terms of the state's wild turkeys. From the rugged, forested hills that lie along the Ohio River in the eastern portion of the district to the agricultural lands to the west, there is an abundance of wild turkey habitat in this district. Add to that the plethora of former strip-mined areas, places that are now reverting back to forested cover of various life stages, and you have a lot of options to choose from.
District 4 probably has more turkeys than any other district in the state. Turkeys have been there the longest. It is where all the reintroduction and reestablishment of turkeys in the state began. Every county is has good numbers of birds; they are very well distributed.
By far, with the Wayne National Forest, state forests and wildlife areas, District 4 has the most public land turkey opportunities in the state.
While the northeast portion of Ohio harbored counties with the highest overall take last spring, the southeastern district had many counties with fairly lofty numbers. Athens, which is often in the state's top 10 harvest counties, tailed a bit, but still had a take of 369 gobblers, and hunters in Belmont County brought home 444 birds. Coshocton County, in the western portion of the district, saw a harvest of 447 bearded birds. Guernsey County hunters put tags on 507 toms, while 300 did the same in Jackson County. Meigs County, as usual, had a significant spring harvest with 401 gobblers being taken.
Wayne National Forest provides the most extensive public hunting area in District 4, covering over 800,000 acres. The public land exists in three separate units, and is found in 12 different counties.
Additional information can be obtained by phoning the District 4 office in Athens at 740-594-2211.
District 5 contains a blend of habitats, from the Ohio River valley counties to the south to the flatlands to the north. In between you'll find urban areas such as Dayton.
Wild turkeys in the district have a good mix habitat in the heavily forested counties like Adams and Highland. But when you move into the western part of the district, such as in Ross County, the habitat begins to get more broken up by agricultural and urban areas. But most of the counties in District 5, especially the northern and western counties of the district, will have more limited wild turkey distribution. Most of the birds are on private land, so access and permission to hunt is a factor there. It may take a little more planning and a little more time to set up a hunt in that part of the state.
Last year Clermont County, found in the southern portion of the district, had one of the state's top spring harvests, with a total of 425 birds. The district does contain some extensive public lands, mostly in the southern portion, such as Shawnee State Forest.
The 2012 spring season will run from April 23 to May 20. From April 23 to May 5 the hours run from a half-hour prior to sunrise until noon; from May 6 until the season closure the hours are extended to sunset.
While successful spring gobbler hunters no long need to physically bring their bird to a check station, they must file a report via the DNR's automated system by 11:30 pm the day of the kill.
According to the DNR, hunters must have their permit with the attached permanent tag in hand to complete the game-check and permanent tagging process. Hunters can complete the automated game-check and permanent tagging process in one of three ways: Call 1-877-TAGITOH (1-877-824-4864); Visit wildohio.com. Click on "Wild Ohio Customer Center" and then click on "Game Check: Report a Deer or Turkey Harvest."
To game-check a harvest online, make sure to use a computer hooked to a printer. A game-check receipt will be issued and should be printed. When using a smartphone for game check, you must access your customer account at wildohio.com when you are at a computer, click on the Game Check button, and print your game check receipt; or by visiting any authorized license sales agent. Hunters do not need to take their turkey to the agent for the game-check. Authorized license sales agents will be available for game-check during normal business hours. Call for exact hours of operation before you go.
Regardless of the game-check method, the hunter must provide the 10-digit permit number, which is printed in large numbers on every permit.
Maps of state-owned wildlife areas can be downloaded from the DNR's website. Go to the agency's home page -- www.ohiodnr.com -- and then click on the "Hunting and Trapping" icon. The quick link to the maps is located along the left-hand portion of this page.