State's turkey hunters battling tough autumn
Springfield - Challenging might not be the first word hunters will use to describe the 2008 fall turkey season.
But it's certainly the most family-friendly word.
Numbers are expected to be similar to last fall, when hunters shot 1,161 turkeys - 28 fewer birds than in the fall of 2006.
A majority of the blame is being placed on poor weather this spring, which plays havoc with the number of young birds found in the fall woods. Summer brood surveys taken statewide in June, July and August reveal a poult per hen ratio of 1.99 - far below the 2.85 average pph ratio recorded between 1998-2007.
DNR wildlife biologist Tom Micitech said the desired reproductive rate set by DNR is around 4.0 pph.
"Unfortunately, if we have cool and rainy weather right at hatch time, the population suffers," he said. "Our poult-to-hen ratio was at 2.21 poults per hen in 2006, and right at 2.3 in 2007."
Summer surveys also counted 700 fewer hens and 2,200 fewer poults than during the same period in 2007.
The turkey brood surveys involve more than 2,500 reports from around the state.
Predicting the fall harvest is far from an exact science.
"Last year's (harvest) wasn't as bad as we expected, considering the poor reproduction we've been having, and that fall harvest success is so heavily dependent on the number of young birds," Micitech said. "The situation this year does not lead us to expect a fall much better than 2007."
The top five counties last fall, by numbers of turkeys harvested, were JoDaviess (100), Wayne (61), Jefferson (56), Marion (53) and Union (46).
As always, fall hunters are going after younger turkeys that have hatched out in May. Hunters attempt to scatter the flock off the roost before daylight.
A common practice has the hunter sitting at the base of a large tree, attempting to call in the young poults. The young birds, by nature, begin calling each other and trying to regroup.
"The fall turkey hunter knows that what's really important are woodsman skills, noting and reading signs and finding the turkeys," veteran fall turkey hunter James Johnson, of Marion, explained. "There aren't that many fall turkey hunters in Illinois. It's just too much trouble for a lot of people."
Archery turkey hunters opened their season Oct. 1. The season runs through Jan. 15. The fall gun season runs Oct. 25-Nov. 2.
Fall turkey regulations
n During shotgun season, it is unlawful to use anything but a shotgun (20-gauge to 10-gauge only, no .410 or 28-gauge allowed) No. 4 shot is the largest and No. 71/2 is the smallest size.
n The only legal bows are long, recurved or compound bows with a minimum pull of 40 pounds at some point within a 28-inch draw.
n Minimum arrow length without the broadhead is 20 inches, and broadheads must be used.
n Broadheads may have fixed or expandable cutting surfaces, but they must have a minimum 7/8-inch diameter when fully opened. Broadheads with fixed cutting surfaces must be metal or flint-, chert or obsidian-knapped; broadheads with expandable cutting surfaces must be metal.
n Any mechanical device capable of maintaining a drawn or partially-drawn position on a bow is illegal.
n Electronic arrow-tracking systems utilizing radio telemetry are illegal.
Turkey hunting regulations courtesy of 2008-09 Hunting Digest.