Turkey hunters spring forward

Springfield — Is this the spring turkey hunters finally push past the state record?

Optimism runs high due to the health and size of the state’s turkey flock, favorable conditions in the fields and last year’s harvest of 15,941.

The state record harvest of 16,605 was set in 2006.

“I’m hoping for a pretty good season and possibly some improved numbers,” Paul Brewer, turkey biologist for DNR, said. “We saw a pretty good increase last year, so we’re hoping for the same.”

Hunters had taken 15,121 turkeys during the 2011 spring season.

This season, which opens April 8 in the south zone and April 15 in the north zone, is difficult to forecast, Brewer admitted.

“Talking to people around the state, there are reports from the field of very early broods this year,” Brewer noted. “Our annual brood surveys in June, July and August [of 2012] showed a slight decline in the number of young turkeys per hen that was observed. The reports show 2.03 poults per hen, compared with 2.19 last year. The long-term average is 2.35. However, This decline conflicts with some reports we had from our field biologists, particularly in the northwest and southern part of the state.”

Brewer said the differences may be a factor of survey takers not being able to see turkeys last summer, which featured taller-than-normal crops due to early spring planting.

“Also, hot and dry weather may have kept hens and young turkeys closer to water sources and in more shaded locations,” Brewer said. “Hot weather also reduced the amount of time many of our observers were in the outdoors to make observations.”

Weather will again play a major role in this spring’s harvest – not because of the impact it will have on the turkeys, but because of the impact it can have on hunters.

“When you look at a season harvest, you have to a account for the cold, wet mornings that hunters decide aren’t worth sitting through,” Brewer said. “We’ve all been there.”

He pointed to last year’s harvest bump as an example of how weather positively affected both turkeys and hunters.

“The mild winter that preceded the 2012 spring hunting season very likely improved the survival of wild turkeys,” he said. “That, combined with excellent weather during the hunting season, likely contributed to the bigger harvest.”

As far as specific parts of the state, north zone hunters led the harvest once again last spring, taking 8,935 birds, a slight increase over the 8,652 harvested in 2011.

South zone hunters took 7,006 turkeys last spring, 537 more than in 2011.

Counties with the highest harvests in the north zone were Jo Daviess with 638 gobblers, Pike 452, Fulton 404, Adams 366 and Macoupin 314.

The top south zone counties were Jefferson 486, Wayne 386, Pope 380, Randolph 332 and Marion 331.

Youth hunts open the season

Youth hunters and their mentors will again take first strike at the spring season.

Last year, youth-season hunters harvested a record 1,300 turkeys, a big jump over the 748 taken in 2011 and the 737 taken in 2010.

“Weather last year during both youth hunt weekends was a big reason for the record harvest in 2012,” Brewer 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.”

In 2012, spring youth season turkey permits totaled 4,100.

State’s turkeys handled drought, heat

Many hunters have been concerned about how turkeys handled last summer’s extreme heat and drought.

The answer: they handled it just like we did.

“They can overheat,” said Kent Adams, an Effingham, Ill.-based wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Adams said during last year’s heat, wild turkeys sought out shaded areas, especially around creeks and streams, where they could get a drink and also expand their menu of invertebrates at water’s edge. He added that dry spring weather in the nesting season generally correlates to higher breeding success.

If drought managed to have an effect on wild turkeys, Adams said, it would take several seasons of drought. In that scenario, a lack of food could claim casualties on late-hatched poults, especially since young-of-the-year wild turkeys rely heavily on insects, especially earlier in their life cycle.

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