Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Biologist: Plenty of jakes, 2-year-olds this season

By Jeffrey L. FrischkornContributing Writer

Athens, Ohio – If wildlife biologists’ predictions come true,
then thousands of Ohioans will walk out of the woods this spring
with their Thanksgiving Day dinners slung over their shoulders.

Last year, Ohio’s wild turkey hunters shot 20,023 birds with 15
percent of the hunters killing two turkeys, according to the DNR
Division of Wildlife.

The state has around 80,000 spring wild turkey hunters who will
seek about 200,000 birds this year. The season runs April 23
through May 20. The youth hunt will be held April 21-22. Legal
shooting hours are a half hour before sunrise until noon.

A properly licensed hunter can shoot up to two bearded – almost
always a male, either a gobbler or a tom – birds per season.
However, only one bird per day can be killed.

Ohio’s wild turkey flock has been growing at a modest rate of
around 10 percent for each of the past few years, says Dave
Swanson, the Division of Wildlife’s chief forest game
biologist.

‘It’s pretty stable though we do expect this figure to go up
slightly this year,’ Swanson said.

Ohio began its wild turkey introduction program in 1952 with
game-farm turkeys and in 1956 with wild-trapped wild turkeys with
the birds coming from Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas,
and Alabama.

‘The game-farm turkeys didn’t do well at all,’ Swanson said.

During Ohio’s first-ever spring turkey hunt in 1966, only 12
birds were taken. That figure topped 1,000 birds in 1984, 10,000
birds in 1995, and 20,000 birds in 2000.

The key to any wild turkey harvest lies in the preceding
spring’s turkey hatch. And for Ohio, the poult production has been
a ‘little bit above average the past couple of years,’ Swanson
said. ‘That’s why the figures have gone up a little.’

Consequently, this year hunters are likely to encounter more
jakes and 2-year-old birds. It is these two year classes that are
typically the most vulnerable to calling, Swanson said.

‘The 2-year-old birds are big enough to fight the more mature
birds,’ he said. ‘They know they can breed and also are the most
vocal. They want to breed.

‘As for jakes, they haven’t experienced hunters before, making
them vulnerable, too,’ Swanson said

Jakes generally make up 30 to 35 percent of the harvest with
2-year-old birds making up about 50 percent of the harvest, Swanson
said.

‘The rest of the harvest is made up of 3-year-old and older
birds,’ Swanson said. ‘We always talk about quality of deer but our
data shows that we have a good number of birds with 11/2- inch or
better spurs, which means they are 5 years old.’

Generally speaking, too, the better deer hunting counties are
also the state’s better wild turkey hunting counties. This is
because each species’ habitat demands are pretty much the same,
Swanson said.

Swanson also said it is possible that the birds shot in
northeast Ohio, for example, could be lighter in weight than those
taken last year. That is because of the unusually long and cold
winter experienced in that part of the state.

‘Turkeys can survive up to two weeks without eating if
necessary,’ Swanson said. ‘They might not even leave their roosts,
so they are very adaptable to extreme weather. That’s why they can
do well in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota; They’re
pretty hardy.’

An issue that complicates the agency’s ability to track hunting
pressure is that more hunters are staying home where the turkeys
have expanded their range, Swanson said.

Another way to put this is that one-time hot counties like
Vinton and Hocking probably have just as good success rates as in
the past but now have far fewer hunters, Swanson said.

‘Some time ago, Hocking and Vinton counties supported about
one-half of the total hunter harvest. It’s nowhere near that now,’
Swanson said. ‘In fact, it could very well be that there’s more
hunting pressure in Ashtabula County now than in either Hocking or
Vinton with a lot less public land to hunt.’

Data from last year as part of a three-year harvest study of
spring turkeys showed that the harvest rate was 39 percent for
adult birds and 21 percent for juvenile birds in Ohio, according to
a report from the Division of Wildlife. Combining these two age
classes yields and overall harvest rate of 29 percent for available
male wild turkeys during the spring hunting season.

‘Research in Midwestern states has shown that up to 30 percent
of the available males can be harvested during the spring turkey
season without negatively impacting hunting quality in subsequent
years,’ the report said.

The report notes that the current season structure, including
limiting hunting hours until noon, appears to be allowing the
maximum harvest rate that will not impact future hunting
quality.

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