Turkey numbers tumble

Springfield — A quick start and woods full of birds allowed optimists to suggest that 2013 could be a record year for spring turkey hunters.

Then came the rains.

When the season wrapped up earlier this month, hunters had taken a statewide total of 14,133 turkeys, down significantly from the 15,941 taken during the 2012 spring season.

After youth hunters kicked off the season with their second-highest harvest ever, the stage seemed set. However, as DNR Wild Turkey Biologist Paul Brewer noted midseason, hunters don’t like cold and wet conditions. And neither do turkeys.

“We have had some wet weather for some of our seasons that has made hunting difficult,” Brewer said prior to the fifth and final week of the south zone season. “In areas of where there is severe flooding, that has also had some impacts, in some cases for accessibility by hunters, but also for the turkeys.”

After the season ended, Brewer noted that “Breeding activity was delayed, and gobblers were not very responsive for much of the season.”

Turkeys were able to get out of the way of the floods and re-nest in cases where nests were initiated in now flooded areas, Brewer noted. In areas where stream corridors are very narrow, the amount of suitable habitat that turkeys had left was more limited.

As for hunters, the elements restricted the number of hunting hours.

One example Brewer cited was in JoDaviess County, typically one of the leading counties during the spring season.

For all 32 days of hunting in JoDaviess, rain or snow fell on 20 days, while wind gusts exceeded 20 mph on 21 of those days. Statewide, April was the fourth wettest on record.

The lower harvest was especially disappointing because four new counties were opened to turkey hunting this spring. Adding Ford, Douglas, Kane and Lake counties brought the number of spring turkey hunting counties to 100.

South zone hunters took 6,494 turkeys, a decrease from the 7,006 last year. North zone hunters took 7,639, down from last year’s total of 8,935.

The top five counties in the south zone were Jefferson (411), Pope (360), Marion (344), and Randolph and Wayne (333). The top five north zone counties were JoDaviess (552), Pike (396), Fulton (328), Macoupin (293) and Adams (290). Youth hunters took 923 birds, second only to the 2012 record of 1,300.

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