Early wake up call for April toms in Illinois
Carbondale, Ill. — It didn’t take long for the state’s younger turkey hunting crowd to make its presence in the woods known.
Youth hunters smashed the previous record by killing 1,300 birds during the two-day seasons. The previous record of 748 was set last spring.
“Excellent hunting weather this year during both weekends was a very important reason for the record harvest,” Paul Brewer, DNR Wild Turkey Project manager said. “A wet spring in 2011 once again contributed to below-average turkey reproduction in many areas, but a good mast crop and a very mild winter were working in favor of late spring broods.”
A total of 4,100 youth turkey permits were issued this year, compared to 3,718 last year.
Meanwhile, the regular season opened April 9 in the south zone and April 16 in the south zone. Hunters were expecting to get off to a quick start because of the early spring, especially in the southern part of the state, though other factors may hamper efforts.
“I can only guess, they probably start breeding a little bit earlier,” Brewer said. “Breeding behavior is mostly a factor of day length, however, the weather does factor into that. I’ve talked to guys who have seen gobblers out there spreading.”
Conditions in the woods will certainly be different this year. The early spring means plants are in bloom and visibility will be limited, even in the early season segments. And, there are indications that the overall turkey population may be down.
“The bad news is, I’ve gone through the brood cards from last year,” Brewer said. “It was another wet spring. The number of poults per hen was down a little bit again. There was not real good reproduction.
“The good news is it looks like the late broods did a little bit better. My other hope is that this mild winter has let some of the late broods do better. We also had some pretty good mast crops, so that might have helped them overwinter.”
He added that last year’s cicada hatch may have been a boon to poult survival.
Breeding conditions in southern Illinois last year were complicated by floods that inundated much of the region.
“Flooding does a couple of things,” Brewer said. “One, nothing can nest there. The adult birds can’t get out of the way of the water. That concentrates the birds in the upland area. Nesting habitat may be more limited in those areas.
“When you concentrate birds in an area, it could have the possibility of increased nest predation, especially in the areas where the only habitat is in long, narrow riparian areas.”
While a complicating factor, Brewer said flooding doesn’t prevent breeding.
“A lot of times upland forests are better habitats,” he said. “Some of them may have delayed nesting.
“It’s probably a factor, but how devastating it would be is hard to say. They are pretty resilient animals.”
The population decline from last year would fit Illinois’ profile for the past several years.
“We’ve probably kind of gone over the hump,” Brewer said. “After introduction, it takes 15-20 years for a maximum abundance to be reached. Things like diseases and predators realize there are turkeys out there.”