Fall turkey hunters are few, but birds are many

Springfield — Deer continue to get 99.9 percent of the attention as the Oct. 1 archery season approaches, but the state’s growing wild turkey flock isn’t about to take the fall season for granted.

There will be hunters hunting them.

Only 1,330 birds were taken during the 2012 fall archery and shotgun seasons combined, which was slightly above the fall 2011 total of 1,316. Fall firearm harvest fell slightly last season (6.7 percent), in part reflective of the greater interest in deer hunting during the fall, DNR biologists reported. Fall archery harvest for wild turkeys increased by about 8.4 percent.

The archery season runs through Jan. 19. This year’s fall shotgun turkey season is set for Oct. 19-27.

Fall turkey hunters are coming off an adverse spring season, during which heavy rains affected hunting conditions. When all was said and done, the total harvest was 14,133 turkeys, down significantly from the 15,941 taken during the 2012 spring season.

It’s hard to predict what hunters will find in the woods and fields come Oct. 1. But it’s pretty safe to assume that most of the state’s hunters will be chasing deer instead of turkeys.

As of Aug. 29, the state had sold only 1,856 fall shotgun permits for turkeys. Archery permit figures were not available.

All counties in the state are open for the archery hunt except Cook, Douglas, DuPage, Ford, Kane and Lake.

“Fall turkey hunting certainly takes a back, back, back seat to deer,” Glenn Polk,  who hunts both deer and turkey in Pike County, said. “They aren’t mating, they aren’t excited, so it’s hard for a hunter to get excited.”

Shortly after the spring turkey season, DNR Wild Turkey Biologist Paul Brewer noted how cold and wet conditions affected hunters and turkeys in the state.

“We [had] some wet weather for some of our seasons that made hunting difficult,” Brewer said. “In areas of where there [was] 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 re-nest in cases where nests were initiated in now flooded areas, Brewer noted.

As for hunters, the elements restricted the number of hunting hours. That     doesn’t mean they will be trying to make up for that lost time this fall.

“There hasn’t been much interest in fall hunting, especially when compared to spring, but opportunities are there,” Brewer said.

The top five firearm counties for fall turkey harvest in 2012 were Jo Daviess (73), Pope (34), Jefferson (34), Union (32) and Williamson (32). The top five archery counties for fall turkey harvest were Fulton (27), Jefferson (26), Peoria (24), Jo Daviess (23), and Cass and Ogle (19 each).

As for regulations, one new law will affect archery turkey hunters, but not until late in the season. The new law requires a hunter to use all of edible parts of a game animal as long as they are safe for human consumption.

According to DNR, 18 percent of all calls to the Turn In Poachers hotline last year were for dumped animal carcasses.

Previously, it was not illegal for a hunter to shoot an animal and leave it in the field. The new law is mostly focused on deer hunters.

“The law especially involves the offensive act of shooting a deer cutting off the rack and dumping the animal,” Miller said. “That does not follow our idea of fair chase and hunting ethics.”

Turkeys and other birds, including bobwhite quail and doves, can be “breasted out,” meaning hunters may remove only the breast meat.

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