Turkeys’ tolerance tested in fall hunt
Springfield — The number of hunters chasing fall turkeys remains relatively low in Illinois, especially compared to the state’s spring seasons.
But an expected slow start to the archery deer campaign may put more bowhunters in a turkey mood during October and November – a switch in attitude that will be acceptable to a healthy gobbler population.
Biologists and wildlife experts have been hailing the mild winter Illinois experienced, followed by an early spring hatch.
“The good news is that a warm and fairly dry spring resulted in some fairly good hatching,” Paul Brewer, DNR wild turkey program manager, said. “The mild winter probably didn’t hurt, either. That probably helped some of the adult birds survive (last) winter.”
Kent Adams, wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation, added that dry spring weather in the nesting season generally correlates to higher breeding success.
Asked about the potential of the summer statewide drought hurting wild turkey population, Brewer acknowledged it would be possible, though unlikely. Turkeys are skilled at finding water sources, Brewer noted.
Keeping themselves fed during the dry and hot summer is something else turkeys are adept at.
“They do eat plants that are deeply rooted and are doing fairly well,” Brewer said. “They can feed on a wide variety of things.”
Turkeys that did come through the rough summer in good shape now face an even bigger challenge: archery turkey season in Illinois opened Oct. 1 and runs through Jan. 20. Shotgun season runs Oct. 20-28.
Last fall, hunters took a total of 1,319 turkeys. Shotgunners harvested only 638 birds, down 11 percent from the 2010 harvest of 716.
The drop had nothing to do with the state’s turkey population, which has been on a sharp rise.
Declining harvest and participation in fall turkey hunting has been blamed on many hunters choosing to concentrate on archery deer hunting during this time period.
The fall shotgun season is especially weak on participation. In 2011, a total of 2,715 permits were sold statewide, which was an actual jump from the 2,553 sold in 2010.
The shotgun season had seen a spike in permit sales in 2008, when 2,820 permits were sold.
As of the last week of September, only 2,303 fall shotgun permits had been sold for 2012.
Be it with shotgun or bow and arrow, fall hunters are going after younger turkeys that have hatched out during May. Hunters attempt to scatter the flock off the roost before daylight.
The hunter will sit at the base of a large tree and try to call in the young poults. Hunters count on the fact that it usually isn’t long until the young birds are trying to regroup.
Young turkeys will weigh between 8-12 pounds and hunters consider them one of the best eating game birds in the state.
Fall turkey regulations
- Legal shotgun: 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 shot that may be used.
- Legal bows: 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. Minimum arrow length without the broadhead is 20 inches, and broadheads must be used. Broadheads may have fixed or expandable cutting surfaces, but they must have a minimum 7⁄8-inch diameter when fully opened.