By JIM ABRAMS
Hunters bagged 22,571 wild turkeys during this year’s combined spring wild turkey south zone hunting season, northeast zone hunting season and youth wild turkey hunting season, which ran from April 21 to May 27. Last year’s saw the harvest at 21,042 birds.
Local harvests were: Allen: 71 (91 last year); Hancock: 38 (52); Hardin: 86 (87); Henry: 68 (58); Putnam: 57 (66); Sandusky: 18 (21); Seneca: 151 (179); Wood: 19 (24); Wyandot: 87 (108).
Hunters can view the 2018 spring turkey season zone map and harvest regulations at wildohio.gov.
While turkey populations and hunter success vary greatly from county to county, this has not always been the case. Not so long ago, every county, from Adams to Wyandot, shared exactly the same number: zero.
When Ohio was first settled, the wild turkey was a common sight throughout the massive forests. As the state was settled and human populations grew, so did the need for wood-building materials, pulp for paper, and cleared land for farming.
By 1904 these factors, as well as unregulated hunting, led to the bird’s disappearance from our landscapes. In the 1950s Ohio biologists Bob Donohoe and Charley McKibben began studying ways to bring the turkey back. Their research led to new approaches in wild turkey management.
Between 1956 and 1971, 397 trapped wild turkeys were released into 16 forested sites in southeast Ohio. The original birds were live-trapped in a number of cooperating states: West Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida and Arkansas. In 1960 Ohio was showing increasing localized populations, so turkeys were also trapped and relocated from those sites.
After capture, they were promptly shipped by a variety of methods for release in areas that were determined to be “turkey friendly.” This was interpreted to be wooded locations of at least 9,000 acres. In May 1966 the population had grown to the point that a hunting season was set, the first in over 64 years, and was limited to just a few counties in southeast Ohio.
The success rates of those early hunts are of some comparative interest. The first seven years brought a total of 264 birds home for a Thanksgiving-style meal. In contrast, this year’s opening-week harvest was 10,415.
The wild turkey harvest topped 1,000 for the first time in 1984. Spring turkey hunting opened statewide in 2000, and Ohio hunters checked more than 20,000 wild turkeys for the first time that year.
The early work of Donohoe and McKibben continued with turkey releases in northwest Ohio. The birds now originated from native stock trapped as close as Richland County. Today, contrary to earlier information, it has been found that the turkey can establish itself in areas that have as little as 15 percent forestation. This is the type of cover found in many parts of the Great Black Swamp area.
The birds are polygamous, meaning the males will breed more than one hen, with April being the peak of the mating season. Hens will incubate their 8 to 16 eggs for 28 days prior to their hatch in mid-May through June.
Hens will raise one brood per year but may re-nest if the first is destroyed early in the nesting season. Destruction can occur by weather-related mishaps such as flooding or cold, wet springs. Nest raids by a variety of animals including opossum, raccoon, skunk, coyote, and fox will also take their toll.
Once hatched, the young turkeys can move about quickly and will attain first flight in as little as two weeks, making them far less susceptible to predators. Broods will stay together for four to five months.
Collecting information from hunters, outdoor observers, and spring gobbling counts assist in monitoring populations, determining season dates, lengths and bag limits.
How do spring turkey hunters trick the shyly observant gobblers to the dinner table? They take to the woods in camouflage garb to avoid the turkey’s sharp eyesight. That hunter better also learn how to “talk turkey” before going afield.
An assortment of calls are used, some designs as old as the hunt itself. They can be friction-type wooden box calls with movable handles, slate stone with a “striker” used to scratch the surface, blown calls made from turkey wing bones, and manufactured diaphragm calls that fit inside the hunter’s mouth.
The hunter uses these calls to try and coax a gobbler within range. Choosing the right one can be perplexing. It seems that many were designed to lead the hunter to the cash register, rather than the turkey to the oven.
While the huge variety of calls may look very different, they are each used to imitate one or more of the wild turkey’s sounds.
From its 1904 extirpation from this great state to the current population estimate of 200,000 birds, the wild turkey has been a resounding wildlife success story. Today, the turkey can be found in all of Ohio’s 88 counties and offers the hunter and wildlife watcher many memorable hours in the field.
Along the way:
There is an old adage that states “crime doesn’t pay.” In my years of wildlife law enforcement, I would improve on that axiom with “crime and karma can pay you back in a hurry.”
State Wildlife Officer Greg Wasilewski, assigned to Richland County, responded to a report that a hunter had shot and killed a deer on a landowner’s property without permission during the first day of the bonus two-day deer-gun season.
Before Wasilewski could reach the hunter, the man had fallen from his tree stand and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. After recovering from his accident, the hunter was charged with hunting without permission and pleaded guilty to the charges in court.
This is a good reminder to always have permission to hunt, use extreme caution when hunting from a tree stand, and don’t tempt fate — it could be terminal.
• Tomorrow: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Tomorrow: Birding tour, Maumee Bay State Park, 1400 State Park Road, Oregon. Meet in front of the nature center.
• Wednesday: Rimfire challenge target shoot, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., HCCL, 13748 Jackson Township 168, Findlay.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• June 18: .22-caliber rifle silhouette shoot, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.
He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.