Turkey hunters seeing decline in harvest this spring
Columbus — Into Ohio’s third week of its spring wild turkey-hunting season and the raw to-date numbers are discouraging.
The to-date kill through May 10 stood at 2,001 fewer birds being taken than for the previous reporting period in 2019. Very likely it’s been a weather double-whammy.
In all through May 10, turkey hunters in Ohio had killed 13,564 birds. That compares to the 15,565 turkeys that hunters in Ohio had shot for the same time period in 2019. Thus the drop amounts to 2,001 birds, or about 13%.
At this rate, Ohio’s spring season turkey kill should hit somewhere around 17,500 birds, or very close to what was seen in the also lean seasons of 2015 and 2016, says Mark Wiley, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s forest game biologist.
“It looks like poor weather is becoming the new ‘normal’ for our spring turkey nesting season,” Wiley said. “We’ve had those conditions for the past three years, and it’s beginning to look like this will make it four years in a row. That would be a real problem.”
The reason another below average spring would prove problematical, says Wiley, is because newly hatched turkeys – called poults – do not handle cold, damp weather very well. Consequently, newly hatched poults have a poor ability to self-thermal-regulate their body temperatures and encounter difficulties surviving, Wiley says.
“Once they’re about one month old they can fly into trees, avoid ground predators, and survive better,” he said. “But cold, wet weather is a death sentence for poults.”
Wiley says also this spring turkey hunting season’s so-far cool, wet weather also could be contributing to a decline in hunter participation as fewer people want to brave the elements. In turn, with fewer hunters spending less time in the woods, fewer birds might be recorded in the statistics, Wiley says.
“But we won’t know that until after we get back the turkey hunter surveys we’ll be sending out,” Wiley said.
Wiley says also that while male poults hatched this year will show up as jakes in 2021, the largest number of gobblers that typically appear in the bag show up two years down the road.
“That means the largest number of gobblers hatched this year will be harvested in 2022,” Wiley says.
Wiley said also the Division of Wildlife randomly selected about 10,000 licensed turkey hunters, each of whom were notified they’ll receive a questionnaire at the end of the season. In this way potential respondents can begin tracking their activity level as well recording the number of birds they encounter, Wiley says.
“It would be a big help if those who’ll be receiving the surveys will complete them and return them to us,” Wiley says.
The top 10 counties for wild turkey kill during the first three weeks of the 2020 hunting season include: Belmont (419), Guernsey (410), Tuscarawas (403), Meigs (402), Monroe (396), Muskingum (364), Washington (360), Harrison (353), Coshocton (342), and Brown (340). If these counties, only Brown has so far recorded an increase from its to-date 2019 reported turkey kill.
In addition to the first two weeks of hunting, youth hunters killed1,843 wild turkeys during Ohio’s youth season, April 18-19.
All counties are now open to hunting. The state has two zones for spring wild turkey hunting: the south zone and the northeast zone. The south zone is open until Sunday, May 17.
The northeast zone – which consists of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties – opened May 4 and runs until Sunday, May 31 – also reported declines.
However, the 2019 kill numbers in these northeast zone counties reflect two weeks of hunting, whereas the 2020 kill numbers reflect only one week of hunting. That is because the northeast zone opened one week earlier in 2019 compared to 2020.
In all 26 of Ohio’s 88 counties reported declines with four counties reporting identical figures.
The spring turkey season bag limit is two bearded wild turkeys. Hunters may kill one bearded turkey per day, and a second spring turkey permit may be purchased at any time throughout the spring turkey season.
Turkeys are required to be checked no later than 11:30 p.m. the day of harvest. All hunters are required to report their turkey killed using the automated game-check system.